Meatless Monday: Addictive Chickpea Crepes

I’m now addicted to chickpea crepes, and it’s all Monica Bhide’s fault. What began as an innocent, unassuming kitchen adventure seems to have morphed into a gastronomic disorder -- a full-on addiction that may require an intervention.

Besan crepes ready for stuffing and chutney dipping. (Kim O'Donnel)

Honest, all I was doing was paging through the galley proofs of “Modern Spice,” Bhide’s latest work, which hits bookstore shelves on April 21. From her collection of 125 recipes, I was particularly drawn to the aforementioned crepes, as I’m a big fan of gluten-free chickpea flour (you may already know about my love for veggie pakoras) and am always looking for a new way to play with it.

Early last week, I made a batch for me and Mister MA to try for supper, and we stuffed them with Monica’s mashed potatoes, which are jazzy, tongue popping and so not-your-mother’s-mashed (yowza!). Mister MA described the experience as “awesome” and decided to call it an Indian taco, as we dipped our hand-held treats in an herby chutney. But unlike corn tortillas (which I love), these crepes are studded with herbs, spices and shallots, resulting in flavor that makes you wanna do a jig.

Later in the week when I caught up with Monica up by phone, she mentioned that her father makes the crepes all the time for his buddies as a cocktail snack, with a little chutney for good measure.

But as an edible container, the crepes offer countless possibilities -- grated paneer, chicken, legumes in gravy -- and then it occurred to me: What about a fried egg? After all, my second crepe foray was underway at noon on Saturday, which meant it was time for brunch. After flipping about six crepes, I fried an egg and yes indeed, used it as my filling. Heaven!

If you’ve never heard of chickpea flour or you have and were afraid to ask, here’s the deal: There’s no more time to waste. Head out to your nearest Indian grocer -- and if there’s nary such a place in your neck of the woods, consider an online source such as Ethnic Grocer or Indian Blend. Order a bag of flour, and while you’re at it, some carom seeds and mustard seeds.

As a supper, complete with the potato filling and the chutney, you need about 75 minutes flying solo, or 50ish minutes with a kitchen partner. Nothing is tricky here, but while one person is manning the crepes, the other cook can be handling the mash and the chutney. However, if all you wanna do is a last-minute treat for impromptu visitors, you can whip up this savory snack in about 30 minutes. You’ll become the hip-happenin-est kid in town, and you too can join Besan Crepes Anonymous with Moi leading the meetings.


Baby Besan Crepes
From “Modern Spice” by Monica Bhide

1 cup chickpea flour (KOD: available at Indian grocers; also sold as besan or gram flour)
1 ¼ cups water
1 teaspoon red chile powder or red chile flakes
2 small shallots (or 1 medium), diced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon carom seeds (also known as bishop’s weed and ajwain; a strong thyme flavor, but if you can’t find, omit rather than substituting dried thyme, says Bhide)
1 teaspoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon salt or to taste
4 teaspoons vegetable oil

Place chickpea flour in a bowl and add water slowly with one hand while mixing it in with the other hand. You can use a spatula but I find using my hands works the best, as it tends to become lumpy when water is added. Keep adding water and mixing to remove all lumps. Final consistency should be like that of pancake batter, pourable but not thin (KOD: The batter tends to settle too, so it’s a good idea to give it a stir before cooking.) Add chile powder, shallots, cilantro, carom seeds, ginger and salt, and mix well.

Heat a small crepe pan or skillet (KOD: think 7 inch diameter; a flat-top griddle would work great too) on medium heat. Add ½ teaspoon of oil. Pour in about ¼ cup of the batter (crepes should be about 1/3-inch thick. KOD: I make batter in a bowl, then pour into a glass measuring cup. Then I portion out by pouring into a ¼ cup measuring cup.)

Cook for 2-3 minutes, until bubbles begin to form. (KOD: not just on the edges but in the middle) Using a spatula, lift crepe and flip. If it does not flip easily, it needs to cook about a minute longer. After flipping, cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Remove from pan and place on a plate lined with a paper towel. Continue until all of the batter is used, with paper between each layer. Crepes are not soft; they are in fact a bit crispy.

Makes 8 crepes
Prep/cook time: 20 minutes (not including Garlic Smashed Potatoes)

Garlic Smashed Potatoes
2 medium Idaho potatoes, scrubbed, boiled, peeled and mashed (KOD: I used 6 small-ish waxy variety, such as Yukon gold, Yellow Finn or fingerlings)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
salt to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (available in bulk areas of some supermarkets or at Indian grocers)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large or 4-6 small shallots, very finely shopped
1 small green Serrano chile, minced
2 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut (KOD: omit if this is hard to find or undesirable)
1 teaspoon red chile powder or red chile flakes
Fresh cilantro for garnish

In a bowl, combine potatoes, melted butter and salt to taste. Mix well. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. When oil begins to shimmer, add mustard seeds. When seeds begin to sizzle, add garlic, shallots and green chile. Cook until shallots begin to brown, 2-3 miutes. Add coconut and remove from heat.

Add red chile powder and mix well. Pour this mixture over potatoes and stir to combine. Garnish with cilantro.

Makes four servings.
Prep/cook time: 25 minutes

Mint-Cilantro Chutney
1 cup packed cilantro leaves and stems
1 cup cup packed mint leaves
1 green Serrano chile (optional; if you don’t like too much heat, remove seeds)
¼ small red onion, sliced
1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds, fresh or dried (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Up to 2 tablespoons water

Blend cilantro, mint, chile, onion, pomegranate seeds (if using), lemon juice and salt in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add water if necessary. Taste and add salt as necessary.

Serve cool. Chutney will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, for four days.

Makes 1 cup.

And here’s yet another variation on green chutney, which is a favorite at the Casa:

1 large handful chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 small handful chopped and stemmed mint leaves
1/2 inch gingerroot, peeled and finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves chopped garlic
1 plum tomato
1 small green chili, seeded and diced

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth and well combined. Add salt to taste. Serve at room temperature.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 23, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Meatless Monday
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Looks really good. This recipe is a keeper.

Posted by: davemarks | March 23, 2009 8:13 AM

Could you please suggest a way to prepare chicken for the crepes? Thanks.

Posted by: goodwater1 | March 23, 2009 11:46 AM

Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian" cookbook has Chickpea Flour Pancakes too. Her basic version has only cumin, turmeric, cayenne and salt as seasonings, with suggested more complex variations. They're really good and pretty quick if you use a very simple filling such as shredded raw carrots, or of course, a fried egg.

Posted by: Bburg2 | March 23, 2009 2:32 PM

The crepes look delicious! But I'm confused about the finished product. When you said you stuffed them, I envisioned a soft product like a tortilla, but the recipe says they're crispy. Which is it?

Posted by: daisymack | March 23, 2009 4:42 PM

Daisymack, they are crispy around the edges -- or least that's how mine turned out, but they are soft enough to bend a bit and stuff.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | March 24, 2009 11:18 AM

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