I recently discovered besan or chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour. During COVID-19, we’ve been relying on grocery delivery. One of our best sources of fresh produce has been Sankaj HD, by a local Indian chef who leveraged her supplier contacts to pivot toward home grocery delivery. As a result, we’ve been exploring some fantastic, new-to-us Indian products. Of these, besan (gram flour) has been one of my favorites.
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Pick Chickpea Flour for Health
Everyone knows that the food identity of China is closely linked to white rice. The Chinese term for the starchy part of a meal is 主食 (zhǔ shí), meaning “main food”. Traditionally, we eat some sort of 主食 staple at every meal. For millennia white rice (米 mǐ) in the south and wheat (面 miàn) in the north have been the main energy source in the Chinese diet.
In an agricultural society where people were outside all day working the fields, the quick energy boost from carbohydrates was essential for finishing a long day’s work. Although we’re having a lot of fun planting our container victory garden on our tiny patio, I definitely do not need the glucose spike my ancestors needed to work the fields.
Glycemic index is a measure of the human body’s glucose levels after eating foods — lower = smaller insulin and glucose spike. As much as I love rice (check the blog title…), for the sake of my health I’ve been looking for easy ways to swap it out for lower glycemic index foods — without sacrificing flavor.
Chickpea flour 鹰嘴豆粉 (yīng zuǐ dòu fěn) is a great wheat replacement in Chinese savory pancakes 煎饼 (jiān bǐng) because it has the nutty flavor of wheat while being easy to use and guilt-free. White rice has a glycemic index of ~75, wheat flour pancakes 66 – 80 depending on the recipe, but chickpea flour pancakes are only 42! Moreover, chickpea flour is higher in both protein and dietary fiber than ordinary wheat flour.
Wheat Flour Nutrition
Chickpea Flour Nutrition
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对于吃米面长大的中国人，减少米面主食，改为低葡萄糖负荷参数（low glycemic index）的食品尤为重要。鹰嘴豆（英语 chickpea 或 garbanzo bean）磨成粉可以代替面粉，摊出来的饼又香有健康。印度超市里普遍，名称 besan 或 gram flour，会和其他的豆子面粉类的食材一起卖。美国超市里也能买到，在无麸质面粉附近找 chickpea flour 或 garbanzo flour。鹰嘴豆粉也可以自己在家做：用高马力搅拌器（比如Vitamix维他密斯）或食物加工器（food processor）将干豆子打成粉。
Chickpea Flour Pancakes
The first time I had chickpea flour was socca during a trip to Nice in the south of France. Socca, known as farinata in the Italian Riviera, is a delicious chickpea flour crepe, cooked in a very hot wood-fired oven.
The weather here is starting to heat up, so I skipped the oven to make a effortless savory pancake 煎饼 (jiān bǐng) in my tiny outdoor kitchen instead. This is very similar to Indian besan chilla/cheela as well. Think of it as a blank canvas to add your own seasoning and flavor profile. It’s also a great way to clear out the fridge of any veggie knobs and ends you have left!
You can find besan or gram flour in the bean and flour aisle of the Indian grocery. In a well-stocked conventional grocery, look for chickpea flour or garbanzo flour with the gluten-free baking supplies. Alternatively, make your own chickpea flour at home: grind dried chickpeas in a high-power blender (I use Vitamix) or a food processor (I use Cuisinart). Sift the ground chickpeas to filter out and re-process any large pieces.
This is a great dish for an easy weekend brunch or lunch while working from home; try making it outside on a nice day! It’s an easy, leisurely dish. The cooking takes time but not much attention. I made it while sitting outside on the patio with my computer and enjoying the sunshine.
Ingredients & Cook
Prepping savory chickpea pancakes 煎饼 is really easy. You can add whatever veggies you have on hand as long as they are finely diced (~1/8 inch). This ensures the pancakes cook evenly on both sides. Alternatively, you can use a box grater or food processor to shred the veggies.
I used half each of a zucchini, a tomato that had seen better days, and an onion. I added one medium Indian chili (de-seeded) for spice. This batch has smoked paprika for smokiness and color, and cumin for warmth. I listed some more ingredient and seasoning ideas at the end of the post.
Whisk the veggies, chickpea flour, and enough water to form a loose, pour-able batter. I started with equal weights of chickpea flour and water and added more water 1 Tbsp at a time to the desired consistency. To prevent unappetizing chickpea flour clumps, make sure the batter is well-mixed. In wheat flour pancakes, over-mixing would overwork the gluten and cause tough pancakes. Because chickpea flour is gluten-free, there’s no possibility of over-mixing the batter.
