By Nedim Erinc
Dried seeds and nuts are usually the tastier for roasting, and the same is true of the chick pea. Just dried it is used in cooking, when it is first soaked overnight and boiled, but when roasted it is eaten as a snack known in Turkish as leblebi. The famous yellow leblebi of Corum north-east of Ankara takes around one and a half months to transform from the humble chickpea.
Kadir Usta, who has been making leblebi in Corum all his life, both produces and sells leblebi in his shop, where he welcomes his customers like old friends. He empties the prepared chickpeas from sacks into tins and from tins into metal bowls which are then placed in the hot wood fired oven for the final roasting. They are then poured back into the sacks and sold hot. In the process of pouring from one container to another not one spills to the ground in the skilled hands of Kadir Usta.
In the city of Corum there is a leblebi shop on every corner. The province is famous for its plump chickpeas, which when roasted have won justified fame as Corum leblebi. However, demand has increased to such an extent since the 1960s that locally cultivated chickpeas no longer suffice for leblebi production, and chickpeas are brought in from other regions of the country. Nevertheless, the Corum leblebi has lost none of its reputation.
To make leblebi you first need fire bricks, adobe, a pan and a stirrer. Most producers make their own roasting stove, although the pan and stirrer are purchased. For the traditional stove (some producers now use gas-fired ovens instead of wood) firewood which does not produce soot is required, otherwise the leblebi acquire a smoky flavour. The chickpeas are first sorted by size before the first roasting. While hot they are poured into sacks and left to rest for two days, before repeating the process. Then they are laid out in a dry place and left for 15 to 20 days. These initial roasting and resting processes affect the flavour and crunchiness of the end product. Before this third roasting the chickpeas are moistened, poured into sacks and left for a day. During the third roasting the shells of the chickpeas peel away. At this stage they are known as "single roasting leblebi". These need only to be roasted for a final time two days later to be ready for sale.
Variations on the classic leblebi are flavoured with red pepper, salt or cloves at the final roasting stage. The sugared variety so beloved of Turkish children are made by confectioners who coat them with a layer of sugar following the final roasting. The other popular type of leblebi, known as white or mastic leblebi is a speciality of other provinces, and is not made in Corum.
Leblebi are a favourite nibble for children, alone or with nuts to accompany drinks, or with the fermented wheat drink known as boza, and are a much healthier between-meal snack than the chocolate bars which have invaded Turkish shops over the past 20 years. That their popularity has not declined, however, is shown by the yearly increasing production levels, so the chocolate bar has clearly not managed to oust this traditional and delicious snack.