besan: it's also a face cream.

A few weeks ago Mara and I enjoyed a serious fling with chickpea flour, or besan. For a quick reference with some recipes, check here.

My thumbnail sketch: it's a flour made from ground, roasted chickpeas that is very common in Indian cooking. First of all, I already want to marry Indian food and have hundreds of children with it. There was a period in my mid-twenties when, newly single and flush with my first real salary, I was eating out every night, and a great many of those nights were spent at a place called Himalayas on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Atlanta. Pappadam with coriander/mint and tamarind chutneys, some bhajees, maybe a chana dal, a blazing chicken vindaloo (you want it even hotter??? it's already veddy veddy spicy my friend) with a lovely raita, and a big smoky Taj Mahal ale or three...with my Creative Loafing or LAN Manager manual or Daveyboy Liebman's Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony in front of me, I didn't need no nothin' else.

One year and 15 extra pounds later, well...I had to scale things down to a weekly visit. But, in, uh...heaven, right, y'all'll see me there with my long-lost Indian friends, breathing deadly fire and stumbling out to my hubcapless Bonneville if we have them there. Kidding!

Anyway, so, Mara got me this superduper Indian cookbook last year, like Madhur Jaffrey's biblical tome which we also have, but with gorgeous pictures and a handful of southern Indian recipes as well, and there were a couple of intriguing besan-centric recipes in there. It's kind of their standard breading for frying things, so that's the way we started using it--as a coating for fried fish. And it was excellent. We then progressed to sort of falafel-esque besan fritters with spinach and scallions in them, served with some dipping chutneys. Also really nice. Turns out you can even make breakfast-y sort of things out of them. One critical factor is to toast the besan first, otherwise it has a distinctly uncooked taste. I don't always do this, and when I don't I'm always sorry.

The major relevance here is the nutritional content. Which I don't have at hand. Soon, rabbit, soon. Oh, and it's also a face cream when mixed with a little rosewater. More on that as well.

say do you remember.

One of the hardest things about trying to cook without meat has been achieving some kind of dark, rounded, smoky flavor without using any members of the bacon family (speck, pancettafatback, zoutvlees [a dutch/surinamese fatback], francis, etc.).

You can only cook with chipotles so often (I think). Same with roasted red peppers and caramelized onions etc. And caramelization and roasting help, but it's still not quite smoky. Luckily, I scored some pimentón ahumado, (smoked paprika) when I was in the States earlier this year...and yesss this is more like what we're looking for.

An educational moment regarding its manufacture, from Tienda.com (where there's also a good-loooking assortment of authentic Spanish recipes):

They empty the bags onto 8 foot high wooden grids, where for two weeks they are marinated by the smoke of smoldering logs from local oak trees which gives them their unique character. A farmer visits the drying houses each day and gently stirs the drying peppers with a rake. At the right time, about two weeks later, the dried peppers are refilled into the bags by hand, and hauled to the mill to be slowly ground into a deep red powder. Finally they are mixed in various proportions to make sweet, bittersweet or hot pimentón to be used in chorizo sausages, paellas and stews. The only difference in production from hundreds of years ago is that the mule has been replaced by a tractor and electricity powers the millstone.

Here's my adaptation of La Tienda's recipe for romesco sauce, which I think is fantastic with cod/kabeljauw or any white ocean fish. I also like to do a variation with fewer tomatoes, no hazelnuts, and add a cup of chopped green olives and use it as a sort of tapenade on bread. I'll post an official recipe for that next time I make it, sure I will.


romesco sauce (catalan pepper sauce).


2 tbsp sweet smoked paprika (as in not hot)
1 small dried chili pepper
3 tomatoes
1 head of garlic
1 dozen almonds, blanched and peeled
2 dozen hazelnuts, skinned
1 sprig of mint, chopped
1 slice of bread, toasted
1 tbsp fresh parsley
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Remove seeds from chili pepper and grind into a powder. Roast the tomatoes and garlic in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Skin the tomatoes, cut them in half, and remove the seeds. Skin the garlic cloves. Put the tomatoes in a food processor with the garlic, pimenton, almonds, hazelnuts, mint, bread, parsley, and part of the olive oil. Process until you have a smooth puree. Beat in the remaining oil, vinegar and pepper. Salt to taste.

More translated/adapted recipes to follow eventually--this post is mostly so my purchasing agent (mom or mom-in-law) can see what she's looking for at the store when I need to replenish my supply.