A little over two and a half years ago, I decided to become a vegetarian. While somewhat difficult at first, it has proven to be a change I am really proud of. It brought me closer to my sister, motivated me to cook more and has become something I can bond over with new friends who also happen to be vegetarian.
This lifestyle change happened during the height of the pandemic when we were all stuck in quarantine and was brought on by the influence of my older sister. Both of us moved back home from college in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We ended up spending most of our time together, as we couldn’t really see anyone outside of our household. She — who had become a vegetarian a year or two prior — spent much time cooking for herself as she was the only one in our family with said dietary restrictions. Since I didn’t have much going on outside of virtual school, I found myself joining her in the kitchen as a way to keep myself busy.
At first, I only helped by cutting vegetables or preparing parts of a dish. I was okay with this because I did not find much of what she was cooking with — such as tofu or tempeh — particularly appealing. The more I helped her with cooking though, the more I found myself wanting to try what she was eating.
One of the first dishes I tried was a quinoa salad we made together. I don’t think it was anything special, but I remember being pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. This made me realize that vegetarian meals weren’t as bad as I thought they were going to be. After this, I began eating more of what we were making, and within a few weeks, I was eating almost all of the recipes.
Before I knew it, it had already been a few months since I had last eaten anything with meat in it. When I realized this, I thought to myself that I could sustain being a vegetarian. Fast forward to present day, and I am still going strong as a vegetarian.
If I am going to be honest, it has been a lot easier than I thought it would be. There have only been a handful of times where I have wanted to eat something with meat in it and I haven’t succumbed to that yet. I think out of everything, the hardest part has been trying to find new recipes. In that struggle, one ingredient has come to the rescue — chickpeas.
Chickpeas — or garbanzo beans — have become a staple in my diet. They are an excellent source of plant-based protein and for people who don’t eat meat, protein is incredibly important to find in other food sources. Along with this, they are high in fiber as well as vitamins and minerals such as iron.
Not only are they an excellent source of protein, but they are so versatile and can also be cooked in so many different ways. I often go to Pinterest for ideas and there are hundreds of recipe options that incorporate chickpeas. A few of my favorite ways to include them into meals include roasting them to toss into grain bowls, eating them in the form of hummus and falafels or even using them in salads.
I actually just made my own recipe including chickpeas — it’s a zucchini chickpea salad. All I did was combine a can of chickpeas with tomatoes, zucchini, purple onions, olive oil and a variety of spices. It’s a simple recipe to make for lunch and I have been eating it alongside some pita chips! I am sure there are a ton of other ways to make up a new recipe on your own that involves chickpeas — they really are that versatile!
Along with this, chickpeas are affordable — they only cost somewhere around a dollar for a can of about 15 ounces. This is super helpful when you are shopping on a budget, as I am sure many of us college students are. You can also find cans of them in virtually any grocery store which is super convenient.
Aside from all the direct food talk, chickpeas — along with being vegetarian in general — have taught me to take more risks and try new things. As someone who wasn’t the biggest risk taker, this has been a huge point of growth for me and one that I am really proud of.
Along with this, chickpeas have made me enjoy cooking and that is something I never thought I would say. I’ve always referred to myself as a menace in the kitchen and hated cooking for myself. After learning of all the different — and easy — recipes I can make with chickpeas, I have found myself actually wanting to cook and enjoying cooking! It feels so much less like a chore now and that really makes an impact when you’re responsible for cooking all of your meals.
With how present chickpeas are in my life through my diet, you could say they’ve become like a best friend to me. It’s a little silly to refer to them that way. However, they’ve very much become a reliable, trustworthy and inspiring presence in my life — just like a best friend.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, I hope this inspires you to try something new the next time you are looking for something to cook. There really is a lot that you can do with something as simple as a can of chickpeas — I think that’s pretty special. It’s obvious that I’m a big fan of them and who knows, maybe you will be too!
Zoya Zahid is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected].