I've been intrigued recently by the trendy restaurant trick of "deconstructing" dishes, taking all the parts of a traditional recipe and almost literally disassembling the usual procedure, reconstructing a dish that contains the same ingredients and flavors but presents them in an innovative (and one hopes, tasty and interesting) new way.
Chef Rick Adams at Louisville's L&N Wine Bar, for instance, occasionally offers a "deconstructed short ribs" dish in which tender, fat-free beef is presented in a neat, intensely beefy block that contains no bones or gristle; and I've raved recently about oxtail and pig's-foot presentations by the Italian chef and FoodTV personality Mario Batali that are put through similar hoops before they come to the table.
The other day, thinking over this concept while trying to decide what to make for dinner, I had an idea so wacky that I couldn't resist trying it: Take most of the ingredients of Portuguese-style greens and sausage soup (March 16, 2006 FoodLetter
), but put them together in a completely different way. Instead of making it as a soup, pull out the garbanzo beans (chickpeas, ceci
, whatever you like to call them), and fashion them as pancakes instead! Then top these savory rounds with a spicy mix of greens and tomatoes similar to the contents of the traditional soup. The sausage is optional, but the meatless presentation is so hearty that it's not really needed.
The procedure proved simple enough, not unlike the kind of potato pancake made from leftover mashed potatoes: Warm and mash a can of garbanzo beans, mix them with a little flour and an egg yolk to help it hold together, and season with selected spices - I decided on Indian-style, curiously enough, maybe thinking of Portugal's old colony in Goa - to kick the flavor up a bit.
It worked so well that I decided to try the pancake base again another day, this time substituting cornmeal for the white flour to achieve an pancake somewhat reminiscent of fried polenta, topping the cakes with a savory garnish of creamy mild goat cheese and diced prosciutto.
The concept is a keeper: The crispy-edged, robust pancakes have an attractive, elusive flavor that your guests might have a hard time identifying if you don't clue them in. And it's almost infinitely variable, so if you try it, don't hesitate to tweak both the contents and the toppings to your heart's content.
The procedure for the pancakes follows. The Portuguese "soup" topping is really too simple to need a recipe: Cook spinach and kale together briefly, then chop them coarsely; sautee the chopped greens in olive oil with onions and garlic and moisten the result with a little fresh tomato sauce. Spoon it on the finished pancakes and decorate the plate, if you like, with a swath of additional tomato sauce around the perimeter.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
15.5-ounce (439g) can garbanzo beans or the equivalent in reconstituted dry beans
1 or 2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons (60g) white flour or cornmeal (see below)
Other spices to your liking (see below)
1 tablespoon olive oil, peanut oil or vegetable oil
1. Drain and rinse the beans and drain them again, unless you're more fond of that slimy canning liquid than I am. Peel the garlic cloves, and measure out the other ingredients. Separate the egg, discarding the white or, if you're extremely thrifty, save it for another purpose.
2. Put the beans and the garlic into a saucepan with enough lightly salted water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for a few moments, until they're warmed through. Drain off all but about 1/4 cup of the water, and buzz the beans to a thick puree.
3. Stir in your choice of white flour or cornmeal. Using flour makes a lighter pancake with the garbanzo flavor evident; cornmeal plays more of a leading role in a heavier, coarse-textured pancake that resembles polenta with a touch of garbanzo flavor. I like it both ways, and wouldn't rule out experimenting with other flours, like rye or buckwheat.
4. Stir in the egg yolk, and add salt, pepper and your choice of spices to your taste, choosing flavors that will complement whatever you're serving with the pancakes. In one white-flour version, I used cumin and Madras curry powder; in a cornmeal pancake I used Coleman's dry mustard and a pinch of cayenne. Let your imagination be your guide, but don't overdo - unless you're making an Indian-style curry, any time you you more than two or three spices and herbs together you're probably going to end up with muddled flavors.
5. Put a large, flat, preferably non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, and when it's hot enough to "bounce" a few drops of water, grease it lightly (and carefully) with a little oil on a paper towel. I generally use olive oil or peanut oil or a neutral vegetable oil depending on the spices I've chosen for the pancake and the flavors of the accompaniments. Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter (which should be about the texture of thick polenta) onto the skillet, and coax them into approximate rounds. Cook on one side for two or three minutes, until the bottom is firm, then turn them very carefully, using a thin spatula. (Because the pancakes are mostly bean and only a little flour, they're somewhat fragile until the exterior is well cooked. But if you mess one up in turning it, don't despair - you can generally mash it back into working order.) Flip once or twice until they're crisp and golden, then serve with your choice of garnish or accompaniment.
Purely by happenstance, I uncorked - or, in fact, unscrewed - modest South African wines with both of my ventures: With garbanzo-white flour pancakes topped with a warm "pesto" of chopped cooked kale and spinach and tomatoes, I served a red wine, the mostly Pinotage Hidden Valley 2003 Stellenbosch "Hidden Agenda."
With garbanzo cornmeal pancakes topped with goat cheese and prosciutto dice, it was a white, the New Zealand-style South African Durbanville Hills 2005 Sauvignon Blanc