Fun with Chickpea Flour
Whether you’re avoiding wheat flour by necessity or are just looking for some variety in a stale diet, bean flours in general–and chickpea flour in particular– are a nutritious alternative to some of the most common flours in our lives.
The most commonly-used gluten-free flours and starches (like rice flour and tapioca starch) offer little by way of protein or fiber. In fact, the starchy qualities of these flours–which tend to comprise most GF breads, pizza crusts and other commercially-prepared baked goods– help account for the fact that gluten-free baked goods often have up to twice the calories and up to 50% more carbohydrate compared to their conventional counterparts.
In contrast, bean flours offer a delicious and nutritious (gluten-free) alternative to these starchy staples, and are versatile enough to star as center-of-plate foods… or play a supporting role in a meal as bread’s gluten-free understudy. Take chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour for example: 1/4 cup contains 110 calories, 6g protein, 18g of carbohydrate (of which a hefty 5g is fiber) and an impressive 10% of the daily value for iron. Compare that to 1/4 cup of (whole) brown rice flour, which contains 140 calories, 3g of protein, 31g of carbohydrate (of which only 1g is fiber) and 4% of the daily value for iron.
Humble chickpea flour even edges out whole wheat flour in a nutritional tête à tête: it has 2g more protein and 1g more fiber in that same 110 calorie, 1/4 cup serving. Which makes it a lovely stand-in for plain wheat flour in recipes for breaded fish or chicken that call for a bit of a flour-and-egg dredging.
Contributing to the high total fiber content in raw bean flours–particularly white bean, lentil and chickpea flours–is a unique type of fiber called “resistant starch.” And lest you fixate on the word “starch” and worry that bean flours will spike your blood sugar like white potatoes or refined flours, I draw your attention to the “resistant” part, instead. This unique type of starch resists digestion in your small intestine, and therefore it can’t be absorbed for energy like a normal “starch.” As a result, it does not produce a glycemic (blood sugar) response; in fact, research shows that eating the type of resistant starch found in beans will actually blunt the blood sugar and insulin response after a meal. Since it is not digested and absorbed, resistant starch travels on to your colon, intact, where the resident bacteria break it down (ferment it) to meet their own energy needs. One of the byproducts of this fermentation process is a family of very beneficial (to you) compounds called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which, among their many contributions to your health, help prevent colon cancer by reducing the absorption of certain dietary carcinogens. Whole grains and beans are the primary sources of resistant starch in our diets, and raw bean flours are an excellent source of this beneficial type of fiber.
So now that you’re standing on line at the grocery store with a bag of chickpea flour in hand, what to do with it? Here are two ideas road-tested in my kitchen this past week:
Idea #1: Make “Chickpea-zza”
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find acceptable GF pizza-crust substitutes. Most frozen varieties fall somewhere along the scale of cardboard to passable, but certainly not objectively “good.” Of the mixes, I’ve found the Bob’s Red Mill GF Pizza Crust mix to be the best
from both a taste, texture and nutritional perspective, but even it has its drawbacks: waiting for the dough to rise, dealing with the sticky batter and–especially in the summer–having to turn on the oven to bake it.
For all of these reasons, I was more than delighted to discover the world of chickpea-flour pizzas, inspired by the crepe-like “Socca” from Nice and a similar Italian dish called “Farinata.” You can make these pizza crusts from scratch from chickpea flour, water and salt; they don’t require any yeast; they cook very fast; and they’re made in a non-stick frying pan, so when they’re done, they slide right out onto your serving plate. They are SO very easy. And tasty!
According to Madhur Jaffrey in her cookbook entitled “World Vegetarian” (Clarkson Potter, 1999), these chickpea breads are traditionally made like pizzas in a brick oven and eaten by workmen as a morning snack. I’m guessing that this was the inspiration behind actually topping it with some fresh vegetables and cheese to turn them into bona-fide pizzas. Jaffrey’s super-simple batter and clever stovetop-to-broiler method made for the easiest and pizza-iest version of the several recipes I consulted. You can click here to get her original recipe for Chickpea Pizza with Tomato and Parmesan; don’t worry about the broiler part, as most countertop toaster oven/broilers will accommodate a 12″ frying pan (just leave the oven door open for the few minutes while the pizza cooks and turn the pan as necessary during cooking to make sure its cooking evenly), so you need not turn on the kitchen oven and heat up the whole house. Once you make this pizza for the first time, you’ll no doubt realize how flexible the recipe can be to accommodate the herbs, vegetables and cheeses of your choosing. (Fresh thyme leaves are lovely in the crust, too; and thinly-sliced zucchini is a delicious topping as well…) Alternatively, you can just prepare the batter plain–no herbs and no toppings–and make it into a simple gluten-free skillet bread for breakfast or lunch. Also note that when you make this batter for the first time, it will seem too thin and liquidy. Just trust the recipe; it firms up perfectly in the frying pan, and will proceed to become nice and brown under the broiler.
Idea #2: Make Falafel
Let’s debunk some myths about falafel, shall we? It need not be made only from cooked beans, and it need not be deep-fried. You can whip up a fantastic, authentic version of falafel at home, making a fast batter out of chickpea flour and a few other dry pantry staples, which can then be fried in a non-stick pan using a modest amount (2 TBSP) of olive oil. This terrific recipe for falafel from Bob’s Red Mill produces a creamy batter that resembles hummus and results in a delicious batch of 12 lovely falafel balls with just 60 calories a pop. I served my falafel balls (pucks?) taco-style, in gluten-free organic corn tortillas lined with my favorite cilantro chutney, a romaine lettuce leaf for crunch and drizzled with a touch of hot sauce. Two such tacos (pictured) served with a simple chopped salad of cucumber or red peppers makes for a fast and healthy 400-calorie lunch.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.