Planning the cooking for Passover usually means thinking about the week itself, buying matzah and gefilte fish and horseradish and so on. But for me, it also means using up the open bags of flour, beans, rice and pasta, plus whatever yogurt, cheese and milk I have left, and yet not overdosing on starches. And I’ve just gotten the taxes done, so it’s time to look in the fridge and panic.
We’ve got just over a week to go before Passover, and there’s still a lot of chametz in the house…a pack of fillo (luckily only one), a pound each of dried chickpeas and red lentils, a bag of mung beans I don’t really know how to use, some rice, a bowl of dough…wonton wrappers. Chickpea flour! Rye flour! Why did I leave it all this long [breaks down and bangs head against wall for a second]?
I don’t usually want to cook or serve that much starch in a single week, but at least most of it is legumes with some fiber and protein. So I’ve been thinking about foods–both chametz and not-chametz–that don’t have to be devastating dietwise or empty your wallet or take forever and a half to cook.
Because even with snow on the ground all over the east coast, where my mom and my sister and most of my old friends are still shoveling it out of their driveways this late in March, Pesach is coming. And then maybe an actual spring with shorts weather? We can only hope! Time to lighten up in anticipation.
This week I’ve decided to post the chametz countdown (aka, “Panic Week”), and the next week or so, a couple of attempts at a Pesach week with mostly fresh, simple foods and a lot more vegetables, and without the usual total matzah-on-eggs-on-more-starch-and-potatoes-and-choke-cake-and-too-many-canned-macaroons kind of meal plan…can it be done? I think so. As long as I don’t let my husband do the shopping. Can it be done in a microwave? I’m counting on it.
Anyway–back to the Panic Week Project. First up, the chickpea flour and rice…as a batter for on-the-spot masala dosas.
Bureka Boy’s blog (archived on Blogspot; I don’t know what’s happened to him since 2009) had a quick masala dosa recipe that combined wheat and rice flours with yogurt, onion, coconut, and spices for an unfermented batter that simulated the taste of the traditional one, where the lentils and rice are fermented separately overnight in bowls of water before blending. His is better-looking than mine; what can I tell you. The wheat flour, which contains gluten for structure, makes it a lot easier to deal with than any bean flours, but I wanted a bean flour dosa–more protein and fiber plus a little closer to the real thing (one Indian friend who makes the real thing often would probably roll her eyes at me).
I didn’t have lentil flour on hand but I’d worked out basic chickpea crêpes with neutral flavoring for sweet or savory dishes, and I had a bag of chickpea flour in the fridge–incidentally, Bob’s Red Mill, not Sadaf. Not to slag their other products, which I also use, but the last time I purchased a bag of Sadaf chickpea flour, a bunch of shreds of straw floated up when I started mixing it into something. Probably harmless but not pretty. So if you decide to use it, put it through a fine sifter first.
I didn’t have rice flour but I had Calrose (sushi-type, very starchy) rice and I realized I do own a coffee grinder (poor coffee grinder, how I have misused it)…ten minutes later I had a spicy yogurt-laced batter and was starting to try it out. And having serious problems getting it to fry well until I added a bit of wheat flour to it, because I put Bureka Boy’s amount of yogurt in (3/4 c.), and it made the chickpea flour batter much too soft and custardy. On my second attempt (I’m hard to daunt) I cut the yogurt back to about 1/4-1/3 c., a large heaping tablespoon dollop, and it went better. I still couldn’t get the dosas bigger than about 7-8 inches across, but these were delicious.
The mustard seed and black peppercorns this recipe calls for look like a lot, but they really do make the flavor. I was surprised, but Bureka Boy, wherever he’s escaped to, was right.
Notes on bean-and-rice-flour crêpe batters:
1. They don’t have as much adhesiveness as wheat flour batters, so you need to add something that will keep them together at crêpe thinness and let them firm up well and dry out enough in the pan to be able to flip (and also not to turn into mush). Best choices: an egg (didn’t do this) or a couple of tablespoons of actual wheat flour (which is probably fine for everybody but celiacs). Potato or cornstarch can work–sort of; they’ll make the batter very delicate and prone to tearing though, and besides, you already have rice flour, another pretty much pure starch, in there. I haven’t tried vegan egg substitute or a spoonful of ground flaxseed mixed with water, but those might work too. It is possible that red lentils simply have more cohesiveness and give better structure than chickpea flour–certainly whole or split red lentils stick together like a brick when you rinse them before cooking. But I can see why people soak them overnight before grinding them.
2. The yogurt will soften the batter as well as sour it a little; don’t add more than about a heaping tablespoon dollop or your batter may just be too soft to flip. Use regular rather than Greek yogurt; you want the acidic flavor since you’re not fermenting the batter.
3. Frying oil: use a nonstick pan and either wipe the pan with a tiny amount of oil using a paper towel or swipe the pan quickly with the end of a frozen stick of butter. Too much oil (a whole spoonful) will start to mix with the batter when you pour it into the pan and start swirling. Then it won’t firm up quickly and crisp on the bottom and edges enough to peel off the pan and flip. This is contrary to Bureka Boy’s oil-plus technique that involves a lid and 4-5 minutes of cooking per dosa, but then again he had a lot more wheat flour in there instead of chickpea or lentil, and it looks like it was holding together much better than mine.
