It thickens the Gujarati yogurt soup kadhi and the Burmese soup mohinga. It’s mixed with minced meat for Iranian gondi and with confectioners’ sugar, ghee, and cardamom for Indian besan laddu. It bakes into Provençal socca or Ligurian farinata. It fries into panelle or panisse, pudla or pakoras. It’s a bird! It’s a plane!
And it’s an inexpensive freezer-dweller: Keep it there for months (though it won’t take you that long to work through a bag).
In the case of Burmese tofu (also known as Shan tofu for the state in the northeast part of the country where it originated), chickpea flour gets mixed with water and cooked into a gruel that resembles polenta. It’s then transferred to a pan, where it cools into a firm but forgiving block that also resembles… well… polenta—but with a smooth jiggle and a nutty, bitter edge that makes it enjoyable to eat as-is, cube by cube.
It’s got what I’ve always longed for from flabby, supermarket soy tofu (and polenta, too, for that matter): bold flavor, velvety texture. And, unlike tofu, it’s easy to make at home.
While Shan tofu can be started from dried chickpeas, as in the video of the traditional method above, chickpea flour winnows the process down to just two hours: In this recipe from Delicious Everyday, along with most others you’ll find on the internet, you simply mix together the water and chickpea flour and then whisk that sludge into more water you’ve heated on the stove, stirring until the mixture is thick. Pour into an oiled pan, forget about it for an hour, and you’ve got tofu.
I had success with the simpler technique, but I actually preferred the more complicated version from Sarah Britton of My New Roots, who found Christina Aung’s recipe on NetCooks. Here, the chickpea flour is fermented overnight (or for 8 to 12 hours), then drained of excess liquid. The remaining bean water is simmered, then the flour sludge is incorporated. After all of that, there’s an eight-hour wait. It may be a slower, more detailed process, full of sitting and soaking and stirring in stages, but it produces a firmer, more flavorful Shan tofu.
If you are eager to make this recipe tonight or you’re in the market for a tender, more wiggly end result, do take the faster route. But line the pan with cheesecloth or a towel even if the recipe doesn’t specify to do so: The fabric absorbs the moisture, preventing a layer of water from rising to the top of your tofu block.
As for what to do with the chickpea tofu, you can snack on the cubes as they are, or you can take inspiration from the Burmese dish to hpu gyaw and deep-fry them in a high-sided skillet or wok for crisp outer skins and custardy-soft interiors. I like to go halfway to deep-fry: I slice the block into thin strips, then quickly sear them in a bit of hot oil in a nonstick pan. Either way, serve with a spicy dipping sauce.
Preview of my chickpea tofu video. (Recipe on the blog over the weekend) . The texture reminds me of almost a perfect custard – so moist, so silky. This video was actually shot in two separate days. I accidentally spilled a lot while pouring the mixture in the last step, so I remade the second half the next day. The hardest part was making sure nothing in my ghetto-ass "studio", aka my living room, moved during that 24-hour waiting time so the second half comes out consistent. I am the living proof that you can be clumsy and still produce something edible.
And for some ideas and intel from around the web…
- On Little Fig Blog, Mae, who found the recipe in Naomi Duguid’s Burma: Rivers of Flavor, has experimented with flavoring the batter, before it sets up, with curry powder, ground coriander, and chili powder.
- The Chickpea Tofu Salad on the blog Lime and Cilantro is made with noodle-like tofu strips, shredded cabbage, onion slivers, fried shallots, toasted chickpea flour, and a fish sauce-chili oil-tamarind dressing.
- One Green Planet has recipes for chickpea tofu “nuggets” (chunks of tofu beer-battered and fried) and “egg” salad (smashed with mayonnaise, mustard, and black salt).
Burmese Tofu (a.k.a. Chickpea Flour Tofu)
By Sarah Jampel
cups (175 grams) chickpea flour (or besan)
teaspoon coconut oil or ghee
teaspoon fine grain sea salt
teaspoons ground turmeric (optional)
teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
What’s your favorite way to use chickpea flour? Share with us in the comments below.