Cookbook review: Chickpeas to the rescue


Love is a powerful motivator.

It opens us to new ideas and challenges us to be our better selves. Yes, in the kitchen, too.

As a woman with a bread lust so strong I can eat an entire crusty white-flour baguette — no toppings necessary, thank you — in one sitting and go looking for more, I had my doubts about sampling gluten-free recipes. Surely they wouldn't taste the same. They couldn't possibly be as delicious as the "real" thing. I'd miss the chewy, bubbly joy of tearing into glutenous dishes with gluttonous teeth.

But a family member developed the kind of long-term, undiagnosed illness that requires a limited diet with a slow reintroduction of foods to determine where the problem lies. Not long after, I made a new friend whose body can't digest gluten properly. No, not the trendy, "Gosh, gluten is such a bloat-food. I don't eat it at all" attitude, but the real, painful, severe gastric distress inability to digest gluten.

Home cooks understand this dilemma immediately. We know baked goods are love. We live for packing the extra treat in the lunch bag or serving the perfect dish at dinner.

How, then, could I share those warm, fuzzy feelings with my mom and my bestie when I couldn't make them delicious meals and desserts from my old recipe box? No cookies. No brownies. No muffins, cakes or quick breads. No pies with flaky flour-butter crusts. No yeasted breads, rolls or biscuits.

I needed to learn a new way to cook, because it's unacceptable to a home cook to be unable to feed the people they love.

Chickpeas: Before I picked up "The Chickpea Flour Cookbook" (Lake Isle Press, $17.95) by Camilla V. Saulsbury, homemade hummus was the extent of my experience with chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans.

The book's high point is its versatility. Need to make a treat for a class of children and accommodate students with allergies to nuts, soy, dairy and gluten? This cookbook can handle that, no problem. Making dessert for a vegan party? This book has you covered. Its 81 recipes are set up to easily allow for adjustments to deliver a finished treat everyone can take part in. The recipes have tips to ensure success when working with unfamiliar ingredients, and several include flavor variations and substitutions to keep you chock full of fresh ideas.

Basing the book around chickpea flour is brilliant, because it offers some huge advantages:

•You don't have to mix and match several kinds of flours and gums to re-create wheat-flour recipes. The chickpea flour by itself does the trick. The biggest change is that the proportion of liquid ingredients is often higher to account for chickpea flour's tendency to soak up and hold more.

•Chickpeas are full of fiber, protein and iron. With chickpeas, the empty, over-processed calories we get from white-flour goodies instead pack more nutrition and result in a fuller-feeling stomach faster, so dieters and parents hoping to sneak in healthier options might want to take note.

•Chickpea flour is readily available at the grocery store — and unlike some other non-wheat flours, it's not horribly expensive. It's not a special order, either, though you'll want to look not in the baking aisle but in the natural foods aisle, where chickpea is just one flour among many. And if buying chickpea flour seems a little pricier than buying all-purpose flour, the book has instructions for making your own, which starts with buying dried chickpeas from the aisle with the rest of the dried beans.

Attitude: As one might expect from a book with an author described as a healthy foods blogger and fitness trainer, "The Chickpea Flour Cookbook" occasionally dips into preachiness and food snobbery. Saulsbury recommends natural cane sugar ("minimally processed sweeteners offer a broader spectrum of flavors than refined sugar") and fresh, organic spices (from "food co-ops, health food stores, and mail-order sources"). She's not wrong — she has a doctorate centered on food studies, health and medicine, so she knows her stuff — but don't feel you must hang up your apron if your sugar is plain old white and your spices come in the same red-topped plastic shakers Mom and Grandma used to buy. You're taking a step toward healthier eating; you don't have to climb the whole ladder at once.

If you do decide to change up your shopping habits, the opening chapter on stocking the pantry is a wonderful resource for choosing the highest-quality ingredients and knowing how best to store them. It also explains what all of those pesky substitution options are and how they differ, which makes experimenting on your own much easier when you're ready to go off-book.

The flour measurements are given in cups and in grams, which is especially useful for cooks with a kitchen scale. (Measuring flour by weight is much more precise than measuring by volume; if you bake with flour often, a scale is a wise investment.)

A few more pictures would have been wonderful, because we've all been spoiled by window-shopping for recipes online, and print books can't quite compete with the drool-factor of a Pinterest page, but the included color photos offer lovely peeks at several of the dishes.

Recipes: I made two recipes from the book to test: Old-Fashioned Waffles and Molasses Spice Cookies. Both were a huge hit with family, friends and co-workers.

The waffles cook up just as light and fluffy inside and crispy outside as a white-flour waffle, and they have a slight cornbread taste that worked out wonderfully — after a breakfast-for-dinner of waffles and maple syrup one night, we turned the leftover waffles into rafts the next night to hold heaps of taco-style rice, beans and beef.

The molasses cookies are a tad crunchier than I usually make them, but I suspect shortening the oven time will fix that for the next batch, because there will definitely be a next batch. The molasses flavor is strong with this one.

Some cookbooks sit on the shelf with a useful recipe or three but rarely get pressed into service. "The Chickpea Flour Cookbook" is the other kind of cookbook — the one I'm reaching for every week to try something new or to fulfill a request for a treat friends and family are eager to taste. Next up might be the Smoky BBQ Veggie Burgers or the Black Bean and Mango Empanadas. Maybe the Cardamom Vanilla Shortbread or the Ginger Scones with Chickpea Lemon Curd. And next summer? I'm going to be all over the Lemony Zucchini Bread — for once, all of that extra liquid in the zucchini can stay in the mix!

I went looking for a cookbook to feed the people I love. I found a cookbook to fall in love with.

— Reach Mel Barber at

Old-Fashioned Waffles

Makes: 7 to 12 waffles, depending on waffle iron size

2 cups (240 grams) chickpea flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 large eggs

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

2 tablespoons natural cane sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vegetable oil, for cooking

Pure maple syrup, for serving

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and preheat a waffle iron to medium-high heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs; whisk in the buttermilk, melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the mix to the flour mixture, whisking until just blended.

Generously brush the waffle iron with vegetable oil. Ladle about 1/2 cup batter into the waffle mold.

Cook the waffles according to manufacturer's instructions until golden and cooked through, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Give the waffle iron one hard press before opening to help prevent the waffle from separating when you open the iron.

Transfer the finished waffles directly onto the rack in the oven to stay warm, keeping them in a single layer to maintain crispness. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve with maple syrup.

Molasses Spice Cookies

Makes: 36 to 48 cookies, depending on preferred cookie size

2 1/2 cups (300 grams) chickpea flour

1 tablespoon ground ginger

2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup coconut palm sugar or packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup natural cane sugar, plus more for rolling

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg

6 tablespoons dark molasses (not blackstrap)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and cloves.

In another medium bowl, using a mixer, beat the coconut sugar, 1/2 cup cane sugar and the butter on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the egg and molasses; beat for 1 minute, until blended and smooth. Stir in the flour mixture by hand until just blended.

Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Fill a small, shallow plate with natural cane sugar. Roll tablespoons of dough into balls and then roll them in sugar to coat. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 14 to 19 minutes, until the tops are cracked and the edges are set (centers will be slightly soft). Let cool on the pan on a wire rack for 3 minutes, then transfer directly onto the rack with a spatula to cool completely.

Store cooled cookies in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

— Recipes from "The Chickpea Flour Cookbook" by Camilla V. Saulsbury.