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.

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

How to Breakdown a Squash

What We Eat: Squash

Time to shake things up. Up to now, I haven’t shared a single post about cooking – recipes, tips, how-to’s, etc. – which is pretty crazy.  My love of being in the kitchen is what got me into the nutrition field in the first place. And it is a lot easier to make eating well a priority if the healthy food you are cooking and eating actually tastes good. I should be showing you how to do that! So from here on out, I’m going to be sharing a lot more of this type of stuff. It’s fun for me, and hopefully useful for you. Let me know if you’re into it.

First up, how to breakdown a squash. It struck me the other day that if people are limiting themselves to the pre-cut butternut squash at their local Whole Foods, they are missing out on lots of the delicious varietals that don’t come conveniently pre-disassembled. Kabocha, delicata, spaghetti…so many options, each of which have a slightly unique taste and texture. My favorite happen to be the types with edible skin (delicata, kabocha, acorn), because they are quicker to prepare (less peeling) but also because I love the contrast of the soft dense flesh and crisp, almost crunchy skin.

There is no right or wrong way to cut up a squash (or maybe there is according to Thomas Keller, but not for us mere mortals). Just keep in mind that if you want to keep all of your fingers intact, a sharp knife is a total necessity and creating a flat surface to stabilize the squash is always better than trying to cut through it while balancing the round surface on your cutting board.

How do you cut your squash? Whats your favorite variety and how do you prepare it?

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eYvCLvXRSI[/youtube]

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.”

The thing about carbs

What We Eat: Whole Grain Salad

The thing about carbohydrates is not all carbohydrates are created equal. (Not all proteins or fats are created equal either, but let’s save that for another blog post.) Carbs come in every variety, from very healthful to very not. That’s why any diet that banishes them entirely will, yes, cut out a good amount of junk food. But it will also lead you to miss out on lots of important nutrients (honestly, the details of which don’t matter), and unnecessarily eliminate foods that are truly enjoyable. So let’s break them down…

What foods contain carbohydrates?

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes (aka beans and nuts)
  • Dairy (this one surprises people sometimes but lactose is a carb)
  • And every food derived from the above (e.g. juice, sugar derived from the sugar cane plant and all other caloric sweeteners, potato chips, breakfast cereals, snack foods like crackers and cookies, breads from white to whole wheat, pastas, etc.)

“Complex” carbs versus “simple” carbs

We’re often told to choose “complex” carbs (carbs that have three or more sugar units strung together) and to abstain from “simple” carbs (carbs made up of only one or two sugar units). But let me give you an example of why this blanket recommendation doesn’t work. White bread, made up of starch, is technically a “complex” carb. Apples, made up of glucose and fructose, are technically “simple” carbs. Few would argue that white bread is a healthier choice than an apple. It’s not.

White bread is made with white flour. White flour is made by removing the healthiest components of a wheat berry (the fiber and nutrient-filled bran and germ). What is left (the energy-filled endosperm) is then ground into a fine dust. Essentially, even before we take our first bite of toast, a great percentage of our bodies’ digestion has already been completed by outside processing. So the “complex” carbs in white bread are very readily absorbed and quickly converted into sugar in our blood streams (what doctor’s call blood sugar or blood glucose).

An apple is made from, well, an apple. When we eat it, besides the obvious fact that our teeth have more work to do to ready it for swallowing, our GI tracts also have to work harder to separate the “simple” carbs from the fiber, water and other nutrients packaged with them. This, among other reasons, leads to slower absorption and conversion of the “simple” carbs of the apple into blood sugar. Rest assured, our bodies will absorb all of the good stuff, it just takes more time. More time is a good thing.

Why it matters whether our blood sugar increases quickly versus overtime

Blood sugar is what fuels the activity of our bodies’ cells, but it can’t get into them without some help. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, acts as a key to open up cell doors and let blood sugar in. Because our bodies don’t like a ton of sugar hanging out in our blood stream, a surge in it from foods (like white bread) leads the pancreas to release a corresponding surge in insulin. All of the sugar is quickly ushered out of our blood stream and into our cells. Before you know it, the highway that is our blood stream is free of sugar. This wouldn’t seem like a bad thing, but our bodies actually prefer there to be a little blood sugar traffic. If there is no blood sugar available to cells, what would happen if all of a sudden our bodies needed more energy? What if we were attacked by a bear or something?! So, low blood sugar triggers additional hormonal responses in our bodies – hormones that make us hungry. This explains why most of us feel starved only a few hours after having a muffin for breakfast.

Alternatively, when we eat foods (like apples) that are full of nutrients (like fiber) that take longer to break down, our blood sugar rises slowly and steadily overtime. Correspondingly, our pancreas releases insulin slowly and overtime. There is a steady flow of light blood sugar traffic in our blood stream. When insulin moves some blood sugar into our cells, a little more blood sugar merges onto the highway from our GI tract to replace it. This translates to our blood sugar rising and falling slowly and overtime. Why is this so great? Our bodies tell us that they are satisfied for longer.

A better way to think about carbs

So, here is a clearer carb recommendation: Eat carbohydrate foods that have undergone as little processing as possible the majority of the time –

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes (aka beans and nuts)
  • Low fat milk and yogurt

– and the ones made by processing them –

  • Juice, even smoothies
  • All sugars from white to agave to honey
  • Traditional snack foods like potato chips, pretzels, crackers
  • Bakes goods like cookies, cakes, doughnuts
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Breads from white to whole wheat
  • Pastas and white rice
  • Etc.

– less often. The former are like time-release energy/fullness pills and the latter are like fast-acting energy/hunger-inducing pills. Maybe this means you choose to do an 80/20 split, or 90/10, that’s all up to you. The good news is there’s no good reason to give up carbohydrates.