Passover 2011–the side dish

My father grew up in a kosher household in Brooklyn. When he was 16, he went to a Yankees game during Passover. Without thinking about it, he got a hot dog. You know, like you do. Then, halfway through the wiener, he realized his error. A hot dog! On a bun! During Passover!

He stopped and considered. The sun was shining. The Yanks were winning. God hadn’t sent down a thunderbolt and incinerated him right there in his bleacher seat. So he said what the hell, finished the hot dog, and never kept kosher again.

In this, as in so many other things, I am my father’s daughter. Judaism, for me, is rather like the Pirates’ Code. I’ve never kept kosher in my life, and certainly never for Passover. So it’s no surprise that I only thought I was being clever when I came up with a recipe using a non-wheat flour for my family’s early seder this weekend. But, as it turns out, I used chickpeas. And chickpeas are not kosher for Passover, at least if you’re Ashkenazi. Whoops.

But I still served my dish, and it was delicious. So…there.

When it comes to making meals for guests, it often seems like the dietary restriction is the host’s worst nightmare. Oh, you’re a vegetarian? Vegan? Lactose intolerant? Celiac? I guess I can make something for you, but it’s going to be sooooo hard. As someone with an oft-misunderstood dietary concern, I often avoid bringing it up when I’m eating at others’ houses, for fear of exactly this reaction.

And it’s a shame, because I think this kind of cooking is often more fun than the no-strings-attached kind. I love going beyond the familiar, mapping new ingredients to familiar techniques to come up with food that even the staunchest omnivore would declare delicious. So I was actually excited for my family’s Passover seder this year, which included:

  1. Insulin-resistant me
  2. My parents, the fish-eating vegetarians
  3. My aunt, who can’t eat lettuce, leafy greens, or anything cruciferous
  4. My dear friend Kate, who’s allergic to gluten

I volunteered to bring two dishes: a grain (which I’ll write about next time), and a vegetable dish. Of course, I set myself challenge on top of challenge: my vegetable offering had to be suitable both as a side dish for the meat-eaters and an entree of sorts for the vegetarians. The night before the seder, on a whim, I Googled “chickpea flour,” hoping for inspiration (and, ideally, to avoid a trip to the Indian grocery across town). Up popped a blog post on making your own.

Turns out, dried chickpeas plus blender equals chickpea flour. Who knew? Easy, cheap, no special grocery store required. Plus, for those of you keeping kosher score, no chance of contamination with wheat flour if you grind your own. (Yes, that’s my excuse.)

The day of the seder, I woke up and knew: I was going to make vegetable fritters. Sometimes these things just call to me. I’m not much of a braggart–I hope–but I can say without coyness that I’m very proud of these cheeky little latke-cousins. This is a recipe entirely of my own invention, and it never even came close to disaster.

First, I shredded scallions with a chef’s knife. Scallions. With a chef’s knife. And they came out thin and delicate and just like the chefs on the teevee do. I was actually surprised.

Then I hand-grated a whole lotta zucchini and carrot, squeezing them dry in the sink. This also made a whole lotta mess. I was wishing for a food processor the whole time. Don’t let this happen to you.

Usually, with latkes or any other pancake, the binder additions are a matter of intensely unscientific experimentation. Egg and flour into shredded matter, hand-squish, make patty, patty falls apart, lather, rinse, repeat. But not this time. This time, I hit the magic proportion on the first try. My pancakes pancaked like a dream. (Okay, now I’m bragging.)

Then I fried them.

I really wasn’t expecting much from something so slapdash. But this was truly a happy accident: eggier and more delicate than the usual wheat-bound pancakes, with a near-intangible nuttiness from the chickpeas. They weren’t perfect–next time, I’d sift the chickpea flour to get out the big chunks–but in the end, no one seemed to mind. I didn’t even get a good photo of the final crispy-brown-delectable product, they went so fast.

Crowd-pleasing, yet transgressive. I think I done my father proud.

Chickpea Vegetable Fritters (I got about 30 small fritters out of this batch)

1 16-0z. bag dried chickpeas*

4 large zucchini, shredded

4 medium carrots, shredded

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal

4 large eggs

Vegetable, canola or other neutral oil for frying

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

*Note: one bag of dried chickpeas makes more chickpea flour than you need for the fritters. I’m saving the rest for a Mark Bittman recipe I’ve had my eye on.

Grind the chickpeas into flour using a blender or food processor. This will make a truly godawful racket, so be prepared (I wasn’t). Sift the flour through a fine-mesh sieve to catch any big chunks. Set aside 1 cup of the sifted flour for the fritters, saving the rest for another use.

Put the shredded zucchini in a clean kitchen towel or a few layers of cheesecloth, then squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. (Alternately, if you have time, put the zucchini in a strainer with a pinch of salt and let it drain in the sink.) In a large bowl, combine the de-moistured zucchini, carrot, scallion, eggs, and 1 cup chickpea flour. Mix thoroughly–I like using my hands for this. Season with salt and about as much fresh-cracked pepper as you can stand.

Heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet over high heat. Form the batter into pancakes, squeezing out any excess moisture–I found I liked these super-thin and flat, for best crispy-brown-delectability. Fry the pancakes for 1-2 minutes on each side, until they look like, well, fritters. Serve them about as freshly-fried and hot as you can stand to eat them. If you happen to burn your fingers tasting them them directly from the pan, well, welcome to the club.

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