glitterandbreadcrumbs

Besan

In Making Food on February 26, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Week 2
Besan

For our nerdy-awesome food book club, people are strongly (strongly!) encouraged to bring snacks, especially ones that are homemade and related to the book-of-the-month. For Mark Bittman’s Food Matters, we ate roasted beet and sweet potato chips; multigrain no-knead bread; and oatmeal-walnut cookies. When we talked about Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, the snacks included pickles, freshly made ricotta, and naan. (And because none of us made it all the way through Mark Winne’s interesting-but-dense Closing the Food Gap, we just drank a bunch of wine and ate three bags of potato chips and talked about movies instead.)

But for this month’s read, Farm City by Novella Carpenter, I made something that has absolutely nothing to do with the book and everything to do with the bag of chickpea flour that’s been sitting on the counter since my last trip to Patel Bros.

Chickpea or garbanzo flour, also called besan (and also called gram flour), is just that: flour made from ground chickpeas. It’s used in Indian cooking as a breading or batter for various snack foods, kind of along the lines of tempura, as well as for crisp snack crackers called papadums – which were initially what I thought I’d make for book club. But papadums call for deep-frying, and I had neither the oil nor the patience for that, so I decided to go a Mediterranean route instead.

In Italy, besan is used for a polenta-ish dish called panissa as well as for farinata, a crispy pizza/pancake/cracker kind of snack food. Farinata is a kissing cousin of socca, a chickpea crepe that’s popular in Southern France. I borrowed the base recipe for socca from David Lebovitz’s awesome book The Sweet Life in Paris, but adapted both the measurements and the cooking method, because I’m biased against weirdo measurements and impatient, respectively.

Mix together 1 cup chickpea flour, 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and a generous pinch of ground cumin. Let the batter stand for a while – at least two hours – covered at room temperature.

To bake, pour a tablespoon or so of extra-virgin olive oil in to a heavy (preferably cast-iron) pan, and heat the pan in your oven’s broiler until it’s screaming hot. Ladle in the batter, spread quickly so it coats the bottom of the pan, and return it to the broiler. Let it bake until firm to the touch and just beginning to blister on top, which’ll take 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your broiler. (I did it in one batch; Lebovitz calls for doing it in three, which would yield thinner, crisper crackers.)

The socca turned out okay: kind of crispy, kind of chewy: a thick pancake that was crispy around the edges. I served it with a couple of dipping sauces that nodded to the flour’s Indian uses – mango chutney mixed with plain yogurt, and an stink-tastic garlic relish mixed with sour cream. We ate it while it was still hot, and it was… okay. But missing something. A topping, maybe? Caramelized onions? Gremolata? I’d love some suggestions.

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