Grain-free Croutons – Searching for Perfection

A funny thing happened on the way to see the whales in Alaska. We spent an extra day in Seattle to do a bit of sightseeing and the restaurant where we ate dinner had a gluten-free menu. My salad arrived with small, spherical, delicately crunchy, slightly salty ‘croutons’. Best crouton substitutes ever! I decided in that moment that I had to learn to make oven-roasted chickpeas like these!

Chickpea, Macadamia, & Falafel Croutons

Chickpea, Macadamia, & Falafel Croutons

Such was the beginning of several weeks of experiments in search of those perfect croutons. I should have taken a picture because the only memory retained was the slight saltiness, the pale color, and the delicate crunch. Once back home the search began with home-cooked chickpeas.

Option 1: After several batches of chickpeas, different internet recipes, varying lengths of time in the oven; nada, none of the batches were even close I did not want to give up.  Friends sampled them and we agreed – the spicy taste was great but the texture was not, certainly nothing like my memory of those delightful little salad morsels. On the plus side I had plenty of roasted chickpeas saved in the freezer.

Chickpeas  Saved for Travel Snacks

Chickpeas Saved for Travel Snacks

Option 2:  Fast forward ahead to Sister’s Day with Mandie, who recently moved to Austin and much closer to me! I brought over a batch of  Roasted Chickpea and Artichoke Salad  (inspired by Ricki Heller’s Recipe ) for our lunch. As we ate I described the dilemma with the mysterious gluten-free, grain-free crouton. I can laugh now when I think about the scenarios we brainstormed. We even considered soaking chickpeas in a lye solution as in making hominy to achieve the white color!

Mandie & Worn-out, Dozing Augie

Mandie & Worn-out, Dozing Augie

While we talked Augie Dog was barking louder than we could talk. Mandie banished him to the backyard but since it was blazing hot she threw him in the pool to cool off. If he was still barking when he dried out it was ‘back in the pool’! When he quit barking and curled up on the porch he was allowed back inside. He was finally quiet and fell asleep in her arms.

Munchy, Munchy, Macadamia

Munchy, Munchy, Macadamia

Then Mandie brought out a special treat that she and Eric love – macadamia nuts. These were the treasured CROUTONS! Toasty, tender, delicately crunchy, I bought a POUND of them. After nibbling a handful for several days I sadly realized that these are meant for a not-very-often, once-in-a-while treat. They just don’t agree with my system – BOO! HISS! I thought I was done with this kind of disappointment when I gave up gluten!

Option 3:
Back to the drawing board and the chickpea obsession rolled on as I remembered an earlier post and thought about the flavors of Falafel  (from August 2009!). What if instead of frying falafel patties in a skillet, the olive oil is added to the batter? Then the batter is scooped in to tiny little portions and baked in the oven? Could those be croutons? Out came the recipe and the ingredients.

1 cup (120 grams) garbanzo bean flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin, ground
1/4 teaspoon coriander, ground
1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup hot water (not boiling)

You will need a medium sized bowl for mixing, a microwave-safe measuring cup for the liquids, and a flat baking sheet lined with parchment (it makes transferring and cleanup a breeze). I purchase parchment at the grocery store in the aisle featuring foil and waxed paper. Set your oven to 350*F. A small scoop is very handy (I bought mine a year ago to make gluten-free pfeffernusse cookies).

Combine all of the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix together thoroughly, a whisk is good, do not attempt to sift the flour. Mix the lemon juice, olive oil, and water in the measuring cup and heat the mixture in the microwave. Then add the hot liquid all at once to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes.
Falafel Croutons Ready to Bake
Using a small scoop  or a teaspoon, measure out bits of the falafel dough onto the baking sheet. Move the baking sheet to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. When they are very pale golden brown turn off the heat and leave them to cool in the oven.

Go start the laundry, walk the dog, or go to a Qigong session. Take the falafels out of the oven after an hour, let them cool to room temperature, and put in a lidded jar. If they are not used up in a few days then label the jar and put it in the freezer. Makes about 36 falafel balls of this size.

Crispy Falafel Taste Test

Crispy Falafel Taste Test

My taste testing team at The Caring Place voted these the best yet. They are toasty, crispy, crunchy, and very close to what I was looking for. Maybe round is just too precious? It would be so easy to pat the dough flat with a spatula and cut into 2 inch squares and make falafel crackers.

So why don’t I just make croutons from stale, gluten-free bread?  I usually make my own gluten-free bread or go without. Homemade gluten-free bread is way too precious to allow it to go stale – leftovers get wrapped and frozen for future reference. These little falafel crisps are so simple and so easy; they are basically chickpea flour, seasonings, and hot water for the dough. Make a batch and you are set for two or three salads.

Gretchen @gfedge

Coming soon (September 12, 2013): Ricki Heller’s new cookbook will be released! As soon as I get my copy I will be joining the release party by making a recipe and posting about the other recipes. A pre-release order may be placed through Amazon for Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free.

This post is linked to:
Wellness Weekend, August 8-12, 2013
at Ricki Heller’s Blog – Diet, Dessert, and Dogs

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3 comments for “Grain-free Croutons – Searching for Perfection

  1. August 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    These sound fantastic, Gretchen! I think I’d like them as balls or as crackers, either way. And I have the same problem with macadamias. I can eat a little, but too much and I think the oil is what gets me (as they have a high fat content). Kudos to you for persevering!! :D

    • Gfedge
      August 12, 2013 at 11:17 am

      Sometimes experiments come together first time – sometimes it’s a journey. At least the results were all edible and that’s definitely a win :-)

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