December 28, 2023
A SAVORY BESAN POODA WILL ROCK YOUR MORNING ROUTINE. Besan is the Hindi word for chickpea flour. It's a common ingredient in a variety of Indian dishes. In Rajasthani cuisine, the finely-ground flour is dry roasted and combined with vegetables as a base for dry sabzis. In Gujarati cuisine it is deep fried into savory snacks. In Punjabi cuisine, we've grown up eating them in fritters called pakoras and in savory crepes, or a pooda. (The 'd' has an 'rd' sound to it.) We also turn it into a dessert called besan ki barfi. There is nothing more satisfying or tasty than a beautifully-spiced chickpea flour batter with the added crunch of minced red onion and fresh chiles served with a spicy pickle on the side and a hot cup of steaming chai.
Besan has entered the mainstream market as well. Chickpea crepes have been showing up on high-end restaurant menus over the last few years and in the supermarket as egg replacement. Besan is a binder and it's naturally gluten-free, which makes it a perfect ingredient for many with food allergies and/or plant-based eaters. The one thing to keep in mind is that it does have a distinct flavor profile, so you need to be careful when using it in recipes.
The type of chickpea used to make besan traditionally is the black chickpea - not the white. You can purchase the flour from any Indian grocery store. Or, if you are feeling ambitious, grind your own from raw, dried black chickpeas in the dry jug of a high-powered blender like a vitamix, just like coffee beans. The chickpea flour from a mainstream grocery store is traditionally made from white chickpeas. The color is slightly lighter and when cooking with it, you typically don't need as much water. My recipes are always made from black chickpea flour, so that's something to keep in mind.
If you are looking for chickpea flour because you are truly GLUTEN FREE for medical reasons, this is where things get tricky. While the flour is naturally gluten-free, not all Indian food processors guarantee their facilities are free from allergens including gluten. Thus, if it's important that your besan be truly gluten-free, head to a mainstream market for it. Now let's get going and make the recipe below - you will love it! I like using 2 cups because it makes enough for my family of four and if I have any extra I can just save it in a container in the fridge. It will keep for up to two weeks. Feel free to freeze it as well. I prefer to store the batter rather than the crepes so that they are fresh every time I make them, though they can be stored and transport well for road trips.
Stovetop: Savory Besan Pooda, Spiced Chickpea Crepes
2 cups besan (black chickpea flour)
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 small red or yellow onion, finely minced
1-inch piece ginger, minced
1/2-3 Thai or Serrano chiles, stems removed, and finely minced
oil, for pan frying
1. In a deep and roomy bowl, mix the besan and water until smooth. I use a whisk. Break down the clumps of flour with the back of a spoon. You can also process the mixture in a blender until completely smooth and then transfer it to a bowl.
2. Add the turmeric, coriander, garam masala, red chile, and salt. Stir.
3. Add the onion, ginger, and fresh chile. Stir again.
4. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. With a ladle, pour 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of the batter in the pan, and working from the inside towards the outside in a circular, clockwise motion form the batter into a thin crepe. Cook until browned on one side and then flip and cook the other side. Because the onion and chiles fall to the bottom of the bowl, be sure to stir the batter to more evenly dole out the ingredients. Eat with a side of achaar or Indian spicy pickle. For the thinnest possible crepe, add the onion, ginger, and chiles over the batter after doling it out in the pan and cooking one side. Add it to the uncooked side before flipping.
The consistency of the batter is important. For a good pooda, it should be thin and relatively watery. This is a touch counterintuitive, as it should be thicker when making pakora or fried fritters so that the ingredients clump together for better frying.
Here is an example of what you can do with your crepe. It was my 'vegan egg' option at our resort in Tahiti back in December 2022. It's beautiful and looks delicious, the only thing I would recommend is getting it nice and thin. Because chickpea flour can cook up slightly thick it's better when you get it as thin as possible.
Note: This is a variation of a recipe I shared in my third book Vegan Indian Cooking. In that recipe, you'll find that I used more spices, including dried fenugreek leaves or kasoori methi. Feel free to grab a copy of that book and spice up your crepes any way you like.
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