Thursday, July 14, 2016


I discovered a new food I've never heard of.  Savory chickpea pancakes, called socca.  They seem to have originated near Nice, France, and have variations around the Western Mediterranean rim.  I don't remember seeing them on any menus when I was in that area, but I'm the kind of person who stops reading the menu when I see something I really want.  I don't always look at all the offerings, and probably wouldn't order something I didn't know if something else looked better.

You're probably thinking, chickpea pancake?  I read the article in the L.A. Times and, thanks to the photos, decided it was really a cross between a pizza and a quiche by way of falafel.  Chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour is naturally gluten-free, vegan, and as good for you as any legume.  Once I finished topping the socca, they were not vegan and probably not gluten-free, but you can certainly go that way.

The article suggests getting the flour at a Middle-Eastern market.  I hadn't been in one since I left Orange County and had no idea where there was one in my area.  I googled some, only to remind myself that I work two blocks from the largest concentration of Persian (Iranian) expats in the U.S.  I stopped at Sprouts first, but they were out of the Bob's Red Mill.  I guess I wasn't the only one who read the article.  Down the street, the Persian market had two brands.  I do trust Sadaf brand (which, despite its Arabic name, is packaged in the city of Vernon, just south of downtown L.A.) and hadn't heard of the other, so that's what I got.  $3.49 for a one-pound bag isn't bad for a specialty grain flour.  Bob's is only 80¢ less.  If you don't have a Sprouts, I would suggest Whole Foods or a market with a good selection of gluten-free items.  If you live in a less diverse area and really want to try this recipe, you can order online for a reasonable price and just pay shipping.

This recipe can be as simple as pouring the batter in the pan and baking it like that.  You can make it plain and top it later.  I followed the article's lead and baked the toppings into the pancake.  I made two 6" instead of one large 10" so I could make two different kinds.  I don't have any cast-iron because I don't want to deal with the maintenance and made them in my oven-proof skillet.  It just has to be a pan that won't melt in the oven at a high temp.

I made several mistakes with this first attempt that resulted in a less-than-ideal product.  My first mistake was not measuring the batter.  I eyeballed it instead of making two separate portions, and ended up using too little in the first one and a lot in the second.  The texture of the first was crispy and perfect, but there wasn't enough to hold all the toppings.  The second one was too thick and ended up a little gummy.  My other big mistake was using too much topping.  The ground lamb one was similar to a sfeeha filling.  It tasted great, but overwhelmed the pancake.  I used a beet's worth of greens and a few oven-dried tomatoes for the other, and the only reason it didn't overpower that socca was because it was the one with a bit too much batter.  I also had a lot of trouble getting them out of the pan in one piece.  I think that had more to do with the heavy fillings than not oiling the pan enough.  When I cut the second one in the pan before lifting out the pieces, it held together much better.
The next time I do this (there's about 4 recipes' worth in the bag), I'll probably go crepe style and make a plain pancake, topping it after it's baked.  I'll also go ahead and make the full 10", so I can use the batter in one shot.  I only split this one so I could make more than one kind.

3/4 C garbanzo bean flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 C water
1 Tb olive oil, plus more for pan

1.  Stir together flour and salt.  Add water and 1 Tb oil and whisk to combine.  It's ok if there are still lumps.  Let sit 4 to 8 hours, for flour to absorb the water.  (Think of it as allowing dried beans to soak, just in flour form.)

2.  Preheat oven to 450º (425º for convection).  Place a 10" oven-safe or cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat, about 10 minutes.

3.  Using an oven mitt, place skillet on a stove burner or somewhere that can tolerate such a hot pan.  Drizzle 1 Tb oil in bottom of skillet and swirl to cover.  If any spots are dry, add more oil.  This is going to fry the socca and make it easier to get out of the pan.

4.  Whisk the batter, as it will be thick on the bottom and watery at the top.  Remember to put the oven mitt back on before you grab the pan handle.  Pour onto skillet and quickly swirl to cover bottom of the pan.  It's going to start to fry immediately.  If you're going to top it with anything pre-oven, now is the time.  Still using the oven mitt, return skillet to oven and bake for 15 minutes, until socca is set and the edges are crispy.

5.  Remove skillet from oven and let sit a couple of minutes so you don't get oil erupting onto you.  Don't forget to put the oven mitt back on!! That handle is going to be too hot to hold for at least ten minutes, maybe half an hour.  Using a high-temp spatula or wooden spoon, gently lift the edges of the pancake until you can slide the whole thing onto a serving plate.  Cut into wedges with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.

Difficulty rating :)

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