Cook the savory chickpea flour pancakes in a nonstick pan with a few drops of oil on medium-low heat. You could also use a cast iron skillet with more oil. They’re ready to flip when the fine bubbles on top become large bubbles, and the batter is almost fully set. You only need to flip these pancakes once. As soon as the pancakes are firm and cooked through, they’re ready to eat. However, if you prefer yours with more color, turn up the heat and flip it once at the end to brown. Garnish with fresh herbs — mine was fresh dill from our windowsill Aerogarden!
Cremant d’Alsace: Gustave Lorentz NV, serve at 6-8°C / 43-45°F
Cremant de Bourgogne: Veuve Ambal NV, serve at 6-8°C / 43-45°F
The wine pairing for your savory chickpea pancakes will depend on the flavor profile you choose. I think this dish is perfectly suited to eating outdoors on a beautiful spring day, so I like pairing with something crisp, refreshing, and picnic-y but not boring.
Tavel in the southern Rhone valley is a small town that has been producing rosé since the time of the popes of Avignon over 700 years ago. The predominant varietals here are red wine grapes — mostly grenache — which gives the wine a fuller body and darker color than the many bland, barely pink rosés on the market today. It’s a great choice not just for summer’s rosé-all-day season but year-round.
Another good option is a crisp sparkling wine. I reserve Champagne and its higher price tag for special occasions, but a dry bubbly made in the méthode traditionelle is a perfect choice. Méthode traditionelle, sometimes labeled méthode champenoise refers to a natural secondary fermentation in the bottle to give the wine its bubbles. The non-Champagnes of France are known as crémant. Two good choices are Cremant d’Alsace, from Northeastern France on the border of Switzerland and Germany, and Cremant de Bourgogne, from Burgundy just next door to Champagne.
Savory Chickpea Flour Pancakes 鹰嘴豆饼
- 115 g besan/chickpea flour 1 cup
- 230 g vegetables zucchini, tomato, onion (roughly equal amounts, ⅛" dice or shredded)
- 1 spicy green chili finely minced, optional
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 100 g water ½ cup, plus extra as needed to reach pourable batter consistency
- 3 tsp cooking oil like canola
- Finely dice or shred any vegetables to about 1/8". Combine dry ingredients (everything except water)
- Add water and whisk well to combine, making sure to eliminate any dry flour lumps
- Add additional water 1 Tbsp at a time as necessary to create a smooth, pour-able batter.
- Heat a nonstick pan or cast iron skillet on medium-low heat. Once the pan is evenly heated, add ¾ tsp of cooking oil
- Pour one ladle-full of batter and spread with the back of the ladle in a circular motion to form a thin pancake
- Cook for 2 minutes, or until the fine bubbles become large bubbles and the batter on top begins to set
- Flip the pancake and cook for an additional 2 minutes, until golden brown
Savory Pancake Ingredient Combos
This recipe is endlessly adaptable to your flavor preferences and ingredients on hand. These are some flavor combinations that I think would work well. Let us know in the comments below what you like to include in yours!
- Chinese scallion pancake: scallions (green onion), white pepper
- classic Chinese savory pancakes: Chinese chives 韭菜 (jiǔ cài), black sesame, sesame oil
- Chinese chive pocket 韭菜盒子 (jiǔ cài hé zǐ): Chinese chives, sauteed ground pork, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil
- Indian besan chilla or pudla: tomato, onion, cilantro, spicy chili, turmeric, cumin, cayenne
- French socca/Italian farinata: rosemary, olive oil, black pepper
- herb-garlic: finely minced garlic, mix of fresh herbs like basil, dill, mint
For the Chinese-inspired combinations, you can serve with a dipping sauce of chopped scallion, finely minced garlic, toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, Chinese black (Chinkiang) vinegar, and water.
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Very healthy substitute good for a rice lover. I will use your recipe to make a pancake. Thanks.
I love substitutions that don’t taste like anything changed. To me, this achieves that!
YUMMM that looks so good! The flour seems to have a lot of sodium but I like that it has more protein!
I think since you’d be adding salt to the batter anyway, with the higher sodium content of the chickpea flour you can just reduce the amount of salt. The spices and herbs here make all the difference without adding calories or sodium!