RED BANK: GOOD KARMA AND ELEVATED SOCCA

Good Karma Cafe Gail DohertyGood Karma Cafe’s Gail Doherty walks PieHole through a recipe that will transport you and your tastebuds to the south of France. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

By JIM WILLIS

Red Bank’s vegan stronghold, Good Karma Café, ran a dinner special recently that caught PieHole’s eye.

A post on Facebook read: Chickpea Socca, layers of golden chickpea crepes filled with a garlic white bean puree and sautéed dark greens. Topped with caramelized leeks and a zesty marinara sauce.

Socca, for the uninitiated, is a crispy pancake made from a chickpea batter. A common street food hailing from southern France, it’s humble and incredibly easy to make.

In Italy it’s called farinita or cecina. In India you’ll find pudla. Each culture has its own unique spin, and PieHole has tried a lot of them. But never before had we seen it presented in layers, like a lasagna. So we hopped over to East Front Street to sit down with Good Karma owner/chef Gail Doherty to learn a bit more about her unique spin on this dish.

“Chickpea socca is a dish we used to make in our original restaurant, Down to Earth,” says Doherty, referring to the vegan eatery on Broad Street she ran with Lacey Sher from 1999 to 2006.

An everyday street food in the French Riviera town of Nice for example, socca is typically eaten straight out of the oven, plain, with no accompaniment. But Doherty says she didn’t want to have just the one note of the crispy socca.

“We want to elevate it from being a street food,” she says. “For me, it comes from wanting to build texture and flavor. I want to add some vegetables, like sautéed greens, to elevate it.”

Doherty says the layered version of the dish likely first appeared in 2003 or so on the Down To Earth menu.

Ten years ago socca would have been unknown to most diners.  “I feel like we’ve always been a little bit ahead of the curve,” says Doherty. “Being a vegan or a vegetarian in New Jersey, someone has to pave the way,” she says.

Socca is easy to make at home, and Doherty offers PieHole readers a few tips to accompany the recipe below:

  • Put all your dry ingredients in one bowl and slowly whisk in your water and oil so you’ll avoid the lumps and bumps.
  • You can use a cookie sheet with sides on it. You don’t want to put too much batter on, just a thin layer so you can get it nice and crispy.
  • Put a nice, high-quality olive oil on the pan and heat it up in the oven before adding the batter so that it will cook quickly .

The following recipe for socca comes from Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty’s cookbook, originally titled The Down To Earth Cookbook but is now available as You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan.

Chickpea Socca Recipe

2 cups chickpea flour (you can find this in the Bob’s Redmill section of most local grocery stores)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons herbs de Provence

3 cups warm water

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1.) Combine the chickpea flour, salt and herbs in a medium-sized bowl. Add the water and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the oil, cover, and allow to rest 1 hour.

2.) Preheat oven to 450F. Oil a 9 by 13 baking dish and heat in oven for 2 minutes.

3.) Take pan out of oven, re-whisk the batter and pour it into hot pan.

4.) Return pan to oven and bake for 18-25 minutes until socca sets up and starts to crisp.

5.) Remove pan from oven and score the socca into twelve 3-inch squares.

In the cookbook recipe, the squares are layered with marinara sauce, white bean puree and sautéed greens. But Doherty encourages home cooks to try different combinations. “Play with it, be creative. That’s part of cooking,” says Doherty, “Play with your food.”

Thankfully, PieHole readers who don’t want to try to tackle this at home won’t have to go without. When we sat down with Doherty, she was sketching out the Valentine’s Day specials menu, and it included heart-shaped socca layered with fava beans, a rosemary-infused oil, leeks and a fig compote.