I stepped into my favorite coffee oasis Chazzano Coffee for an afternoon cappuccino. Julie Marcos, barista extraordinaire, discussed the weather and specific attributes of the latest roasting of Brazilian Santos. Because of my food “interests” she told me about a wonderful childhood memory. While living in Nice, France, her father made a dish called “Socca” and served it with fresh ground black pepper.
She seemed to disappear into her thoughts as she described the texture and flavor, reliving a moment in time that food can transport us to. I was intrigued because of my passion for a similar dish called Poodla, which some friends from Gujarat, India had shared with me many years ago.
The base of the Poodla is garbanzo flour–made from the versatile garbanzo bean or chick pea. Archaeological evidence has shown cultivation originated in the Middle East at least 7500 years ago. Most of us know it from hummus, Mediterranean vegetable stews, salads and falafel–not so much as flour which can be used as a base for dessert or as a wheat substitute in gluten-free cooking.
As with most recipes, there are traditions–Socca and Poodla have long rustic ones. Whether they were created independently or were the result of cultural recipe sharing, we will never know for sure; however, the story of Biryani comes to mind. Gypsies who migrated from India, across most Mediterranean and European cities, ended up in Spain where they reinvented this venerable rice dish as Paella. Socca from Nice was originally considered Genoese and is a popular dish relished up and down the Tuscan coast. Up until 1860, and for most of its history, Nice was part of Italy. Founded by the Greeks in 350 BC and named after the goddess of victory, Nike, it was a busy maritime port, visited by travellers from around the world during the age of exploration.
The cross-continental connection may not be as random as one may imagine. It is easy to fantasize how dried garbanzo flour could have travelled the Silk Road, or even across the seas, as a non-perishable and nutritious staple ingredient for a number of easy-to-prepare dishes.
These two recipes are steeped in the traditional fabric of the cultures they came from, Socca from Nice and Poodla from Gujarat–recipes which take us deep into Mediterranean culture or immerse us in the fantastic flavors, colors and textures of India. Whichever method of preparation is used, it is fun to meditate on the origins and associated culturally rich stories while making and enjoying these wonderful dishes.
Makes about three seven-inch soccas.
1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
coconut oil for cooking
In a large bowl mix the chickpea flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk in warm water and olive oil. Cover and let sit 2 to 4 hours.
Place a cast iron skillet in oven and preheat to 450 F.
Remove skillet from oven. Add 2 tablespoons coconut oil to the hot skillet and pour batter in a steady stream until it reaches the edges of the pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until the pancake is firm and the edges are set.
Flip the socca or set it a few inches below your broiler for a couple minutes, just long enough for it to brown. Cut into wedges and serve hot with toppings of your choice.
1 cup besan chick pea flour
7 ounces of water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon ajwain Seeds
1/2 cup sweet onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh fenugreek leaves, minced
½ teaspoon fresh garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
coconut oil for cooking
Whisk flour and water together to make a smooth batter, then whisk in spices, onion, and garlic. In a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons coconut oil. Place several dollops of batter onto the hot skillet. When golden brown on the bottom, flip and cook the second side until golden brown. Repeat.
-Besan flour is Indian black chick pea flour. Garbanzo flour can be substituted with less favorable results. Water may have to be adjusted.
-Ajwain, carom seed, has a similar flavor to Mexican oregano which can also be used.
-Fenugreek leaves, methi in Hindi, are one of the secret flavors of Gujarati cuisine. As a substitute, use an equal amount of chopped cilantro leaves and ¼ teaspoon of ground fenugreek seed.
-Besan, ajwain and fenugreek leaves are available at most Indian groceries.