The New “It” Ingredient That’s Been Around for Thousands of Years
It’s definitely not a secret any longer that the gluten-free diet has gained momentum and popularity among consumers today; as I walk down the aisles of the supermarket—gluten-free bread, gluten-free grains, gluten-free snacks, gluten-free pasta, gluten-free desserts—if there’s a gluten-filled product out there on the market, there’s also probably a gluten-free counterpart waiting to take its place.
But don’t get me wrong; it’s a good thing these options are available, as many face personal and allergy-related dietary restrictions, limiting their consumption of this delicious, yet pesky little mystery protein called gluten. Although such an influx of products has made it easier for individuals to enjoy a wider variety of foods, to some extent, it has limited creativity in the kitchen for recent gluten-free converts. “How am I to make these delicious gluten-free meals and desserts on my own?” one might ask. Well, the answer is here, and it’s been here for several thousand years: chickpea flour.
If you’re up to snuff regarding healthy alternatives used in gluten-free cooking and baking, you may have already heard about chickpea flour—also known as gram, besan, or garbanzo bean flour. As its name suggests, the flour is created by grinding raw or roasted chickpeas into a fine, golden powder. This superpowered ingredient is not only naturally gluten-free, it’s also low-glycemic, packed with protein, and high in iron, magnesium, and phosphorous (all essential minerals for the body’s functions). So whether or not you’re gluten-free, chickpea flour is pretty great, right?
While chickpea flour stands at the forefront of contemporary gluten-free cooking and baking here in the U.S., it seems as though everyone else has known about it for centuries. As the second most grown legume in the world, the humble chickpea has a long and layered past, dating back about 7,500 years (ancient chickpea remains have even been found in areas in the Middle East). For years, the flour has been used in traditional recipes or as a staple ingredient in countries including Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, Algeria, Burma, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, where it’s prized for its fine texture and deliciously nutty taste.
One of the most popular chickpea flour recipes, Italian farinata (which happens to mean, “made from flour”), is a thin, unleavened pancake of sorts that is enjoyed by many. It is made by combining chickpea flour into a mixture of water and olive oil to form a loose batter that is then baked in an open oven and usually seasoned with fresh rosemary, pepper, and salt. Sounds delicious, yeah? Others would agree; renditions of this popular recipe are known to be served around the world—karantita in Algeria, faina in Argentina and Uruguay, chilla or puda in India, and socca in the south of France.
Chickpea flour can also be used to make tasty panisses, essentially the French version of the French fry (but without the potato)—which is a little paradoxical. These yummy chickpea treats are made with chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil for frying. It’s as simple as that! Moving on from these scrumptious chickpea starters and sides, this flour can also be found in traditional entrees in West Indian cuisine, including paatra, a vegetarian dish that is made with colacosia leaves and taro root leaves, smeared with a spiced chickpea flour batter. Your palate will tingle with the tastes of green chili paste, ginger, tamarind paste, and jaggery. Pakoras are also popular in Indian cuisine and are traditionally made using one or two ingredients including: onion, eggplant, potato, spinach, plantain, cheese, cauliflower, tomato, or chili pepper. The selected stuffing is then dipped in a batter of chickpea flour and deep-fried. Sensational! Whether you’re traveling the globe or simply cooking up a cultural storm in your household kitchen, chickpea flour is a sure and classic ingredient to include in your diet.
Just these small glimpses into classic chickpea flour cooking may be enough to sell you over on the ingredient, but let me surprise you again. What if I were to tell you that you could also use this same flour (Yes, that means adding only one more item to your shopping cart!) to make some of your favorite desserts and sweet treats? If your answer is “I would be so happy—chickpea flour is the best!” I’ve guessed correctly. In Camilla Saulsbury’s new book, The Chickpea Flour Cookbook, she includes modern recipes that are both savory and sweet— my favorites are the desserts (I have a sweet tooth, okay?). Chocolate chip chickpea cookies, tahini & jam thumbprints, and chocolate fudge saucepan brownies—the list is sure to impress.
So, as the cold weather starts to settle in this time of year, crack open Camilla’s cookbook and enjoy a steaming bowl of lemon-thyme soup with chickpea dumplings and a warm slice of apple pie cake (all made with chickpea flour). Gluten-free fanatic or not, your classic and contemporary taste buds won’t regret it!
Order your copy of The Chickpea Flour Cookbook here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Chickpea-Flour-Cookbook-Gluten-Free/dp/1891105566
Heather Linger is an intern working at Lake Isle Press who enjoys art, writing, food, and the outdoors. She studies Visual Arts at Antioch College.