Kitchen Intuition: Tortillitas

Authored By aliceodea

An interesting article popped up on my Quora feed recently, asking what dishes have the best effort-to-result ratio. It’s a great question; who isn’t always on the lookout for a really quick and easy, yet delicious, meal idea? The article offers some inspiring suggestions (and a few sketchy ones), and it also got me thinking about the dishes I go back to again and again when I need to make a great dinner, fast.

I think my favorite is a dish that requires an ingredient that is not typically found in American pantries, but it’s well worth your while to seek it out. You can find chickpea flour, which is also known as besan, gram or garbanzo bean flour, at most local Indian and Asian markets (they carry it at India Bazar, next to The Curry Pot on Lee Highway); you can buy it online; or you can make your own.

Chickpea flour is, as you might guess, made of finely milled chickpeas and is much more nutritious than regular old white flour. It is lower in carbs, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, while packing more protein than any other kind of flour. Chickpea flour is gluten-free and, when mixed with water, is sometimes used as an egg substitute in vegan cooking.

I originally hunted down chickpea flour years ago after I read about an Italian dish called farinata (I’ve since learned that the French version is socca). After reading about how people would line up at bakeries to get some while it was fresh from the oven, I had to try it. And it is indeed wonderful! Simple and easy to prepare, it is creamy in the middle, crispy at the edges and bursting with oily flavor. It is especially awesome as soon as it comes out of the oven, but later on, once it’s cooled, it’s just not as exciting. So I started making it only when I had a lot of people to feed to avoid having any leftovers (or I’d only make a single one, in a small cast-iron skillet, using a quarter of the recipe’s portions).


Mark Bittman demonstrates the quick, easy prep

That left me with a good bit of chickpea flour on the shelf and the stuff doesn’t keep forever, so I went looking for other ways to use it, and that is when I found tortillitas-eggless chickpea pancakes, which came to us from Andalusia. The first time I cooked tortillitas, I used Mark Bittman’s recipe for tortillitas with shrimp, but I’ve since (at his suggestion) experimented with many versions and substitutions, and have found that I can whip up a quick dinner with whatever I happen to have on hand (I’ve found that half a recipe is just perfect for two).

Start with a batter, which most people make with a combination of chickpea and wheat flour, but you can skip the wheat flour, and your pancake will just be a little crisper without the gluten. Or experiment by mixing other types of flour with the chickpea flour. I usually make mine with half chickpea and half whole-wheat flour (which I get locally from Sonrisa Farm). Add a bit of baking powder, salt and pepper, and you could just stop there and pour some chickpea crepes on the griddle, or you could add a bit of seasoning and make what is known as pudla in India. Then, roll it up with a filling, cover it in sauce, or dunk it into dips or chutneys. I could see serving it for breakfast, lunch, snacks or as a side at dinner!

To really make a meal out of it, though, mix in some chopped aromatics (onions, garlic, chives, scallions, leeks, shallots and/or grated ginger), some chopped herbs and vegetables (chives, parsley, thyme, cilantro, Brussels sprouts, peppers, greens, basil, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli are just a few ideas), and some sort of seafood (shrimp is good, but just about any sort of shellfish or fish will do; I’ve even made a version with canned salmon). Or leave off the seafood for a delicious vegan version.

However you prepare it, you can have a great meal, snack or side dish in a matter of minutes!

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.