New Blog Series: Have You Met… Besan Flour

This is the start of a new series of features on the blog: Have You Met — the food version of a speed date.

From ingredients we can’t get enough of in our kitchen, to exotic new taste treats, to stellar pantry staples, to “boring” healthy stand-bys deserving of some limelight… I’ll make the introduction and give you the inside info, then get you in the mood with a recipe or two. The ball’s in your court from there.

My ultimate goal is to provide nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage an adventure into new markets and cuisines. The exploration of unique and wonderful flavors is limitless!

So without further ado, have you met… besan flour?

Besan Flour_Crackers

After weeks of damp and bleakly grey days, I thought a dose of this creamy, pale yellow flour could do us all some good.

What’s so great about it?

Besan flour is quickly becoming one of our favorite alternative flours because of its mild, nutty-earthy-sweet flavor profile, and its ability to make both soft/moist- and crisp/flaky-textured items, starring in savory or sweet dishes for eating at any time of the day.

Made from finely milling dried chickpeas, besan flour is naturally gluten-free. Its excellent nutrient profile boasts heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids, a good amount of protein and fiber, and a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. One serving (about 1/4 cup, or 30 grams) contains approximately 6 g protein, 3 g fiber and only 110 total calories, as well as roughly 30% of your daily needs for folate* and nearly 10% of both iron and phosphorous.

*Great news for women planning to conceive, currently pregnant or who are breastfeeding — folate is especially important to help prevent certain serious birth defects of the brain and spine, including spina bifida. In addition to dietary folate intake, it’s recommended that pregnant and BF women supplement with an additional 400-800 mcg folic acid. (Please be sure to discuss supplementation with a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist or your primary health provider before you begin.)

How do I use it?

Not yet “mainstream” in the States, besan flour is a staple ingredient in many Eastern cuisines. It’s incredibly versatile, and its uses vary greatly depending on what country you’re in — the base for salty or sweet fried treats and snacks, thin pancakes or breads, delicate batters, or fudge-like desserts and creamy beverages, as a thickening agent for soups, the binder for ground meats, or as an egg replacement in baking recipes.

Besan may also be used for “breading” to yield a crisp-crunchy coating. Before grilling, sautéing or roasting, rub a small amount of olive oil onto meat, seafood fillets, or vegetables and toss in a little besan flour. (You could swap sesame oil, or a bit of mustard, honey or other sauce brushed on instead of the olive oil for more flavor.) Another idea is to lightly coat sticks of firm or extra-firm tofu and sauté or grill for a healthy, vegetarian and kid-friendly twist on chicken fingers or fish sticks.

French socca, or farinata as its called in northern Italy, was my first foray into the world of besan flour, and the recipe that sold me. The large savory “pancake” now makes a frequent appearance on our plates. But my most recent discovery tops even that: incredibly simple and delicious besan crackers (seen in the photo above). I began with a regular batch, then gradually progressed to baking double and triple the amounts to keep up with the demand. They even made the cut as Christmas gifts this year, and were very well-received.

If you’re including this in a 100% gluten-free baking recipe, its heft can mean less rise. You should, therefore, use it in combination with medium-weight flours, like sorghum, brown rice or oat (certified GF) and lighter, starchy flours, like sweet/white rice, tapioca starch, cornstarch, arrowroot or potato starchesBesan can also be a substitute for wheat-based flours in baking to increase protein and fiber, and decrease total carbohydrates. Start by replacing 1/4 cup, and see how you like it (and tolerate if you have a tender GI system). Because this is a heavier-weight flour, I wouldn’t recommend going above 1/2 cup, but ultimately it’s up to you.

Where can I find it?

Besan flour can be difficult to find — unless you know where to start. Look for packages of this very fine golden flour labeled as besan or gram flour in Indian and Asian markets, and cici bean flour in Italian markets. Middle Eastern markets also may stock this, and recently I saw a version from Bob’s Red Mill in a larger, mainstream supermarket (labeled as garbanzo bean flour).

While purchasing unique foods can often be expensive, rest assured this flour is incredibly affordable. Our local Asian market sells a 2-lb bag for $2.99, or a 4-lb bag for $5.69. Store in a clean, dry and airtight container in your pantry. For longer keeping, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Formal introduction complete. (Do you think you’ll get on together? Or maybe you knew each other already?) Next week a favorite besan flour recipe to set the mood: besan crackers — stay tuned!

Tell me… What do you think about this new series? A keeper? Suggestions to make it better? I’d love your input!

Cheers, Heather

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p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.

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  1. Charzie says:

    Hi Heather, I just ran across your site and I think this series is an awesome idea, people tend to get in their ruts and even if they see something new, ignore it pretty much, because they have no clue what it is or how to use it! I am vegan and very food curious, especially cuisines that have a history of vegetarian recipes, so I do tend to haunt a lot of different ethnic groceries and either ask questions or just study about it before or after a visit, but it is very inspirational! My once boring American menu has really branched out! I love besan and use it a lot too! One of my cheap and simple favorite uses is a quick and easy a 2 ingredient crepe—water and besan, mixed well and left to sit a while for absorption. (I usually give it an hour to fully absorb and thicken some– they seem to hold together better. I’m not even sure of proportions, I do it by eye…you want a batter that looks pretty soupy at first, it will thicken as it sits. You can always add more of either ingredient!) I use them as wraps for just about any filling, though don’t expect them to be as firm as say a fajita wrap, they are more delicate, similar to a crepe. Of course you can get creative and add any spices or flavors you want to the batter to tailor it to the filling! I love to use the seasonings to make felafel in the crepes, then fill it with hummus or baba ghanouj, or even something as simple as steamed peppers! Just go crazy and have fun! I’ll usually make a slew of the crepes and freeze or refrigerate them to have whenever I want them. Just another idea for an incredibly versatile ingredient! Thanks again for opening new vistas!

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