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Experimenting with besan (chickpea flour)

I like its flavor in pakoras and other Indian dishes, so I bought a small bag. The closest I'll come to a traditional use is in an ersatz Chicken Korma that I made, shortcutting ingredients to adapt to my pantry. Not wanting to waste ingredients, I'm going to fool around a little. I made a standard crepe recipe with egg and milk but subbed equal parts besan, white whole wheat flour, and AP flour for the usual amount of AP flour. The batter handled the same, taste was good, and there's more fiber. I've christened it a "crosa" (crepe/dosa),
I've also used besan rather than flour when a little thickening is needed for a pan sauce. I am wondering if it could be combined with cornmeal for a variant on polenta?

I haven't tried using it in baked goods - I imagine that it is not readily interchangeable with flour. Does anyone have some wisdom to share? And does it go rancid fast, like whole wheat flour (which I keep frozen)? I'm looking to use it in non-ethnic dishes. (I love many ethnic foods but generally in restaurants because I don't want to be buying lots more ingredients that I would readily use up.)

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  1. I use it as a coating for fried fish all the time--delicious! Season the besan as you would flour and coat fish for frying.

    1. I've used chickpea flour in several other ethnic recipes, a crepe-like socca from southern France (and neighboring Italy), and fried chickpea mush (panelle) from Sicily. So far I've use flour from a health food store, but have a bag of the Indian besan that I intend to try in the same way. Both have been discussed on Chow.

      1 Reply
      1. re: paulj

        Besan works well for socca, though I am still working on the ideal combination of pan and amount of batter. 1/8" thick socca is ok, but I really like the crisp edges the best.

      2. Mahdur Jaffrey has some recipes in her books that use the flour (I adore her green pepper dish with besan), and it usually involves dry toasting the flour to get a "roasted" flavour. Otherwise I find besan's flavour to be kinda ooky, for some reason. Check out Sahni as well.

        I do keep my Besan in the fridge to keep it from rancidity. Just be sure it is airtight so no offtaste gets in. And I would not think it would work in baking, but perhaps there are recipes out there.

        5 Replies
        1. re: BratleFoodie

          Thanks for the storage tip - I know that ethnic uses abound; I'm looking for more ubiquitous uses.

          1. re: greygarious

            Does 'ubiquitous' mean ethnic midwestern American? :)

            1. re: paulj

              yes...white people have different types of socially constructed ethnicities, too. What does non-ethnic mean here in the query? Like the cuisine of white Americans of Northern European and/or Anglo-Saxon Christian heritage?

              As per the query, do you know what the Vietnamese food banh xeo is? You can make a similar fluffy crepe with besan instead.

              Good for fish fry as mentioned before.

              Toasted/pan roasted besan is a good additive of flavor or "perfume" in South Asian cooking, especially in certain types of gravies and also mince kababs. You could apply the same principle to any kabob like American food like a burger or a salmon/crab cake (use it as the binder) or zuccini fritter or whatever.

              In my experience, besan keeps for a long time. I also toast/pan roast besan in larger quantities and keep it in the cupboard for dishes which require it. You pan roast it by putting it in a pan on medium flame and stirring it till the color changes. You will smell the perfume. Careful not to burn.

              You can also stir it into yoghurt or cream that is meant to be cooked to prevent the dairy from curdling/splitting.

              1. re: luckyfatima

                Yikes - didn't mean to be insulting or in any way demeaning. Yes, I was looking for ideas that could be used in foods common to Americans of European ancestry. I should have been more clear, and mentioned that frying in a lot of oil is not an option, no matter how popular that is! I occasionally make potato latkes and will try using besan instead of flour. But that's about the deepest frying I'll do - for reasons not only of calories and kitchen clean-up, but because my 30-yr old electric cooktop won't maintain enough heat for deep-frying. Given my Anglo-Saxon heritage, I most often cook hearty dishes without a wide variety of spices or chile.....though I'm way more adventurous than my mother was, her chili con carne contained no spice AT ALL, just onion, bell pepper, hamburg, kidney beans, and tomato paste. I was in college before I even tasted pepperoni, and in my 20's before my first taste of szechuan eggplant. Have to laugh now - although it was only buffet-level heat, I was in desperate straits and, not knowing any better, downed quarts of water. Eventually I became comfortable with what most restaurant menus list as 1 or 2-pepper symbol dishes, but 3 peppers and vindaloo still strike terror!
                At an Indian buffet recently, my friend commented that the lamb vindaloo was good, but milder than typical, whereas the manchurian gobhi I was eating was hotter (at my comfort limit)...so I got some of the vindaloo, and loved it! But I could never manage a vindaloo of regular heat level.

                So far - crepe equivalents, dredging for pan-sauteed fish/chicken, thickening agent, and to keep cooked dairy from splitting.

                1. re: greygarious

                  no offense taken whatsoever...I was just pointing out that you also have an ethnicity, with it's own cultural and culinary history and norms, your background is not the abscence of ethnicity or the opposite of "ethnic."

                  Good luck with the besan.

                  BTW there is another besan based food you might want to experiment with, which you can google. It is a steamed besan cake called a dhokla or khaman dhokla. It is Gujarati Indian, but you could mess with the ingredients and I can see it becoming a besan based poppy seed/lemon sweet cake or something else if you got creative.

        2. We make our own chickpea flour using our VitaMix or a small coffee/spice grinder and use it in gluten-free bread, muffins, etc. "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread" by Bette Hagman includes it (or garfava flour) in many recipes, generally in combination with corn starch, tapioca starch, and sorghum flour. These recipes also call for xanthan gum to make up for the missing gluten's adhesive property.

          1. Onion Bhaji: besan, S&P, water, thinly-sliced sweet onions. Mix, drop clumps into hot oil and deep fry. Yummy!