Tonight I thought I’d share with you two recipes that we eat fairly often around this house – they are both Vegan, Gluten-Free, and Paleo (with one change), and absolutely delicious! The bruschetta mixture takes advantage of whatever local vegetables are in season, and the crispy chickpea crackers are a wonderful substitute for traditional toasted bread rounds as a base for the bruschetta.
Both of these recipes are simple to prepare, but take a bit more time due to baking in the oven. But, both can be prepared way ahead of serving time, and actually get even better as they sit, as the flavors meld in the bruschetta as it rests – so don’t worry about timing this one out from stove to table, rather just take the steps as they fit into your schedule. There are even several places where you can set the recipe aside and finish it later, if you like, to prepare for guests or to have with other dishes – up to you! Just let your time in the kitchen flow and don’t pressure yourself with a timetable, because there isn’t one here.
I always start with the chickpea crackers first, as they need to be baked and cooled before they are finished, and while they cool I can roast the vegetables and prep the tomatoes for the bruschetta. I’ve taken and adapted a recipe for traditional Socca, which is a street food dish from France and Spain, and given it an Indian twist as I’ve found in one of my favorite cookbooks, Heaven’s Banquet by Miriam Kasin Hospodar.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and then you begin with an empty food processor (or a bowl with a mixer), into which you place equal amounts of chickpea (also sometimes called garbanzo) flour and water. I use Bob’s Red Mill brand, which can be bought locally at Plaza Extra, and sometimes at CostULess. For this recipe, I use two cups of flour and two cups of water, and one teaspoon of salt.
Blend it all together just until a smooth batter forms, about the same as pancake batter. The main point is just to eliminate any lumps. Again, you could do this in a bowl with a handheld mixer or even a whisk, if you wanted the arm workout!
After it’s blended, grease a 9×13 inch pan and have it ready, and then pour the batter into a saucepan on the stove and add your seeds. I used Charnushka seeds, which are a traditional India seasoning seed, but you can use cumin seed instead. You can also try other seeds and see which ones you like, such as mustard seeds, fennel seeds, sesame seeds – there are many possibilities, just go with what you like!
Slowly heat the batter over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens. You’ll know it’s thick enough when it separates away from the bottom of the pan while you whisk. Small lumps in the batter are okay, but if larger ones form whisk it until the lumps go away, or run it through the processor again.
Pour the batter into the greased 9×13 pan. Smooth and shake it around until it forms a thin layer on the bottom, which will be about 1/4 inch thick. Then drizzle olive oil over the top and spread it around with the back of a spoon. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just a shine of olive oil over the surface.
Then place the pan in your preheated 350 degree oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.
While that is baking, it’s time to move onto roasting the vegetables for the bruschetta! I basically go through the ‘fridge and see what we have that needs eating from my latest market run. I also prefer to have fresh local tomatoes because they really make the flavor of the bruschetta sing – so this is a great dish for this time of year while tomatoes in season. For tonight’s bruschetta I used a few various local zucchini and a local eggplant in addition to the tomatoes, but I have also used asparagus (not local, bought at Quality Food), green beans, and peppers – think warm weather vegetable crops that will hold their texture as they’re roasted. I opted to not use the mushrooms in this picture as they would get too soft in the oven for bruschetta, so I’m going to roast them separately for another dish tomorrow.
I peeled and chopped the eggplant, and peeled and chopped up the white zucchini (I find this variety has a thicker skin that is better removed), and then chopped the green zucchinis as well. Throw all the chopped pieces onto a roasting pan and toss them with olive oil and salt. Notice that the pieces are slightly larger than bite size, as they will reduce as they cook and you want the bruschetta to still be chunky. I also don’t mind that the pan is crowded, as these veggies are better a bit more tender and not as dry as they would be if they were roasting with more space between the pieces. Also notice that I am not roasting the tomatoes – those are used fresh in the bruschetta.
Set this pan aside and wait for the chickpea crackers to finish baking. The crackers will be done after baking for the 30 minutes, after which time take them out of the oven and let them cool – the surface of the pan will be cracked somewhat, which is good, and the texture will be dry and slightly chewy.
Then turn the temperature up on the oven to 400 degrees, and place the roasting pan of veggies in the oven for another 30 – 45 minutes to roast and reduce. Go walk the dog or read a book or something, and then come back and take them out and also set them aside to cool.
While both pans rest, chop your tomatoes and put them in a bowl. Then chop up a handful of good fresh basil – I used a sweet Thai basil that Doug has been growing in our garden lately. It has a wonderful flavor! Set the basil aside to add into your veggie mixture.
When the roasted veggies are cooled, pour them in the bowl as well and add the chopped basil on top. Add about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, and 2 – 4 Tablespoons of balsamic or red wine vinegar – whatever is good to your taste. Salt and pepper, mix it all up, and then set the bowl in the refrigerator to cool (the bruschetta tastes better slightly chilled) while you finish the chickpea crackers.
For the last step of the crackers, heat about 1/8 inch of oil in the bottom of a flat-bottomed pan. You just want enough for the crackers to brown in, but not be completely submerged, so that they fry on each side. I have been using grapeseed oil as I like the neutral flavor, but you could also use olive oil or even ghee or palm oil (to make it paleo). There are several different opinions around regarding your choice of oil these days, so just use the one that you prefer for your particular diet – it doesn’t make much change to the flavor, other than ghee, which makes the crackers much more buttery!
Take a sharp knife over to your pan of crackers and cut the crackers into 2-inch squares. For a 9×13 pan, I get about 12 good-sized crackers. Lift them out of the pan with a flat spatula – be a bit careful, as they are thin and can break – and then lower them into the hot oil to brown on both sides. Fry the crackers about 2 minutes on each side, flipping in between – they should have a nice golden color.
Remove them to a paper towel to cool. You will be tempted to try one right away, but don’t! They stay hot for several minutes, as the beans hold the heat – I’ve burnt my tongue more than once! Just let them cool, and then you can either go ahead and top them with the bruschetta, or put them in a storage container for later. They keep at room temperature for 1 – 2 days, but they never last longer than 24 hours in our house!
Last step – take your crackers, and top them with the bruschetta, or set them with the bruschetta to use them to dip it up. Be as simple or as decorative as you like, it tastes yummy whichever way you choose.
Here’s how I served the bruschetta to Doug:
And here’s how I ate it (’cause the cook can’t wait, yanno):
And here’s how Doug ate it. Yum!
And either way, it was DELICIOUS. Eating fresh, local vegetables brings such flavor to food, that once you’ve begun to experience it, you’ll never go back to stale store-bought vegetables again.
I hope you enjoy these simple recipes, and try them and adapt them to whatever you have fresh in your kitchen. Eat local, St. Croix, and ENJOY!!