Monday, August 11, 2008


Some years ago I decided I was going to make crepes and bought a nonstick (cheating, just a little, by not going with traditional carbon steel) crepe pan for the event. The crepes were easy and delicious and were sure to be a regular feature on our family dinner menu. The pan was declared to be for-crepes-only. Since then it has been used occasionally -- once or twice a year, at best -- but mostly spends its time in its designated place of honor, perched atop the upturned lid of an 8-quart stockpot, in deference to its delicate nonstick surface. I pulled out the pan last week, got past the mild fury that arose when I saw the nicks in the edge surface (abused in the pot cabinet... must I do everything myself?), and this time I think the concept will stick: crepes will become part of our regular rotation of easy, meal-building dishes.

The key for us, I think, is to make extra. Since I bought that pan, we have grown into a family of 5, and we usually only have substantial leftovers when we try. Most recipes only serve 4-6, and we are a hungry bunch. So to start with, this time I made a double batch of crepes. And it's true -- they really do keep well. They don't stick to each other and can be refrigerated or frozen. Reheating is a simple matter of wrapping in foil and placing in a 350-degree oven while you prepare a filling (or reheat various leftovers).

We had them for dinner, with a simple tofu spread and some sauteed mushrooms and greens (a rainstorm kept me from the grill). Then we had them for lunch the next day, with a quick stir-fry of crispy shallots, baked tofu and spinach, enhanced with a light dusting of parmesan and a "twang"* of curry fleur de sel. Two days later, I made another batch and we filled them with a leftover potato, garbanzo, and bean salad in harissa vinegarette.

They'll be great for carrying to work or school. And for using up small amounts of leftovers, which is mostly what we have. Plus, they provide the perfect canvas for trying out different flavor profiles in combination. Brilliant.

The crepes I've been making are eggless, chickpea- and wheat- based. The chickpea flour imparts a mild flavor that lends itself well to savory fillings in every season, and provides the protein that helps bind the batter without eggs. I've used a couple of different recipes, from The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfeld and Peter Berley's The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. They are essentially the same, but one produces are thinner batter (read, add more water) than the other. I've now begun to develop a feel for what I like and, mostly with regard to the consistency, am straying slightly from the recipes as written. I'm not religious about the measurements at this point. I do think that the chickpea flavor is a little pronouced for sweet crepe fillings, and I'd like to do some experimenting with different high-protein flours and different ratios to find a workable vegan recipe for those, too.

Recipe: Chickpea flour crepes (adapted from The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfeld)
Notes: Make sure the pan is well-heated before you start. If you give it enough time to heat, you won't have to sacrifice the first crepe to the trash.
1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon finely-minced herbs (optional)
a few tablespoons olive oil for preparing the cooking surface

In a bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. Mix in the oil and water. Once combined, use an immersion blender to smooth out the batter. Alternately, use a traditional blender, or strain the batter through a sieve. Stir in the herbs, if using. Let the batter rest for 20 minutes. Place a nonstick pan over medium heat. Using a paper towel saturated with oil, wipe the pan surface. Pour out about 1/3 cup of batter and quickly rotate the pan to achieve a thin, even, somewhat circular layer of batter. As it cooks, the batter will become more translucent and the edges will begin to curl. At this point, a spatula may be used to loosen the edges. Wait to flip the crepe until it begins to freely slide around the pan when jerked. Then, using a spatula or a well-practiced "jerk and flip", turn it over. It will be about a minute or two on each side. Repeat, wiping the pan with the oil-saturated paper towel in between each one. The finished crepes can be slid right off the pan and stacked on a plate.

Yields about a dozen crepes.

Recipe: Crispy Shallots, Baked Tofu and Spinach
Notes: For the baked tofu, I used a store-bought variety, by Fresh Tofu Inc. (based in Allentown, PA). You can make your own, too. I used fresh oregano and thyme here, based on what was available in my backyard.
3 medium shallots
8 ounces baked tofu
5 ounces baby spinach, well-washed and dried
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
sea salt
a bit of parmesan and curry fleur de sel, for garnish

Peel and thinly slice the shallots lengthwise. Toss them in a medium skillet with the olive oil and cook, stirring occasionally, till they start to become browned, 3-5 minutes. While they are cooking, thinly slice the slabs of baked tofu. When the shallots are starting to brown, add the baked tofu to the skillet, along with the chopped herbs and crushed pepper. Saute a few minutes more. Then add the baby spinach, and stir until wilted. Finish with a bit of salt to taste.

Place about 1/4 cup of the tofu mixture in the center of a crepe. Dust lightly with parmesan and twang it* with a few crystals of the fleur de sel. Wrap and eat.

Serves 4 to 6, for a lunch-sized portion.

*Matt and I watched the movie "Talk to Me" on cable last week. It is a mediocre biopic about Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene, a former convict and drug addict turned Washington D.C. radio/television talk show host and community activist. We were interested enough to do some Googling after, which led to some YouTube video-watching, which revealed him to be a much more colorful character than the film had portrayed. And I hate to say that because I really like Don Cheadle. Matt found this video of Petey talking about "How to Eat Watermelon." He learned from some country folk that the best way is to sprinkle a few grains -- "just a twang" -- of salt on top. "You have to twang it."

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