Get to Know It: Chickpea Flour

Socca, an unleavened pancake made from chickpea flour and water.

Chickpeas are an ingredient we know and love. They’re satiating and a great source of plant-based protein. And, like most legumes, they provide an excellent canvas for flavor. You can really dress them up in any way you like.

We eat them chilled in our summer bean salads, warm in our winter stews. Pureed in our hummus, fried in our falafel. We love to roast them to crispy, baked perfection. To munch on them as a snack, to include them in our kitchen sink salads. Basically, we love to consume chickpeas pretty much any way, at pretty much any time.

But how often do you find yourself cooking with chickpea flour? If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably not too often.

Chickpea flourtraditionally made by grinding raw chickpeasis gluten free and nutrient dense. Like whole chickpeas, it’s a fantastic source of protein, and one that doesn’t come with an ominous use-by date. It has a really nice flavor and a rather dense texture, so it holds up well during cooking and tastes delicious once it’s done.

You can use chickpea flour in many ways, most of which are easy, fast, healthy and economical. Read: this is an ingredient worth getting to know.

Not sure where to begin? I can’t think of a better way to break the ice than by making socca.

Socca, native to France, is an unleavened pancake that can be made from equal parts chickpea flour and water. The process will seem friendly to even the most novice cooks. It requires little more than whisking flour and water, heating a lightly oiled pan and cooking a pancake. Isn’t that lovely?

But there’s room for adventure, too.

For instance, you could amp up your socca with egg a la this genius recipe for “cromlet”, a chickpea-omelette hybrid developed at Bon Appetit and beloved by the team here at WWE.

Or perhaps you’d like to use it as a gluten and dairy free roux in your next vegan sauce, as Lindsey Love, a fellow chickpea flour evangelist, suggests.

Love also wrote this recipe for za’tar spiced chickpea crackers, which look to be delicious, healthful and minimalist all at once. They consist of little more than chickpea flour, olive oil and water.

Other intriguing uses: pizza, wraps, baking (it’s a trustworthy binder) and soups, to name a few.

But don’t let me get carried away. If you’re new to chickpea flour, how about a simple, anything-goes, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants Salad Socca? The guidelines are straightforward:

Purchase some chickpea flour (also called garbanzo or gram flour), then head to the farmer’s market and fill your tote with spring produce. Make your way home. Make a salad, then make socca, then top the socca with the salad. Easy, right?

A salad of baby greens, fennel and cucumber.

Below, a bit of inspiration: a recipe for a Salad Socca of my own creation. Let me know what you think of yours. Happy cooking!

 

Salad Socca

1 cup yogurt

1 tablespoon tahini

1 garlic clove, peeled and pressed

1 lemon, juiced and zested

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups baby greens

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 small cucumber, thinly sliced

Olive oil to taste

½ teaspoon sumac (optional)

1 cup chickpea flour

1 cup water

 

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, tahini, garlic, half of the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Separately, combine greens, fennel and cucumber. Toss well with olive oil, remaining lemon juice, some lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Optionally, sprinkle with sumac.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup chickpea flour, 1 cup water and a healthy three-finger pinch of salt. Whisk until smooth.

Heat a medium (10-in or so) skillet, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil, or enough to lightly coat surface.

Pour socca batter into skillet and let cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on bottom. It will fill the entire skillet. Flip and repeat on other side.

Once done, top socca with a generous serving of tahini-yogurt. Using the back of a spoon or spatula, spread mixture to evenly coat. Using your hands, top with fennel and cucumber salad. Enjoy.

The Green Goddess

Green goddess dressing.

I’ve known about green goddess dressing for a while now, but I have to admit that up until recently, its ingredients were somewhat of a mystery to me. Herbs, of course, and something creamy, for sure. But was that greek yogurt, or was it buttermilk? Avocado, or just green herbs? A hint of anchovy, or am I just making things up?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “green goddess” notions of healthy grain bowls, sunny weather and glowing skin come to mind. New Californian cooking. As far as I’m concerned, it sounds like quintessential health food branding. Right?

While many recipes proved my theory correct, featuring fresh, healthful ingredients like herbs, avocado, greek yogurt and lemon, I was surprised to learn that a wholesome green goddess recipe is something of a reformed party girl.

The green goddess got its start in 1920s New York, when a broadway show of the same name premiered and gained popularity. Following its rise, a chef at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco invented a green dressing in its honor.

A green goddess with cilantro, greek yogurt, avocado and lime.

And the original recipe had absolutely nothing to do with health. Think mayonnaise, sour cream, anchovies, tarragon and chives. Delicious? Definitely. Wholesome? Not so much.

That said, this recipe – now nearly a century old – is far from obsolete. Many contemporary green goddesses have decadent, old-school vibes, requesting a heavy hand with rich dairy and classic French herbs.

