These chickpea flour omelets are my childhood favorite. My mom used to make these, as many Indian moms did and still do, for breakfast–especially on weekends. My sisters and I savored these omelets, monikered Chilla in India, with green chutney or ketchup. This savory, spicy, herby, veggie-loaded chickpea flour omelet continues to be a traditional breakfast in many Indian kitchens, including mine, to this day. This omelet, traditionally made with either besan (chickpea flour) or moong lentil batter, offers a healthy and flavorful breakfast choice that keeps you full for a long time. By the way, you can also enjoy these for lunch with either a big salad or a veggie filling.
To be honest, I did not venture to make chilla for a long, long time. I didn’t think that I could make them as good as my mom did plus I found the whole process quite daunting and cumbersome. But my husband, who is a great cook (in addition to being a great scientist), continued the tradition of serving chilla for breakfast on (many) weekends for the longest time in our kitchen. Well, if he could make it, why couldn’t I? On reflection, the obstacle was the image and taste I was still carrying from childhood; I wanted to make it just as good as my mom did. The quest for perfection often keeps us from initiating an effort–even as mundane as trying a new recipe. So, I decided to come out of that mold and tried making my version of chillas. When I made it, though it was close, it still did not taste exactly like that of mom’s. But, it tasted good-as confirmed by my two chief tasters at home.
If you find it intimidating to make these, just march on and start the process. You will make something; something new. And if it does not come out right the first time (mine didn’t), give it a second try or even third. Although, if this is your first time making this Indian dish, I would suggest doing it over the weekend. So, let’s get started:
The main star of this dish is chickpea flour. If you have Indian staples in your pantry, like I do, you probably already have the Indian version (known as besan) of chickpea flour in your kitchen. This is made from hulled kala chana (Bengal gram). If besan is not part of your kitchen, you can still find it in the Indian section of many supermarkets in the U.S. You can also visit an Indian grocery store, if you have one where you live. The other easy alternative to besan is garbanzo bean flour, which can be easily found in the U.S. grocery channels. You can also find both on Amazon.com; I have included the link in the post below.
In India, chilla is made either with or without adding veggies. I usually use veggies for the obvious reason of eating more vegetables and the non-obvious reason of adding texture and flavor. Veggies are either grated or finely chopped, as you would for making an egg omelet.
A note on adding carom seeds
In India, carom seeds (ajwain) are usually added to this omelet (chilla.) Carom seeds are known to temper the effect of foods considered to be harsh on digestion, which primarily include beans and certain grains (more on this later.) Since besan (garbanzo bean flour) is a bean-based flour, chilla in India invariably would contain carom seeds, which has become part of the traditional recipe. In this version of the recipe, I have not used carom seeds. These seeds have a distinctive, prominent taste and I usually add these only if I am not adding veggies. I do add a lot of ginger, another natural palliative known to play down the use of bean flour.
To make these veggie-loaded chickpea flour omelets, make sure that the dry flour does not have any lumps. Use a wire whisk to break any lumps and create a uniform texture. Add water, white vinegar, and salt and mix well to make a lump-free batter. Add all the veggies, herbs, and spices and mix well. To get fluffier omelets, let the batter sit for at least 10-15 minutes. You can also make the batter a night before and store it in refrigerator; add the veggies and herbs five minutes before making the omelet.
These veggie-loaded chickpea flour omelets fall somewhere between pancakes and crepes. The process of making these omelets (chillas) is somewhat similar to making a dosa (an Indian pancake/crepe-like bread made with rice and lentils.) But what if you have never made an Indian dosa? No worries. The first step is to take a well-seasoned cast iron round griddle, or a tava (Indian cast iron round griddle), or a crepe pan. Heat the pan on medium heat. Please make sure that the pan is not overheated, otherwise the omelets would burn on the outside and be undercooked inside . Here is a big tip–take half an onion, hooked onto a fork. Smear a little oil on the cut side and rub the onion onto the cooking pan. Pour the batter using a round spoon or measuring cup and spread evenly to make a circular shape. Cover with a lid to let the top side cook in steam. Uncover, and flip to cook the other side completely. It takes about 4-6 minutes to make one omelet (chila). Enjoy with either ketchup or your favorite chutney. This Cilantro-Ginger Dressing goes really well with this omelet.
Veggie-Loaded Chickpea Flour Omelet (Besan Chilla)
- 1 cup chickpea flour* (sub with garbanzo bean flour)
- 1 cup water**
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt*** (heaping)
- 1/4 cup red onion (finely minced, can sub with white onion)
- 1/4 cup red bell pepper (finely minced, can sub with green or yellow kind)
- 1/4 cup zucchini (grated, or any other summer squash)
- 1/4 cup green onions (finely minced, optional)
- 1 tsp ginger (grated or minced)
- 1/4 cup cilantro (fresh coriander, finely chopped)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp carom seeds (optional)
- 2 tsp green chillies (seeded, finely minced, or to taste)
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste, can sub with red chili powder)
- 2 tsp oil
- 1/2 onion (any type for seasoning the pan)
- In a big bowl, add the dry chickpea flour and stir with a wire whisk , 4-5 times. Add water, vinegar, and salt; stir with the whisk till the batter is lump-free and uniform in texture. The batter should be thin in consistency, but spreadable. Add turmeric and cayenne pepper and stir a couple of more times to evenly mix the spices. if using, also add the carom seeds.
- Grate the ginger, squash, and pepper and finely chop the green onions, red onion, green chillies, and cilantro. Add all the chopped/grated veggies and herb to the chickpea flour batter. Let the batter sit from 10-30 minutes.
- Heat a round griddle/Tava/crepe pan on medium heat. Slice an onion in the middle and hook it onto a fork. Smear the cut side of the onion with oil and rub on the pan. Use a 1/3 cup measuring cup (or any other) to pour the batter on the heated pan (be sure not to overheat the pan) and spread evenly in a circular shape. Cover the omelet with a lid and flip after one side is cooked. It takes around 4-6 minutes to make one omelet. Enjoy with your favorite chutney or ketchup or with this Cilantro-Ginger Dressing.
- can also add grated carrots, sweet potato, instead of squash
- For a boost in flavor, add 1 tsp of crushed garlic in the batter.