In Israel, chickpeas are a ubiquitous part of life, sometimes to the point of obsession. They are in salads, soups and even dumplings but the majority of chickpeas on this eastern strip of the Mediterranean are destined to become hummus (especially when the hummus wars escalate). Israelis may consider chickpeas the national legume, yet they still have a few things to learn from France.
In the Côte d’Azur a golden batter of chickpea flour, olive oil and water is poured onto a cast iron skillet to make socca. It’s a street food reminiscent of falafel, eaten hot and still glistening with oil. Instead of creamy sesame sauce and mango chutney, it is topped with several grinds of fresh black pepper.
Farther along the coast in Liguria, Italians bake farinata, an unleavened chickpea bread that has become intrinsic to the regional cuisine. Although Genoa is considered its center of origin, migration has introduced this local favorite to many other areas of the world. Their recipes are also mimicked in North African cooking, such as the Algerian karantita, spiced with harissa and cumin.
If I spent my summers in the French Riviera than perhaps this would not be news to me. Instead, I stumbled upon them in Ilva’s Italian food blog Lucullian Delights and was fascinated by their simplicity. Yet I was never able to replicate her recipes and soon stopped trying. I had always used roasted chickpea flour, the variety most often used in Israel to make gondi, Persian chickpea and meat dumplings. With the dearth of French immigrants in my town, the spice vendor assumed this was what I wanted to make.
The roasting process changes the texture of the flour so that it no longer becomes cohesive when mixed with water. It was not until a tip by Christine Amina Benlafquih, expert on Moroccan food, did I realize my mistake; it was like trying to make tortilla with corn meal instead of masa harina. Similar ingredients are not always interchangeable since processing techniques can vastly alter their characteristics.
Perhaps chickpea crepes will never be as prevalent as falafel or hummus but it would be nice to see a few corner vendors diversifying their wares. Who knows, maybe they’ll be the next food trend in Israel.
Traditionally chickpea bread is baked in a blazing wood oven until slightly charred and divided into uneven portions. According to David Lebovitz it is also “obligatoire” to add olive oil to the mixture and let it rest for several hours. I prefer to pour the batter onto an olive oil coated skillet to produce individual sized crepes. These are an interesting addition to a gluten free diet as well as the Passover menu.
1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix the chickpea flour, water and salt together to make a thin batter. Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Coat the bottom of a cast iron pan with olive oil and heat gently. Pour the batter into the middle of the pan. Once bubbles appear on the surface of the crepe, flip and heat the opposite side.
Variations and ideas: Add spices and herbs to the batter such as ground cumin, coriander, flat leaf parsley or coriander. Use the crepes much the same way tortillas are used.
Yesterday I enjoyed a wonderful evening at Eucalyptus Restaurant in the company of a diverse group Israeli food bloggers. We had the pleasure of meeting Gil Marks, a James Beard award winning cookbook writer and food historian. He is the author of Encyclopedia of Jewish Food and Olive Trees and Honey.