Besan – A Hidden Indian Delicacy
Growing up in the US as a child of immigrant parents, I never felt that being Indian was cool. I don’t know if it was because kids were insensitive, inexperienced or just plain mean. Whatever the case was – bringing Indian food to school for lunch was never looked upon as the path to popularity. At least not the kind that would get you in the year book as the girl with “the prettiest eyes”. I always did think I had pretty eyes – but the truth doesn’t really matter for the yearbook when you’re 12. 😉
Things seem to be quite different these days. I run into people on a daily basis that loudly proclaim their love for Indian food, Indian people and the Indian culture. There still seems to be misconceptions – really – snake charmers are not sitting around at every corner. But for the most part, there is a lot more acceptance and love now, than I have ever experienced in this country. Especially when it comes to Indian food. Just about everyone I know has at least tried Indian food. Most people who don’t like it are people who just don’t process spices well. (I totally get that – I avoid foods I don’t process well too). Yes, if you live in the US – you are definitely able to get quite a wonderful experience of some part of the Indian cuisine.
Did you miss that? I said – some part. That’s right. You’re actually missing quite a bit. Incase you haven’t figured it out yet, Indians are all about variety. A variety of colors. A variety of spices. A variety of languages. A variety of holidays. A variety of just about anything you can think of. A little something for everyone seems to be the general philosophy. That means we do have more types of breads than just Naan (if you’re thinking rotis – expand your mind – I’m talking about bhakris and soghras and lucha parathas and rumali rotis and aloo parathas and puris and …). We have more types of drinks than just lassi (chai, chaach, falooda, sharbat, jal jeera, kokum, bhang etc). And yes. We do have a lot .. a lot.. more types of vegetable dishes.
Today I’d like to introduce you to Besan. Besan is a thick savory paste like dish that is made of gram flour (also conveniently called besan). It’s basically a gram flour paste mixed with lovely spices. I know that might sound a bit odd but trust me it’s quite lovely. And it’s healthy; filled with a high amount of protein. It’s popular in a lot of different areas of India but I associate it with Rajasthani food. (I’m a bit biased – my ancestors are from the Indian state Rajasthan) I love eating it with Soghra. Soghra is a “bread” that is made with millet flour – the grey tortilla like thing in the picture above. I’m still trying to perfect my technique for making Soghra.. but I hope to post it here soon. In the meanwhile you can try besan with rice – another one of my favorite ways of eating it.
Makes: 6 – 8 servings
Ready in: 30 minutes
- 9 tablespoons gram flour (besan, chickpea flour, garbanzo flour)
- 6 cups water divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- about 6 curry leaves (kadi pata)
- 2 dry chili peppers (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric (haldi)
- 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida (hing) (optional)
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional – can also put thin thai green chilis)
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt (really to taste)
1. Chop up the onion.
2. Peel the garlic (mince if you don’t have a garlic press).
3. Put the besan in a medium mixing bowl.
4. Using a handblender or a whisk, blend the flour with 2 cups of water.
5. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Test if the oil is heated enough by dropping one or two cumin or mustard seeds. If they sizzle, the oil is ready. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Allow them to sizzle and pop for about 30 seconds.
6. Add the curry leaves and dry red pepper. Allow this to fry for about 30 seconds.
7. Add the ground turmeric, asafoetida and cayenne pepper. Allow this to fry for about 30 seconds.
8. Add the onions and press the garlic through the garlic press (or use minced garlic). Stirring occasionally allow the onions to cook until they are translucent; about 3 – 5 minutes.
9. Add the remaining 4 cups of water and salt. Cover and bring to a boil on high heat.
10. Once the water boils, lower the heat. Slowly pour in the besan batter while stirring. It’s important that the heat is lowered to prevent the besan from clumping up.
11. Stir periodically till the besan thickens and the oil starts separating on the sides. Serve with hot rice! Or better yet – make some sograh (millet flour tortillas — the grey stuff in the pictures above). Still perfecting the recipe for the sograh – keep your eyes peeled!