I first heard about the restaurant Sqirl in Los Angeles from a magazine article reporting on the long lines of people waiting for toast. Of course, this wasn’t just any toast, and of course, they serve lots of other things too. Sqirl started as a jam company, hence the amazing toast, and now serves breakfast and lunch. The story of the restaurant and all the recipes are in the new book Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking, and I received a review copy. There’s a mention in the introduction about how guests at the restaurant often order items and request all sorts of substitutions, and as it happens, the dishes adapt easily to various, little changes. Several items are already gluten-free, and adapting dishes to make them vegetarian or vegan is very doable. The recipes cover Eggs and Toast, Grains and Beans, Vegetables, Meat, Fish, Jams, Desserts, and Drinks. For the famous toast, there’s actually not a recipe for the bread itself, but one inch thick slices of brioche are suggested for toasting and spreading with ricotta and jam or ganache and nut butter or almond hazelnut butter and jam. There’s a nice mix of decadence and nutritious options throughout the book. I’ve marked the page for a grain bowl with mung bean sprouts, crunchy buckwheat, and roasted squash with pomegranate seeds, labneh, and cilantro pistou. A few pages later, I’ve marked a salad made with a rich and lovely Southern-Style Fresh Cream and Black Mustard Dressing. Every dish is balanced mix of flavors and textures, and in some cases there are sub-recipes to prepare before pulling everything together. But, you can pick and choose the parts of a dish you wish to make and skip elements if you like. I love the look of the baguette toast shown a few times in the book. It’s a long slice from the full length of a baguette. For the Squid Toast, that long, skinny piece of toast is topped with aioli, roasted tomatoes, and seared squid. It looks pretty and delicious. The first recipe I tried was the Socca or chickpea flour pancakes. They’re made with grated vegetables depending on what’s in season. Winter squash is one suggestion, and I had a local butternut squash ready and waiting.
Step one is to peel, seed, and grate the butternut squash which looked curiously like a pile of grated cheddar cheese. The grated squash was tossed with a little salt and left to drain in a sieve. Cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds were toasted and then ground in a mortar and pestle. Eggs were whisked and the drained squash was added with minced garlic, chopped oregano, cilantro, and basil in my case since I don’t have any mint growing. Chickpea flour was added with the ground spices along with salt and pepper, and the mixture was stirred to combine. Large pancakes were cooked in a hot pan with melted butter. Meanwhile, some arugula leaves were tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I had started straining some thick yogurt the day before to make labneh, and I seasoned it with salt and a little sumac. The pancakes were served a dollop of labneh, the dressed arugula, and optionally with a fried egg added.
This was a hearty and flavorful brunch dish. The herbs and spices in the socca added a lot of interest, and the arugula and labneh were just the right added components. Seeing how well this dish came together made me eager to try more things from the book. I’ve got my eye on the Brown Rice Horchata sweetened with dates to try next.
Socca (chickpea flour pancakes)
made with your choice of zucchini, carrot, or winter squash
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Everything I Want to Eat.
Since Sqirl is open for breakfast and lunch, the majority of our customers order one dish, not an appetizer followed by an entrée and a cheese course. So we are always trying to come up with ways to create a single dish that really satisfies. This socca pancake stemmed from that quest. It’s traditional in that it is a flat pancake made of gluten-free chickpea flour, but it’s also not so traditional in that it is filled with lots of vegetables and topped with greens and creamy labneh.
1 pound (455 g) zucchini, carrot, or winter squash (see Notes), peeled and coarsely grated
Fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 large eggs
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2/3 cup (80 g) chickpea flour
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of ground cinnamon (optional; use with winter squash)
Pinch of ground ginger (optional; use with winter squash)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed
1/2 cup (120 ml) labneh
3 cups (60 g) spicy greens (such as watercress, arugula, or baby mustard greens)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Toss the grated vegetable with a few big pinches of salt, then put it in a fine-mesh sieve and let drain, squeezing every so often so that the vegetable releases its water, for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Toast the spices, shaking the pan often, until fragrant but not burned, about 3 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind the toasted spices to a powder.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk to break them up. Add the drained vegetables, along with the garlic, oregano, mint, cilantro, chickpea flour, and toasted spices. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and mix well. If you are using winter squash, stir in a pinch each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger. (The pancake batter can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.)
Heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Add the butter, then spoon in two overflowing ½ cupfuls (120 ml) of the pancake batter, pressing each to 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick. Cook, rotating the skillet occasionally for even browning, until the pancakes are nicely browned, about 3 minutes. Flip, then cook the second side for another few minutes. Transfer the pancakes to a plate. Repeat to make two more pancakes, adding more butter to the skillet, if needed.
Season the labneh with salt.
Just before serving, toss the greens with the lemon juice, oil, and some salt and pepper. Top each socca pancake with a huge dollop of labneh and a tangle of greens.
NOTE ON THE WINTER SQUASH
You can use any kind of winter squash that you like. We usually go for kabocha. If you’re having a hard time grating the squash on one of those handheld box graters, try cutting the squash into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces and then shredding them in a food processor.
WANT TO MAKE IT HEARTIER?
Add a fried egg on top.
SPICE UP THE LABNEH
Have fun with the seasoning. Try mixing in ras el hanout or za’atar.
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