Caramelized Onion and Chickpea Frittata with Kala Namak
There are a few ingredients that will take your plant-based cookery to the next level. Miso, nutritional yeast, and dried mushrooms come to mind. But one you should really get to know is Black Salt, or Kala Namak. Kala Namak should go in your plant-based tool kit, so you can harness its eggy, minerally magic and add complexity to plant-based dishes.
I know people don’t want to make a special trip to the Indian grocery for one ingredient, but this one is worth the effort. You can buy it online, too.
Try Kala Namak for an Eggy Flavor
To make things confusing, there are other salts that come up when you google “black salt.” One is Hawaiian Black or Black Lava salt, made by mixing charcoal with salt. Another is a Ritual or “Witches salt” made from burnt herbs and salt cooked in a cauldron, used for driving away evil.
The black salt I’m using is a traditional Indian salt, made from volcanic salt that has high mineral content, and enough sulfur to give it a distinctive smell. The salt is sealed in a jar with harad seeds, amla, bahera, babul bark, or natron. The mixture is heated to high temperatures which melt the salt and infuse it with the flavors of the other ingredients. The salt then cools to form solid sheets of black salt which are sold in chunks, or ground. Once ground, it’s not really black, more of a greyish pink, or even purple color.
Kala Namak is considered a cooling spice in Aurveda. It’s used to make cooling drinks in some the South Asian countries where it is traditional. If you’ve ever had Chaat Masala, the spice blend contains Kala Namak.
Buy a bag of Kala Namak and store it in a jar, and you will be able to use it for years. A little goes a long way. Once you try it, you can add it to tofu scrambles, eggless egg salads, and other eggless dishes for a hint of that egg yolk flavor. You can even make Chaat Masala yourself.
A little chemical trick
For our purposes, we are using the salt for the eggy smell of sulfur that it confers on plant-based foods. You may not realize it, but your brain will register that scent and associate it with eggs. The complexity of all the mineral flavors in the salt also adds depth and umami to the frittata, which is good.
For this frittata, I really want you to caramelize some onions. I’ve ranted about his before. Give it a whole hour. Make something else while you wait, stirring the pan occasionally. If you want to maximize the time, caramelize four onions with 4 tablespoons fresh thyme, use 1/4 of the result in this, and save the rest to use in other dishes. You won’t regret it.
I’m kind of in love with chickpea flour lately, in flatbreads, crepes and coatings. There are all kinds of subs for eggs, and this is a natural, simple way to make a frittata without needing to buy a product or add too many ingredients. It’s also got the many health benefits of beans, like protein and fiber.
Once you make this frittata, I hope you will riff on it and make it your own. Add other veggies, change up the herbs, whatever suits your tastes.
You won’t regret adding kala namak to your spice collection. It’s a powerful tool that adds a mysterious and delicious flavor to foods. We all need a little mystery….
Caramelized Onion and Chickpea Frittata
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus more for pan
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped
- 1 1/2 cup chickpea flour besan
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup non-dairy yogurt plain
- 4 ounces fresh spinach chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoon black salt or kala namak
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- First, caramelize the onion: In a medium saute pan, drizzle the olive oil, then place over medium-high heat. Add the onions and thyme and stir until they start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir occasionally for at least an hour, reducing to low if they start to stick. The onions should be shrunken, golden brown, and sweet when you are done.
- In a blender, place the chickpea flour, water, yogurt, black salt and turmeric. Blend until smooth. Add the spinach and pulse to chop, not completely puree.
- Stir the onions into the mixture in the blender, using a spatula. Scrape into the prepared pie pan.
- Bake for about 45 minutes, the top will be cracked, and you will be able to press on the top with your finger and it will feel firm and set.
- Let cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing. Keeps for 4 days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.