4. Size: as noted above, you may not be able to do 12″ restaurant-sized dosas successfully at home unless you have one of those professional crêpe makers, which are big flat round plug-in griddles without a lip, but standard 6-8″ crêpes will work reasonably well.
5. Have your fillings ready so you can fry and fill one at a time–if you stack them on a plate and try to fill them after, the way I do for blintzes, they’ll stick together pretty badly. If you make these with wheat flour in place of the rice or the chickpeas, they won’t be as hard to handle, but they’ll taste a bit different.
6. If you want just a couple of dosas, store the rest of the batter in a covered container in the fridge (without eggs in the batter, and with some lemon juice and yogurt in it, it should be okay for 3-4 days), and stir it up (it might separate) before frying the next time.
Chickpea Flour and Rice “Instant Dosa”-Style Batter:
- 1 c. chickpea flour
- 1/3 c. raw rice, ground fine in a coffee grinder or spice mill OR 1/3 c. rice flour
- 1-2 T wheat flour (or an egg, I guess)
- 1 heaping T./soupspoon-sized dollop of plain milk-and-cultures-only yogurt
- squeeze of lemon juice (I was trying to knock the raw-bean chickpea taste down and this worked well in the chickpea/wheat flour crêpes I did earlier)
- 1/2 medium onion, cut into a couple of big pieces–red is nice if you have it; any is fine
- 1 t. whole mustard seed
- 1 t. fresh ground or cracked black peppercorns
- pinches of cumin and caraway seed–optional but good. Ground or whole seeds are fine.
- optional tablespoonful of dried unsweetened coconut (I didn’t try it this time because I ran out)
- pinch of salt
- pinch of baking soda
- just enough water to make a thin batter the consistency of cream, something between 1 and 2 c.
- 1-2 t olive oil or butter for heating whole spices plus sparing amounts of for frying the dosas
Pulse the onion in a food processor to chop it fine, then add in everything else except the water, oil and any whole spices you’re using. Or you can just grate the onion fine and mix in all the dry powdered ingredients and yogurt by hand. If you haven’t added the pepper, do it now. Gradually blend or mix in the water, bit by bit, until you get a thin pourable batter that still coats the back of a spoon. Let the mixture sit 10-15 minutes at least, maybe a little longer, so that the chickpea and rice flours can absorb the water and thicken up. Add just enough more water to thin it out again.
Heat the whole mustard seed (and any whole cumin or caraway or both) in 1-2 t. olive oil or butter in a nonstick pan for about 30 s or until the seeds just start to pop. Carefully pour the seeds and oil or butter out onto the batter and stir in. Be sure to wipe any grease drips off the outside of the pan before using it to fry the dosas.
Heat the pan on medium-high, swipe it with just enough olive oil to coat the pan (paper towel is good for this) or quickly run a cold/frozen stick of butter over it. Take a ladle and pour in about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter and lift the pan off the heat to swirl it quickly to spread the batter in a circle 6-7 inches in diameter and very thin. Put it back down on the heat and let the dosa dry out, start to brown slightly and crisp lacily at the edges, then pluck up one edge gently and slide a nylon spatula under the dosa so you can flip it, cook a minute on the other side and remove to a plate. Get the next dosa going in the pan, and while it’s cooking you might want to fill the first dosa and serve it (see note #5 above).
If you’ve got the talent and the frying pan for it, go to 1/3-1/2 c and do a bigger one, 10-12 inches wide, but I found I couldn’t get it to cook nicely enough at that size–although again, that might have been because I had too much yogurt in there for the chickpea and rice flours.
FILLINGS: anything savory and not too wet that goes with Indian spices
Standard masala dosa: dry mix of pan-fried potato, onion, peas, maybe lentils, with cumin and ajwain, garlic, ginger, cilantro…
Aloo gobi (potatoes plus cauliflower, dryish curry) is also great.
I like cauliflower by itself too, especially since the dosas are already starchy. I dice the cauliflower and microwave it for a minute or two with chopped onion, then brown quickly in a little olive oil with some spices–cumin, coriander, ginger and z’khug (garlic-hot pepper-cilantro paste) or its separate main ingredients–minced garlic, chopped cilantro leaves, a shake or two of hot pepper flakes. Maybe a pinch of caraway or nigella seed.
Much less traditionally, thick unsoupy versions of vegetable stews such as (leftover) saag or palak paneer, dal (red lentil, chickpea, black lentil/makhani, etc.), or eggplant and chickpea stew would all also be good wrapped in or served with these dosas. Nuke these a few minutes in the microwave to reheat before filling…
Roasted or pan-roasted vegetables (red pepper/onion/eggplant, or butternut squash with onion and feta). Maybe even a fry-up of mushrooms and onions.
The dosas are definitely also good wrapped around halloumi or panela strips–pre-fried with za’atar spices, or just plain and heated up in the pan a couple of seconds as a savory blintz.
Raita (yogurt/cucumber/onion/mint/garlic) or tzatziki (nearly the same, with additional dill and feta) would be a good sauce to put over most of these options, but the traditional coconut and mint chutneys are probably still the best.