Quick chickpea veggie pancake

It’s amazing how many people are trying to include more plant-based food in their daily lives – a really positive start to the New Year. But still one of the biggest concerns I hear about eating well with food intolerances, or getting on board with a whole-food plant-based lifestyle, is time – it takes too long to cook from scratch, especially in the evening with work, after-school activities or just the general busyness of everyday living.

To be honest, that is true at times. But not every meal needs to be a full on cordon bleu experience! There’s lots of top tips I’ve shared in my blog posts about how to save time; planning ahead is a key skill to develop. Plus creativity – that’s essential. It’s amazing what you can rustle up with only a tin of beans and a scattering of random vegetables!

If time is not on your side and you haven’t yet developed your veggie ninja skills, then this simple yet delicious recipe will be perfect for you. It’s quick, cheap, full of flavour and super-healthy nutrients and seriously filling as it’s main key ingredient is chickpea flour. Use whatever veggies you have, or your family likes, but try and make them as varied in colour as possible. Not only does it look pretty, but you will get a whole range of phytonutrients, those magical natural plant chemicals that help to keep us fit and healthy (especially important at this virus-filled time of year).

Chickpea flour, more commonly known as gram flour or besan, is one of my most favourite ingredients; it’s packed full of healthy protein, minerals and fibre and is amazingly versatile. It’s also gluten free. In fact it’s so wonderful, it deserves it’s very own blog post – that will be coming soon. Buy it at your local Asian food store rather than from the ‘speciality flour’ section at the supermarket – it will cost half the price!

This recipe makes one huge pancake that can be cut into 4 enormous giant-boy slices or 6 normal appetite wedges. Serve it with a quick green salad and sweet potato wedges for the ultimate filling rainbow dinner. Enjoy!

Quick veggie chickpea pancake (serves 4 – 6)
2 medium leeks, sliced
1 red pepper, chopped
6 mushrooms, chopped
100g peas
1 tablespoon dried thyme
200g chickpea/gram flour
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
500ml water
salt and pepper
Heat a large frying pan and saute the leeks and red pepper over a medium heat until they start to soften and brown (about 8 minutes). Add the mushrooms and cook until the juices start to come out. Stir in the peas and the dried thyme and simmer for a few more minutes.
In the meantime, sieve the chickpea flour into a bowl. Add the ground flaxseed, turmeric, garlic powder and seasoning. Gently whisk in the water until everything is well combined.
Pre-heat your grill on a high setting.
Once the veggies are ready in the pan, carefully pour in the chickpea mix, tipping the pan from side to side to make sure the whole pan is covered. Cook over a medium heat until the mixture starts to solidify and the bottom of the pancake browns. This will take about 10 minutes. Place the pan under the pre-heated grill (make sure the handle is away from the heat) and finish cooking the top until it’s set and lightly browned.
Remove from the grill and leave to settle for a couple of minutes, then slice into quarters and serve straight from the pan.

Onion bhajis – a super food?

I remember my first visit to an Indian restaurant so well. It was my then boyfriend’s sixteenth birthday and my parents had given me the money to take him out for a meal. I felt so sophisticated! Our food at home was very traditional British, so a curry house seemed exotic and slightly overwhelming. Fortunately my boyfriend was more experienced than me in Indian cuisine, and advised me on my menu choices – onion bhaji to start followed by a chicken korma.

It seems strange to say, but I found the korma a bit spicy! But I loved the crispy, crunchy texture of the bhaji, with it’s softer doughy centre, and it’s been a favourite ever since, although quality really does vary and those times when you end up with a soggy, greasy lump on your plate are most disappointing.

Onion bhajis are a definite British curry house favourite. Consumed as more of a teatime snack in India, they are part of the wider pakora family. Found less frequently in the UK, I discovered pakoras when we first moved to India. They are basically anything covered in a chickpea batter and deep fried. We used to order veg pakoras and try to work out which vegetable was underneath the opaque golden batter.

As delicious as pakora and bhajis are, there is a problem with them – the amount of oil that is absorbed into the batter as they are deep fried. Of course, it’s the frying that makes the batter so crispy, but cooking in refined oil not only increases the fat content but the molecular make up of the fats change when used at such a high heat. This is not good for What is good for our bodies, however, are the onions. Universally used in every cuisine around the world, onions are packed full of flavonoids and anti-oxidants that are beneficial to health, as well as a moderate amount of vitamins, minerals and fibre. The key phytonutrient is quercitin. Research shows that quercitin has a number of amazing roles in the body, and has been used in herbal medicine since ancient times. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral role, helping to support the immune system and protect against infectious diseases. Quercitin also helps prevent cancer developing, can help thin the blood and prevent blood clots and increase good HDL cholesterol whilst preventing bad LDL cholesterol from becoming toxic and attacking arteries. Pretty amazing stuff from one small bulb!

