Chickpeas are supposed to be a big deal in 2019, with cookie-dough flavored hummus and hummus ice cream high on the lists of food trends to watch in the coming year.
But when it comes to chickpea consumption, the U.S. still lags far behind countries such as India, which until recently was the recipient of about half of the American chickpea crop. Many of those chickpeas ended up in gram flour, or chickpea powder, a south Asian staple used to make pancakes, fritters, dried noodles and candy.
Gram flour is also the defining ingredient in soan papdi, a pastry that’s a punchline in northern India.
I first encountered soan papdi this month when friends just back from Lucknow included it in a sweets assortment they gave me. A dry and distant cousin to floss halvah, soan papdi is a cubed and flaky confection. It’s a favorite of the American-born member of the couple, who upon expressing her enthusiasm to her Indian in-laws learned that it’s generally considered as indestructible and undesirable as fruitcake.
(Food writers and home cooks in the U.S. are working doggedly to rehabilitate fruitcake’s reputation, but let’s stick with the comparison for a moment.)
“Who gets excited seeing soan papdi, right?” Sampada Sharma recently wrote on an Indian lifestyle website. “No one ever bought a box of soan papdi in our house. It just came with guests who were probably trying to get away from it themselves.”
Shoba Kousik, a former member of The Post and Courier’s Kitchen Cabinet and an Indian cooking instructor, never had to deal with soan papdi as a young girl in southern India. But she’s made its acquaintance since moving to the U.S., and speculates its long shelf life contributes to its stateside popularity. Soan papdi reliably survives the trip home from India, she says.
“I have to be in the mood for soan papdi personally, but it melts in your mouth if made well and fresh,” Kousik adds.
Still, soan papdi is unlikely to play much of a role in chickpeas’ U.S. surge. But if more Americans could try petha, a syrupy sweet that was also in my gift box, it might just change winter melon’s domestic fortunes.