For most of us, Italian food means pasta, pizza, and more pasta. But authentic Italian cuisine isn’t all carbs! We’d like to introduce you to a delicious, protein-packed treat from Italy that’s perfect for any meal of the day: chickpea pancakes.
Otherwise known as Italian farinata, chickpea pancakes have a rich, nutty flavor, a crisp exterior, and a chewy middle. They pair extremely well with roasted vegetables. The New York Times for instance, topped their pancakes with roasted mushrooms and radicchio. Though fresh radicchio would add an excellent crunch, too.
The best part about this Italian specialty? The health benefits. Chickpea flour has a higher concentration of nutrients than regular chickpeas. It’s chock-full of protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins, making it an ideal food for a wide variety of diets.
The Health Benefits of Chickpea Pancakes
If you’re looking for a protein-packed alternative to meat, the chickpea pancake makes an ideal swap. Just one cup of chickpea flour, also known as besan, contains 20 grams of protein. Research also supports an uptake of plant protein. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), for instance, found that participants who ate more plant protein had a lower risk of death as compared to those who ate more meat.
In addition to containing a good balance of macronutrients (think fat, protein, and carbs), a chickpea pancake is an excellent source of folate. Folate, or vitamin B-9, acts as an important mood stabilizer. Research from BMC Psychiatry shows that higher levels of folate (and vitamin B-12) lower the risk of depression. Low levels of these two vitamins increased the risk.
Folate may also reduce your risk of heart disease. In a study from JAMA, researchers learned that supplementation of folic acid (a form of folate) reduced the risk of stroke by 10 percent. It reduced the overall risk of cardiovascular disease by four percent as well. According to the study authors, folate lowers levels of homocysteine, an amino acid. High levels of homocysteine can damage the lining of the arteries and increase the risk of blood clots. Fortunately, just half a cup of chickpea flour contains about 50 percent of your daily intake of folate.
In addition, a slice of protein pancake is incredibly rich in thiamine and manganese. Thiamine, or vitamin B-1, plays a vital role in heart function and may also sharpen memory. According to a recent clinical trial from the Burke Neurological Institute, high levels of thiamine may improve the cognitive abilities of patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.
Manganese is vital to the formation of bone and cartilage. Oregon State University reports that it also aids in wound healing. In fact, research from the Journal of Nutrition shows that higher levels of manganese, along with calcium and other trace minerals, may help reduce bone loss in older women.
How to Make Chickpea Pancakes
Though the varieties of chickpea pancakes are endless, they all consist of the same basic recipe. The New York Times suggests that you start with one cup of warm water and one cup of chickpea flour. Gradually whisk the chickpea flour into your bowl of warm water to avoid lumps. It then says to add salt, pepper, and two tablespoons of olive oil to the mix. However, you can skip the extra oil and salt if you’re looking to cut down on fat and sodium.
Cover the batter and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. In the meantime, heat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place an iron skillet on the middle rack to get it hot. A skillet makes for an excellent pancake, but if you don’t have one, any flat, shallow, and oven-safe baking dish will do.
Once your skillet is nice and hot, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan, tilting it back and forth to evenly coat the bottom. Carefully pour the batter into the skillet. Place it back in the oven and let it cook for about 12 to 15 minutes. If you like it extra crispy, place the skillet under the broiler for about two minutes at the end.
When you get the hang of making chickpea pancakes, feel free to add spices to the batter. Delicious flavors to try include rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, and basil. Otherwise, a simple duo of salt and pepper creates a wonderful base for any savory topping. Some particularly good additions are charred broccoli, roasted carrots and goat cheese, or lemon and herbs for a zesty finish. A world of flavor from the humble chickpea awaits!