Interestingly, studies show that quercitin is much less effective when extracted and used in supplement form. Interaction with other phytonutrients make an onion a much more effective source, so consuming them in your diet is best. Of course, raw is best but onions are packed full of sulphur-containing compounds that can make them difficult to eat uncooked, so eating them anyway you can is all good.

So, how to make an onion bhaji tasty, crispy and healthy? The trick is to use the water in the onions to combine with the flour and stick everything together. This way, you don’t need a batter as such, and you don’t need to add any refined oil at all, just bake at a high temperature and the sugars in the onions will naturally caramelise and crisp up. They taste just as good, you can make them as spicy as you like and you know your body will love you for it. They’re dairy free, gluten free and fat free – but totally delicious!

Super food onion bhaji
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 heaped tablespoons of chickpea/gram flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
pinch turmeric
fresh chopped coriander
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together well, then put to one side for 5 minutes or so (up to 20). The salt will draw out the water in the onions and help bind everything together. When you’re ready, pick up a small amount in your hand and squeeze it together – you’ll be able to see if it will stick. You may need to add a little more chickpea flour. Use a spoonful at a time, and squeeze together to form a blob, then place on a slightly greased baking tray. Place in the oven at 200°c and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden. You may like to turn them half way through. Serve hot with slices of lemon and chutney of your choice. Enjoy!

Farinata or frittata?

I have to say, I’ve become obsessed by food! I love reading articles, recipes, blogs and watching various food programmes on the TV. And as for recipes books – well my collection is growing! Sitting down with a cuppa and a pile of recipes is the perfect way to spend a few minutes.

The constant thought in the back of my mind is “can I eat this?” Eating dairy and yeast free, and now completely plant based, can create a number of challenges, but with a bit of imagination and creativity, it’s amazing what you can come up with. Although I have to say, experimentation can be accompanied by disaster!

Recently, I was browsing a vegan cookbook and I came across a recipe for farinata, something I hadn’t heard of before. Originating in Northern Italy, farinata is a type of flat bread that’s made from chickpea flour and baked at a high temperature so that it’s crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. The thing that had caught my eye though was the featured photo looked like pizza!

For once, I decided to follow the recipe diligently, even down to the recommended tin size. This was where things didn’t quite add up though. The photo showed a really thin base with a topping of tomato, onion and olive delicately resting on the top. However, the batter was really deep in the tin, and all my toppings just sank! So I baked it anyway, a bit grumpy that things were not going to work out.

I was right, it didn’t turn out as expected – but it certainly wasn’t a disaster. I ended up with a plant based version of a frittata, so egg-like in texture and taste it was a real surprise. My grumpiness soon turned to delight.

Perfect for breakfast, lunch, picnic or a light supper, this dish is pretty simple to make, you just need to plan ahead a little as the batter has to sit for a couple of hours. And as it’s make with chickpea flour, it’s got lots of fibre as well as protein and various minerals so it’s a really healthy, cholesterol free alternative to eggs. As for the filling, you could add whatever you would to any frittata. I’ve stuck with tomatoes, olives and onions as the combination tastes great.
My only problem is what to call it, as I don’t think it’s either a farinata or a frittata. Why not try it – seriously tasty as well as healthy, and maybe you can think of a good name!  And in the meantime, I will try to make a thin farinata with the toppings on top…..maybe that pizza alternative is close!

Tomato, olive and onion farinata/frittatafarinata
250g chickpea flour (gram flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
450mls warm water
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
black pepper
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion diced
handful black olives, halved
sprig fresh rosemary and oregano, chopped
chilli flakes (optional)

Stir the chickpea flour and salt together, then stir in the warm water until well mixed and no lumps. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put somewhere warm for a couple of hours, or even overnight (I put it on the draining board which is above the dishwasher – gets slightly warm and worked perfectly!). When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220oC. Put one tablespoon of olive oil in a 20×20 baking tin and pop in the oven to get really hot. Stir the rest of the oil into the batter, then pour into the sizzling hot tin. Sprinkle the topping ingredients equally over the batter – they will sink into it, season with more salt and pepper and finish with a sprinkle of chilli flakes if you so desire. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the top is lightly browned and coming away from the side of the tin. This can be eaten hot, or left to cool. Don’t over cook as it dries out and eat the same day if possible as it won’t be as good tomorrow. Enjoy!farinata