“Super crunchy” is how cookbook author and Outback Gourmet host Justine Schofield describes besan batter.
Besan flour, made from ground chickpeas (or in some places, from a related lentil, the Bengal gram), is a popular ingredient in Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese and Sri Lankan cooking, used for everything from sev, the delicious noodle-like savoury snack, to sweet ladoo. It’s the key ingredient in the unleavened French flatbread, socca, and its cousin, the Italian farinata or cecina.
And it makes for a gloriously crunchy coating.
“Besan flour doesn't go super golden brown. What it does do, it goes super crunchy,” says Schofield in Outback Gourmet, when she uses a besan-flour batter to her chickpea-battered chicken (think super-sized, tender chicken nuggets). “And it's got a lovely, nutty flavour.”
“Chickpea or besan flour is a great gluten-free flour. I like the flavour of it. It makes a thicker batter [than wheat flour] but it definitely gives a lovely crust. It’s a really nice thing to use.
“When I did fried chicken [in the show], people will notice that it didn't get that super golden colour, but it did give a really nice, thick crust, which meant it kept the chicken super moist.
“I’ve done it with fish, too, or you dip cauliflower into it and deep-fry it. So delicious!”
Feeling hungry now? Here are some of our favourite ways to embrace the crunchy goodness of chickpea/besan flour batter.
“Chickpea flour has an excellent toasty flavour that works well in this recipe, the olives give it a burst of saltiness, and the smell and savouriness of caraway always makes me extra hungry. With a possible influence from my Sri Lankan friends, this is perfect as an antipasto or even as something to snack on with a beverage,” says O Tama Carey of her battered cauliflower and olives, which are served with deep-fried chickpeas. The batter can be made up to 4 hours in advance and stored in the fridge.
Another delicious snack from O Tama Carey, this time using the chickpea flour as a coating, rather than in a batter. Large pitted green olives are stuffed with seasoned quince paste, coated in egg, milk and chickpea flour, then gently fried. “It’s a little fiddly but makes for a delicious salty and sweet antipasti,” Carey says.
For her crunchy-coated chicken, Schofield uses soda water in the batter. As she explains in Outback Gourmet, besan flour is a little denser than other flours, so it benefits from a “lift”. By using bubbly soda water and mixing it in gently and slowly to retain as much of the air as possible, you get a great batter. “And I like to do this [mixing the soda water in] at the very last minute to keep as much bubble in as possible.”
In bhajis and pakoras and similar fried bites, the chickpea batter is what holds everything together. Take these, redolent with curry powder, coriander, cumin, ginger, garlic and turmeric and turning red onion into a delicious fritter-y snack.
Pokora like these – with crunchy chickpea batter holding together a mix of cabbage, potato, spinach, chillies and spices- are a popular street food in Nepal. The recipe also a rich a roasted tomato sauce, perfect for dipping.
And a bonus that is clearly not battered. But so delicious!
To show the wonderful versatility of chickpea flour, and to end on a sweet note, we give you this simple three-ingredient fudge. Condensed milk, ghee and chickpea flour. Just those, and some stirring and chilling, and you’ll have indulgent squares of sweet, earthy chickpea fudge.
This Gujarati favourite – handvo – has crispy edges and a soft, vegetable-laden interior. It is normally made from lentils and rice, ground into a paste and fermented overnight, but this is an instant version.
Many of my Asian patients with blood sugar problems tell me that they struggle to replace flatbreads or chapattis in their diet. Unfortunately, most shop-bought flatbreads these days are made of highly refined wheat flour, whereas in India they are traditionally made with wholemeal chickpea flour, which is relatively lower in carbohydrate and high in protein and fibre. It is also gluten-free.
These spherical sweet are made with chickpea flour (besan), usually in celebration of a holiday like Diwali.