Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Indian Chickpea Crepes Stuffed with Potatoes and Spinach

This is an adaptation of traditional south Indian dosas. I love dosas but they require a little bit of planning since you need to soak the urad dal in water so it can be ground and the batter needs to ferment. So they’re definitely not something you can make on a week night when you get home from work. Instead of using the traditional fermented dosa batter, I use a chickpea flour crepe based on Julie Sahni’s recipe for chilla from her book Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking.

Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t cook from recipes and rarely measure. Granted this makes writing recipes for others a little tough, but I try to give the methods and ballpark amounts for ingredients. If you taste as you go, you should do fine with this type of recipe. Ultimately it will make you a better cook as well since you’ll start to trust your own intuition and sense of taste. If it doesn’t taste right to you, add what you think it needs: more spice, more salt, etc. Like any recipe, read it through before you make it in order to get a feel for how the dish comes together.

The complete dish is three components: the crepes, the stuffing, and the sambar. Sambar is somewhere between a thin soup and sauce. It’s a traditional accompaniment to dosas, and is often used as a topping or sauce for steamed rice. The basis of sambar is toor dal, a lentil like legume that’s readily available at Indian grocers. You could substitute red lentils in a pinch, but toor dal is worth tracking down. You can add pretty much any vegetable to sambar, but for a dish like this, I tend to stick to things that will cook down and work well as a sauce. Tonight’s version used tomatoes and shallots. Add ½ cup of toor dal to about 2 cups of water, some salt, and a teaspoon of turmeric. Bring to a boil, turn it down and cover it. Let it simmer as you prep everything else.

I make the crepes from chickpea flour (called besan in Indian cooking), water, salt, ground cumin and optionally diced red chiles and grated ginger. I generally use 2 cups of chickpea flour mixed with about 1.5 to 2 cups of water. I don’t generally measure the water and judge it by consistency. I look for a consistency that’s between traditional crepes and pancake batter. If it’s too thick the crepes will be thick and doughy. 2 cups of flour will give you about eight 10 inch crepes. I like to let the batter sit for about 30-60 minutes but it will thicken a little as it sits so you may need to add a little water before you cook them.

You can stuff these with pretty much anything, but because I use these as a quick fix for a dosa jones, I normally stick to a potato base. Tonight’s version was potatoes, onions, garlic, chiles, spinach, and fenugreek greens (also called methi greens). The basic method for the stuffing I did is as follows:

Sautee an onion in about 2 teaspoons of oil. Add some salt to pull moisture from the onions. When they begin to brown, add some garlic and diced chiles to taste. Add about 1 tablespoon of ground coriander seed and about 2 teaspoons of ground or whole cumin seeds (or a mix) and some freshly grated ginger. Add about 3-4 waxy potatoes that have been cubed (I parboil mine to save some cooking time). Add about 8-16 oz of blanched chopped spinach. Mash the potatoes a little bit if the cubes seem too big. When it all seems cooked, add some fresh squeezed lemon juice and keep the stuffing warm.

While the stuffing sits, finish the sambar. The toor dal should be completely broken down and it should have the consistency of sauce. If it’s too thick, add some water. If it’s too thin, you can turn the heat up and reduce it or add some chickpea flour and whisk it in. Add two chopped shallots and about 1 – 1 ½ cups of diced tomatoes (canned tomatoes work fine in this). In a small pan, heat some oil (or use a generous coating of spray oil) and add about 1 teaspoon each of whole cumin seeds and black mustard seeds and 1-2 dried red chiles. Cook on medium heat until the seeds begin to pop and then add them to the sambar. If you have curry leaves or asafetida you can add those as well, but they’re not necessary. Keep the sambar warm and make the crepes.

Heat a 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spray or wipe it with some oil and add about ½ cup of the crepe batter to the pan. When the edges pull up from the pan (1-2 minutes) flip the crepes and cook for another minute or so. Remove from the pan and add about ¾ - 1 cup of filling and roll it up. Pour sambar over the top and optionally add some chopped cilantro and serve. It will serve 4 as a main course and 8 as an appetizer.

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