Personally, I prefer a green goddess with greek yogurt and lots of citrus. To me, these versions are cleaner and brighter.

But that’s what’s great about the green goddess. She’s a chameleon. You can really make this dressing your own. Craving something avocado-forward? Go for it. Need to finish that buttermilk before it goes bad? Use it. Want to make anchovies your star? Sounds great. Forgot them at the grocery store? It will still be delicious!

I suggest preparing a batch of green goddess on Sunday evening to get you through the start of your work week. It’s versatile, so making it doesn’t require committing to one specific dinner idea. You can dress your salads with it, marinate your proteins in it, use it to amp up your grain bowls, or even let it guest star on taco night.

Below, you’ll find a few renditions I know and like. If you’re going to marinate a protein, I suggest following this recipe by Melissa Clark. Otherwise, simply use the ideas below to spark your creativity. After all, that’s what the green goddess is all about.

Green Goddess I

Combine parsley, basil, greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

Green Goddess II

Combine parsley, mint, basil, cilantro, sour cream, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

Adapted ever so slightly from Mina Stone’s recipe in Cooking For Artists (p 33).

Green Goddess III

Combine tarragon, chives, greek yogurt, anchovies*, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

*I suggest using 1-2 anchovies. If using, be sure to season less aggressively; anchovies add a lot of salt!

Green Goddess IV

Combine cilantro, avocado, greek yogurt, garlic, lime juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

What We Believe About Eating Well

“Healthy” food is having its day. It seems like there’s a new Sweetgreen, By Chloe or juice bar along those lines opening up each time you turn your head in New York City.  Bon Appetit has launched a new brand and site, Healthyish, to “cover wellness through the lens of food.” Eighteen of Amazon’s 20 top selling cookbooks have a health focus. The hashtag #cleaneating has over 29.5 million posts and counting on Instagram. People are connecting the dots between how they eat and how they feel.

On the one hand, this is awesome. Think about it, we literally are what we eat. Every strand of hair, follicle of skin and organ in our bodies is made up of the building blocks provided by what we eat. I don’t know whether that fact will ever stop fascinating me. The more people realize and celebrate this, the better.

On the other hand, some of what I see makes me uneasy. The more interest there is in healthy eating, the more commoditized it becomes. Many of those making a business around it, whether as an Instagram celebrity or as a food company, are not as informed as they purport. They claim that their way of eating, or their product offers the optimum diet. Conviction is easier to sell.

“It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

– Dr. David Katz, Founding Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

The truth is, there is not one way to eat well. Envision eating on a spectrum. On one end are total junk food diets. Think Doritos for breakfast, burger/fries for lunch and pizza for dinner. On the other end are more whole foods-based diets. Think tons of produce, lean proteins, whole grains and legumes, etc. There are endless ways to eat poorly and endless ways to eat well. If you are operating at the healthy end of the spectrum, there should be no anxiety around doing things “right” or “wrong”.

As a company, we strive to help our clients eat better no matter their choice of diet. We have clients who are vegan and animal-protein obsessed, gluten-free and grain-loving, dairy-averse and cheese-loving…you get the point. None are innately healthier than the other. It comes down to personal choice.

As a team, we enjoy all foods. Most of the time you’ll catch us crushing veggies but we never turn our noses up to a plate of the best fries or a good dessert. The former isn’t #cleaneating because it implies the latter is somehow dirty. It’s not! Its balanced. This isn’t “healthyish”. It’s healthy.

As this movement continues to boom, take heart in knowing that you’re probably already doing most things right. The devil is not in the details. And remember that while food is certainly a vehicle for health, it’s also about pleasure, culture and community. Enjoy it for all it has to offer!

With love always, xo Laura

It’s Okay to Fail

What We Eat: Success

In making healthy diet changes, you will fail. I know, I know, I sound like a negative Nancy (very out of character), but hear me out. Understanding this could be the key to helping you develop lifelong positive habits instead of throwing in the towel prematurely.

Adopting any new behavior is a process. It starts way before we actually actively make a change. Ground zero is when we are uninterested, unaware or unwilling to make the change. Step one is beginning to consider it. Step two is deciding to make the change and preparing to do it. Step three is making it. Step four is maintaining it. The final step? Step 5? Relapse! Failure! Falling off the wagon! Whatever you want to call it, research consistently shows that setbacks are the rule rather than the exception.

In my opinion, setbacks are especially expected with food-related changes because there are always times (as there should be) when we let go of our perfectly healthy diets. Maybe it’s because we’re celebrating a holiday, or maybe it’s because we’re stuck on a weeklong company retreat and we don’t get to choose what we eat. What really defines “successful” or healthy eating is not whether we never eat the wrong things or overindulge, but how quickly we recover from it to get back into our healthy eating routines. Over time, by making the duration of our setbacks shorter and shorter, our so-called relapses are really just lapses. Lapses, especially planned ones, are no big deal!

