Catching the vegan bug at Chickpeas
Ottawa’s only vegan Middle Eastern eatery
Name + address: Chickpeas, 500 Terminal Ave. Unit A05
Type of food: Middle Eastern
For this series of stories I had thought of only comparing falafel shops around the city. I realized however that I liked the alliteration of Shawarma Safari so I expanded the category.
Then, sticking to my original plan, I came across Chickpeas at the Trainyards. It’s at the far end and sits diagonally across from Walmart. It also produces a knockout falafel sandwich.
Originally the owners had not just the Ottawa location but several in Toronto as well. With the pandemic, tough decisions needed to be made and we Ottawans were the lucky winners with the last Chickpeas now in our fair city.
Lentil soup. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
I’m always impressed by how talented people can extract so much flavour when producing vegan soups. In a German household vegetable stocks are not uncommon but most of us grew up with beef or chicken stocks which is, I suppose, the reason for my surprise when I get a vegan soup that teaches me a lesson.
The lentil soup at Chickpeas is so good that you’ll have it as top-of-mind on your next visit. There’s an almost sweet nuttiness in both flavour and aroma and as you eat you become aware of a mild rising heat. I realize it sounds impossible but this is comfort food without the cream.
Salads and foul. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Tabouli salad can sometimes be a hit or miss affair depending on the time of day you make your purchase. Often these salads can sit in their dressing for hours causing them to wilt and develop off flavours.
At Chickpeas, these salads are the freshest I’ve found anywhere. The green olive salad packed a big umami punch with its well marinated olives and sweet and tangy pomegranate dressing. The red peppers were a welcome addition as they were cooling and tamed my over-excited palate.
The tabouli salad was unique because it was made with quinoa instead of bulgur. It’s a smart strategy in that it provides extra fibre, adds a lovely flavour and it’s gluten free. Both salads pictured here were the small versions and were enough to feed up to three people each.
Foul (pronounced “fool”) is a warm fava bean dip topped with parsley, tomatoes and olive oil and it can be made in a variety of ways depending on country of origin. This version had both pureed and whole beans and it overpowered with the aroma of warm parmesan cheese. Fava beans are naturally pungent but this was a first for me. It was a very good and traditional version that must be tried.
Fatteh salad. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
The cumin scented fatteh salad is a robust choice for those with empty stomachs. It’s a rich dish of chickpeas, hummus, fried pita and parsley topped with handfuls of olive oil toasted almonds. It was served warm and the hummus was so fresh it tasted as if it had just been made, the lemon singing like a siren's call drawing you back for more.
Falafel. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
Like so many things that seem simple (think fettuccine alfredo) a falafel can leave you feeling either like you’ve discovered a truly great food or that you’ll never want to eat this food again.
At first glance their falafel reminded me of little curling stones with the handles missing, leaving behind these cute dimples. Biting through the crisp shell, steam was released offering up a soft and savoury heart. The interior had an almost green appearance and whatever the seasonings, I found myself struggling between wanting to contemplate the recipe and giving myself over to gluttony. I think the gluttony won.
Falafel sandwich. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout
The falafel sandwich, no surprise, was great. Not only because of the falafel itself but because it had a just-hot-enough jalapeno hummus and a pita bread that was nicer than any I’ve had. It was made by a company in Windsor named Brick Oven Pita and was softer and sweeter with a more pillowy feel without being thick.
I put on my deerstalker's cap and finally found the local distributor who informed me that this bread is available at Moussa Mini Market and Meat Shop at 300 McArthur Ave. and at New Middleast Supermarket at 1755 Bank St. The version for the public goes by the name of Sanabel.
I’ve not had enough hummus or falafel around Ottawa to make any ultimate declarations but it won’t surprise me if these versions at Chickpeas land on my year end list.