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Home » Beans, Peas & Such, Foods you're probably not eating but totally should be, GF Bread-like Things, GFF (Gluten-free friendly), Great grains

Fun with Chickpea Flour

Submitted by on July 28, 2009 – 11:05 am28 Comments

dreamstime_7694871Whether 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

Chickpea skillet bread (socca), here served as an accompaniment to a homemade Soup au Pistou (vegetable soup with pesto)

Chickpea skillet bread with thyme, here served as an accompaniment to a homemade Soupe au Pistou (vegetable soup with pesto)

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.

When life hands you chickpea flour, make falafel tacos.

When life hands you chickpea flour, make falafel tacos.

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.

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  • Claudia says:

    Great entry! This was a good read. I’m about to start venturing into avoiding wheat and the pictures in this post made me soooo hungry!

  • Tamara says:

    Glad you liked it Claudia! Once you master the Chick Pea flour recipes, check out my posing on Teff flour (from the archives) for some more nutritious fun with wheat-free flours!

  • […] the garden variety potato kind. (And if you have leftover chickpea flour from making this recipe, here are some other ideas of things you can make with them.) The recipe below is from Michael Krondl’s The Great Little Pumpkin Cookbook, and is […]

  • Sharon says:

    Thanks so much for all the great info. I have to cook for a diabetic and gluten free. I had forgotten all about chickpea flour until this morning. Thank You!!!

  • sarah says:

    Thanks so much for these good ideas. I recently bought a 1 kg bag of chickpea flour (called gram flour here in the UK) to use for sweet potato falafel, which were stunning. But now I have a huge amount of chickpea flour and this pizza sounds like exactly what I need! Thanks for the nutritional info as well.

  • Bonnie says:

    I am diabetic trying the advise of a nutritionist for diabetic healing. Your recipes are perfect for this. I have brought my fasting sugar levels down from 185 to 125. Beans and bean products are a big factor in the healing. Thankk you for these wonnderfull recipes.

  • Lupe Amero says:

    Very interesting post thanks for writing it I just added your blog to my bookmarks and will check back 🙂 By the way this is off subject but I really like your sites layout.

  • […] to gluten-free breadsticks while they wait.  Last time I was there, I was tempted by the many socca options– a chickpea flour-based pizza-esque delicacy that originated in Nice, Socca & […]

  • linda says:

    Hi Tamara just a thankyou for a great site which is such a help for Diabetics.
    Thankyou for all the food facts too, looking forward to trying Chickpea flour recipes.

  • Philip says:

    Thank you so much for an informative read! I’m in the process of trying out a gluten-free diet as I am under the suspicion I have developed an intolerance. But I love things make with chickpea flour anyway – and most falafel recipes on the internet seem to use wheat flour, which made me wonder if gram flour was at all suitable, so thankfully reading this put my mind at rest. Another great recipe would be for onion bhajis. I imagine it can be shallow-fried just like falafel, but possibly in an oil with a higher flashpoint as it would require a pretty high heat. I know sunflower oil isn’t always the healthiest, but this treat is so delicious it would be rude not to share it for those who feel like letting loose once in a while!

    For the batter:
    About 250g gram flour
    2 tablespoons turmeric
    1 tablespoon garam masala
    1 tablespoon ground cumin (though I like to add more since it’s my favourite spice)
    Combine all these and then add VERY cold water (apparently, carbonated water is even better) in small batches, constantly mixing until you get a smooth, moderately thick consistency. The least possible amount of water is recommended, but there should be no lumps. This should yield enough batter for quite a lot of bhajis, but it keeps in the fridge for quite a few days.

    For the onions:
    You almost want the onions caramelised, but not quite. I cut a medium onion in half, and slice as thinly as possible. I guess you could use the slicing attachment of your food processor. Basically, you want the onion to retain it’s bite but still soak up all the flavours, so long thin strips are ideal.
    You just want to fry them off in olive oil, but before adding the onions, throw in a couple of teaspoons of turmeric (for colour), a couple of cloves and a few fennel seeds to the hot oil. When the fennel seeds begin to pop, throw in the onions until they begin to colour but not too much.

    One large tablespoon of the fried onions “quinnelled” and combined with the batter makes one small-ish but delicious bhaji. We did deep fry them in the tapas bar I worked in, but I’d imagine they can be shallow-fried too! Just at a high heat and until there’s plenty of colour on the outside. The colour really does affect the flavour. And serve with some chutney of choice, raitha, curried mayonnaise or whatever tickles your fancy!

