Socca… ever heard of it? No, I’m not trying to say ‘soccer’ in a British accent, hah. We do take soccer pretty seriously in my Egyptian family (we’re Ahly fans, so watch out), but today I’m sharing the food — socca — with you. For those of you who haven’t heard of this delicious, super-easy-to-make, gluten-free meal, socca is a savory flatbread or crêpe made out of out of three basic, affordable ingredients: chickpea flour (also referred to as: garbanzo bean, hummus, besan, garam flour), water, and extra virgin olive oil. Can you believe a gluten-free bread substitute can be this simple to make? It is often dressed up with various herbs and spices. Socca is actually native to southeast France, specifically Nice and Marseille, but similar chickpea flour flatbreads are popular as street foods in Italy, known as farinata, in Algeria and other places in North Africa, known as karane or karantita, and in India, known as pudla besan.
I hadn’t heard about socca until I got into the food blogging world a couple of years ago, where it featured heavily in vegetarian blogs that I followed. More recently, I came across the Algerian version of the flatbread called karantita (cute name, huh?) when I was put in charge of writing a few chapters in an encyclopedia on street foods from around the world. I was asked to write about North Africa, so I interviewed a few friends from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria, asking each about the finest street food memories in their homelands. Karantita came up a few times, especially with my Tunisian friend, Alia. It turns out it was sold out of street carts equipped with charcoal ovens. The flatbread is wrapped in a paper cone, and eaten hot and oily, with a good dose of cumin and harissa, a North African spicy sauce. I also learned that the French like it peppery and with a fresh herb, like rosemary, mixed into the batter.
It’s so easy; you can’t even mess it up if you tried, Alia told me. Well, let me tell you – I tried! Not on purpose of course. Let me share what happened: I was at my in-laws and wanted to make an easy, affordable vegan meal for them that would be suitable for Lent. So I picked up a bag of chickpea flour from the local health food store, thinking I would make falafel with it. I made sweet potato falafel, and they turned out really well! A few days later, I remembered the conversation I had with my friend about the Tunisian street food, and I decided to try my luck at making socca. (By the way, classic karantita is made in the same way, but is topped with a beaten egg, and baked till golden.)
There was a tiny little problem: chickpea flour is made from raw dried chickpeas. I don’t know about you, but my tummy doesn’t do very well with unsoaked legumes. So, I decided to do as I have with the baked falafel recipe: I would soak the flour overnight, this time adding only the amount of water I’d use anyway in the recipe. So for 2 cups of chickpea flour, I added one and a fourth cups of filtered water, a splash of apple cider vinegar to neutralize some of the anti-nutrient known as phytic acid that is ubiquitous in dried legumes, and called it a day.
The next day, the flour had absorbed the water, and it had the consistency of a batter — exactly what I wanted. I added in some extra virgin oil, a good amount of fresh chopped rosemary, dried sumac, salt and pepper, and it was ready to bake … or pan fry? Traditionally socca is made in an oven, but I opted for pan-frying out of convenience – so I can control how it cooks, and flip it when it’s ready to cook on the other side. I picked the widest pan in the pantry (cast-iron works well, if you’re avoiding nonstick), poured some oil and then the batter, which rose up to about a third of an inch once spread out in the pan. After eight minutes on each side, the socca had turned into a golden color, and was ready for the toppings!
I chose to serve it as a pizza because I thought it would be a good way to incorporate some veggies into the meal! Since I was making a vegan version, I used this recipe for homemade vegan cashew ‘cheese’ as a base to spread on the socca before adding the sautéed veggie mix: onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and pickled black olives. For a vegetarian version, I bet soft chevre (goat cheese) would be wonderful. And if you adore anchovies – as I do – their saltiness would pair well with the goat cheese and some roasted veggies. These are just some examples, but you can use whatever toppings you have on hand!
