Fatna was her name. We called her Me Fatna, meaning “Mother Fatna.” She was covered from head to toe, like conservative young Moroccan women today and like my grandmother. I was in elementary school, and I thought she must be in her 40s.. or maybe her 80s? My parents recently told me on Skype that they saw her near my elementary school, still with her cart selling chickpeas, so she probably wasn’t all that old during my school years after all.
As soon as the big metal gate of the school opens, I would run to her. “Me Fatna, 20 cents please.” She would uncover the pot and a big cloud of steam would cover what little was left visible of her face. She would scoop warm chickpeas into a paper cone, sprinkle them with cumin and salt, cover the cone with the palm of her hand, and then give the whole thing a good shake to coat the chickpeas evenly with the spices. That was my regular snack on the walk back home from school. After years of this daily routine, I thought I knew something about chickpeas. Then one day at the supermarket, I spotted an unrecognizable green vegetable. The label read “fresh chickpeas.” I was shocked – happily shocked!
It took five minutes to cook the fresh chickpeas in the steamer. To my surprise, they didn’t taste like the usual chickpeas boiled or straight from the can. They had an unbelievable flavor, a kind of fusion of regular chickpeas, nuts, and some unnameable vegetable.
I Googled “fresh chickpeas” and was intrigued to find them used in hummus and guacamole, fried or charred in their pods – Yum! But for the first time I made fresh chickpeas, I wanted to keep things familiar: chickpeas with cumin and salt. I am not sure why, but I decided to finish them with olive oil. Maybe because that’s how I figured my grandmother – may God rest her soul – would have completed the dish.