  • Faye Levy says:

    Very interesting post. How do you store chickpea flour.

  • Tamara says:

    Unopened, you can store it in your pantry. Once opened, seal tightly and keep refrigerated.

  • Liz says:

    Great post. I’m a bit confused, though, about your statement that falafel “need not be made of cooked chickpeas.” In fact, falafel should NEVER be made with cooked chickpeas. Soak the chickpeas overnight, then grind them up with parsley, cilantro, salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne, and garlic. Chill, then form into patties, fry in olive oil. The chickpeas cook by steaming internally as the batter fries. What you’ve made above is a gram flour fritter.

  • John Myers says:

    I’ve very much enjoyed experimenting with chickpea flour and attempting my own ‘chickpea-zza’.
    I tried the stove top to the broiler method but I don’t like the results, so I found another recipe where it’s cooked in the over in a cast iron skillet. I don’t remember the oven temperature – I think it was 400 degrees F.
    Anyway I loved the results – so then I tried it over a charcoal grill and that worked great as well.
    I put the skillet in the oven, get it smoking hot, then add the batter and take it out when it’s nice and golden brown.

  • Tamara says:

    Thanks for the tip, John! Check out today’s post on Chickpea Spaetzle for another fun use for chickpea flour! The recipe is obscenely delicious.

  • Tamara says:

    I stand corrected! Thanks for the info, Liz!

  • Sharon Collins says:

    Great I tried to cook it a while ago but it didn’t work so i am going to try your recipe for skillet bread and ideas this is fab as my system is gluten, dairy and most fruit/veg free

  • Phyllis Glazer says:

    Hi Tamara,
    Do you have any idea if chickpea flour can be used without cooking?
    I want to make a savory snack shaped like truffles and am combining them with flax meal, ground walnuts and tahina (among other ingredients), but was just thinking of rolling it into balls.
    Will this give the eaters indigestion?!

    Many thanks!

  • Tamara says:

    Hi, Phyllis,
    Interesting question…
    My instincts tell me that eating raw bean flours could result in lots of gas. Uncooked starch is very tough to digest. Heat and moisture help gelatinize starch in foods like grains and beans, which enables your digestive enzymes to access the bonds of the starch and break it down more easily. If you’re not going to cook it, at the very least, I’d consider soaking the bean flour first for a good 30 minutes to partially gelatinize it… this should increase the digestibility somewhat, though probably not totally. Keep me posted on what you end up doing and how it works out!

  • Kim B says:

    I recently bought chickpea flour imported from India. It tastes “grassy”. Is this normal? I’ve not notice a grassy flavor when eating chickpea flour-based foods at Indian restaurants. As I’ve never bought it before, I don’t know if this is normal or I bought a bad batch.

  • Tamara says:

    Hi, Kim,
    I guess everyone’s palate is subjective, but I personally wouldn’t describe the flavor of chickpea flour as “grassy.” “Earthy,” perhaps… and definitely beany…but not grassy in the way that, say, a very fresh olive oil would be.

  • Janel says:

    I love adding fresh herbs, sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil on my socca. Thanks for reminding me how much I love this food (and how easy it is to make!).

  • SVP says:

    A lot of tasty and healthy Indian dishes can be made using chickpea flour. Indian food blogs are filled with recipe ideas for the same.

  • miranda says:

    I really like the ideas but i don’t get where the actual recipe is for the yummy sounding chickpea flour ( besan – I get mine from the Indian market stall it’s CHEAP!) pancakes…?

  • amanda says:

    Awsome. My daughter needs variety. Can I leave the rosemary out of the pizza base as she is allergic. Thanks

  • Tamara says:

    Of course!

  • Karuna says:

    In India, chickpea flour is used in multiple ways. Among other things, it is roasted and used to make ladoos, sweet balls usually formed out of mixing ghee, sugar and roasted chickpea flour along with nuts etc. So for the person above who wanted to make a savoury equivalent, do not use raw chickpea flour but rather roast it on low heat until it turns light brown and gives off a roasted aroma.

  • The Bob’s Red Mill recipe for falafel has moved, but I tried it and it was easy to make, easy to customize, and delicious, so here is the updated link.

    I would very much like to thank you, Tamara for pointing it out to me. Once on the Bob’s Red Mill site I had to search around for a while to find the recipe’s current location, but if you hadn’t mentioned it, I wouldn’t have even known to look for it.