The best thing about this socca (or egg-free karantita) is that it’s completely grain-free – so it’s perfectly safe for anyone avoiding gluten or grains. It’s also delicious, and has a good amount of plant protein for those fasting from animal products. Some other benefits: it’s got molybdenum, folate, fiber and a whole lot of antioxidants and trace minerals. And the taste? The spices you will add give it most of the flavor, as plain chickpea flour has a mild nutty flavor that isn’t particularly strong. When the edges of the socca become crusty and golden, the flavor somehow intensifies and it tastes even better than regular ol’ pizza. I urge you to try socca / karantita sometime – you won’t be disappointed!
Sumac and Rosemary Karantita / Socca made with Chickpea Flour (Gluten-Free Pizza)
Prep Time: soaking flour overnight + 10 m
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Keywords: dough saute pan fry bread entree gluten-free nut-free soy-free sugar-free vegan vegetarian chickpeas Orthodox Christian Fasts Super Bowl French Algerian fall spring summer winter
Ingredients (Serves 4)
For the socca pizza crust:
- 2 cups chickpea flour (also known as garbanzo bean flour, garam flour, besan), soaked overnight in water (amt below), and a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar
- 1 ½ cups filtered water
- 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided (if not vegan, use grass-fed ghee instead for tastier crust)
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried sumac
- 2 teaspoons unrefined salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon smoked chipotle chili pepper powder (optional – use only if you like a spicy taste)
For the toppings:
Toppings of your choice: For the vegan version I made, I used cashew “cheese”, caramelized onions, sautéed crimini and white button mushrooms and tomatoes, and black pitted olives. Other ideas: goat cheese (or other grass-fed cheese), homemade pesto, roasted or sautéed veggies, sautéed garlic, smoked salmon, smoked herring, anchovies, sausage, olive spread, etc. Your imagination’s the limit!
- 4 stalks green onions, chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 8-10 mixture medium crimini and white button mushrooms, chopped
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 tablespoons homemade cashew “cheese”
- 15-20 pitted olives, sliced in half
- Dash of unrefined salt and pepper
(1) Soak the chickpea flour overnight. In a bowl, add 2 cups of chickpea flour, 1½ cups of filtered water, and 2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar. Whisk together until there are no lumps. Cover and leave batter overnight on the counter.
(2) Spice up the batter. The next day, you’ll have a batter that is ready to use! For this Middle Eastern take on socca, add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh finely chopped rosemary, 1 teaspoon dried sumac, 2 teaspoons unrefined salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and if you want a little kick, ¾ teaspoon chili pepper powder.
(3)Oil the pan. Add 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a 12” or 14” cast iron or nonstick pan, make sure the bottom and sides are oiled, then pour in the spiced chickpea batter. You can pour in a little at a time if you want a thinner crust, or pour it all in and get a thick crust. With this amount of batter, you will likely have a 1/3 inch thickness (I just cooked the batter at one time — you can see how that looks in the pictures in this post).
(4) Cook the socca pizza. Turn the heat on medium, and after 3-4 minutes, you’ll notice bubbles forming. Keep the heat at medium-low and cover if splashing (it shouldn’t be splashing a lot – if it is, you need to lower the heat). Cook on one side for 7-8 minutes or until the bottom has hardened and started to turn golden (lift up a little to check). Once one side has cooked, use a large flat spatula to flip the socca on the other side. Add more oil if it looks dry. Cook for another 7-8 minutes or until that side has also turned golden. Turn off heat and prepare toppings while the crust cools a bit.
(5) Sauté the veggies and prepare other toppings. For this version, I sautéed 4 green onion stalks till translucent and starting to caramelize and added to it 2 medium chopped tomatoes and a mix of 8-10 crimini and white button mushrooms in a tablespoon of olive oil. You can add whatever toppings you would like and have on hand.
(6) Add cheese layer. For this vegan version, I added about 3-4 tablespoons of this homemade vegan cashew “cheese” spread, but you can add another soft dairy cheese instead. Soft goat cheese is one of my favorites!
(7) Add the other toppings. When the sautéed veggies have cooled a bit, add them on top of the pizza and spread evenly. Slice 15-20 olives and sprinkle evenly over pizza.
(8) Slice and eat. Cut into fourths with a knife, and serve lukewarm. You can keep any leftovers in the fridge – it makes a great and filling lunch. Enjoy!