Setbacks can also be useful because they give us “data.” By investigating the situation surrounding our setbacks, we can better understand our weaknesses and create a plan to better overcome them next time. Think of them as learning experiences. Get curious, not guilty.

Example: “Wow, that’s interesting that as soon as work got hectic, not only did I stop cooking for myself but I also went back to my old ways of ordering burgers, nachos, whatever I darned well please, while eating out. Am I using food as a way to reward myself at the end of the day? Could I replace that with another non-food-related reward? What would it be? If I am going to be eating out a lot, how can I order something that might be similar to what I’d prepare for myself at home? Maybe I could check out menus online beforehand so I have a game plan.”

Setbacks give you the opportunity to be more successful in the future.

So the next time you “fail,” be kind to yourself. Take a little time to think about what led up to your setback, whether it has lasted a night, week, month or year(s). Create your game plan to get back on track and start immediately. All it takes is a few healthy meals strung together to change your mindset.

And to end with one of my favorite quotes, remember, “perfection is the enemy of progress.”

Nutrient and Caloric Density: Cracking the nutrition code for good

If I had the eyes and ears of the world and only 10 minutes to share the most important concepts in nutrition, I would attempt to explain nutrient and caloric density. Horrible, horrible names but very, very important ideas. The good news is that the devil is NOT in the details. A broad understanding is all you need to answer most nutrition-related questions.

Before we get into it, I bet these concepts are things you already get intuitively. Let’s see:

Question 1: Both the five Starbursts and medium banana below are about 100 calories. Of these two, which do you think is the healthier choice? Why?

What We Eat: Starbursts v BananaAnswer 1: If you guessed the banana (duh), you’d be right. Clearly, there is way more good stuff (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.) per calorie in the fruit than in the fruit candy. This is what is termed “nutrient density.”

Question 2: You’re trying to watch your waistline. Would one-cup granola or one-cup oatmeal be the better breakfast choice? Why?

What We Eat: Oatmeal v Granola

Answer 2: Guess oatmeal? Ding, ding, ding! Considering the same volume of oatmeal has about a third of the calories of granola, you could fill your tummy equally without letting out your belt loop. This is what is termed “caloric density.”

So, Nutrient Density = the amount of good stuff  (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.) in a specific food per the amount of calories it provides.

  • High nutrient density = lots of good stuff per calorie (aka “superfoods”)
  • Low nutrient density = little good stuff per calorie (aka “empty calories”)

And, Caloric Density = the amount of calories in a specific volume/weight of food.

  • High caloric density = lots of calories for small amount of food (bummer)
  • Low caloric density = few calories for a large amount of food (great!)

For optimal nutrition, the goal is to eat as many foods packed with vitamins, minerals, etc. for the fewest amount of calories. That means eating more of the foods at the top of this table, and less of the foods at the bottom.

What We Eat: Nutrient Density Table

In light of out waistlines, the goal is to eat foods that provide the least amount of calories for the greatest amount of volume. In general, the more water and/or fiber a food contains, the lower the caloric density, and the more fat it provides, the higher the caloric density.

What We Eat: Caloric Density Table
Based on University of Wisconsin handout – https://www.uwgb.edu/pearsond/NUT_SCI_300site/Handouts-300/EnergyDensity.gif

There is a lot of crossover between nutrient and caloric density. Most important to note: vegetables and fruits are at the top of both lists explaining why they should account for half of everything we eat and refined grains/sweets are at the bottom of both lists explaining why they should be all but eliminated. When we do decide to include foods low in nutrient density or high in caloric density, they should be consumed sparingly as special treats or to enhance healthier foods. Here are some examples:

  • Adding a crumble of feta cheese over a salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion (pairing a low nutrient density/high caloric density food, cheese, with high nutrient density/low caloric density food, vegetables)
  • Swapping half of your pasta with sautéed vegetables (swapping a low nutrient density/medium caloric density food, pasta, for high nutrient density/low caloric density food, vegetables, allowing you to keep the volume but greatly increase the nutrients and decrease the calories)
  • Pairing a quarter cup of nuts along with your apple (pairing a medium nutrient density/high caloric density food with a high nutrient density/low caloric density food)

What you shouldn’t do is pair low nutrient density/high caloric density foods together. That’s why, say, having cheese and crackers before dinner on a nightly basis is not the best habit to get in. They both have little nutritional value and a TON of calories for so little volume. Instead, why not snack on cut up veggies with a judicious amount of hummus?

Want to see how this should play out on your plate day-to-day?

Healthy Eating Plate
Those geniuses from Harvard think of everything.

So now, tell me and be honest, do you get it? Let me know because I am practicing for when I have those 10 minutes of the whole world’s attention.