Saturday, July 15, 2006

Jowar Back-Story

So, why Jowar flour, you ask. OK, maybe you didn’t ask. But you should have. When we first started looking for gluten-free foods, we discovered that there were about a million different mixtures of brown, white and sweet rice flour; corn, potato and tapioca starch; bean flour; lentil, soy, sorghum and millet flour that had been developed. Everyone claims that THEIR mixture has exactly the right of proteins and starches to magically enable you to substitute straight across for wheat flour in any recipe you want. I can’t try every mixture when a quick google search gives me more hits than hours I’ve been alive, and I had no idea how to pick. Looking closer revealed that half the recipes belong to Bette Hagman, so I started there. Um… bland? To give dear Bette some credit, the famed Bette Hagman’s mix that I found all over the internet was developed a long time ago, when the right shape and texture was a great improvement over the bricks that passed as bread. She has a number of other mixes now that apparently are better. But if the pioneering mix that started the gluten-free revolution doesn’t meet my requirements for taste and texture, I’m left with the original problem. What to use?

A co-worker who likes to cook Indian food suggested that I look at the Indian Grocery in town, because they have a lot of “different flours”. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for when I went, but I came home with flours made from millet, garbanzo, lentil, and sorghum. I put them in my bucket with my rice flours and waited for inspiration to hit.

The Millet flour made it into a “loaf” of bread that was one inch high, and purple. Not what I was looking for.

I found a Carol Fenster recipe for Pineapple-Upside-Down Cake that called for “Garbanzo/Fava bean or Sorghum flour”. I had just bought two of those, so I took a gamble and used the cake batter made with Garbanzo flour to top a rhubarb cobbler. I later learned two things that would have helped me. First, bean flours are REALLY nasty if they aren’t cooked enough. There were a few spots in the middle that were almost toxic. I suspect that the “cooked enough” point for the flour may be a little beyond what is good for the dish you are making, kind of like the safe cooking temperature for pork is past the point that gives you good pork. Second, Dr. Fenster didn’t mean Garbanzo OR Fava OR Sorghum. The mixture of Garbanzo and Fava is a common flour combination that you can buy from Authentic Foods under the trade name “Garfava”. So she meant Gabanzo AND Fava OR Sorghum. Even if I had baked my cobbler enough, it wouldn’t have tasted as she intended, not even taking the rhubarb into account. Dr. Fenster might hate rhubarb anyway. Who knows?

A couple of weeks later, I had occasion to make a cake for the Maestro. I tried a straight-up Pineapple-Upside-Down cake this time, using Sorghum flour. To my delight, it was moist, and delicious, and the right color. It used tofu, which I think is where the faint hint of unusual came from, but on the whole, if I didn’t know it didn’t use wheat flour, I wouldn’t have suspected. After several weeks of trying, I had my first indistinguishable result! That’s really what I am going for with all this, foods that are indistinguishable from the traditional gluten-containing product.

Sorghum Flour appeared to have all the qualities I was looking for. It was relatively inexpensive at the Indian Store, unlike Amaranth. It has a mild taste and color, unlike things like Millet or Rice. I combed the internet for recipes and discovered several by one Amy Perry, who uses it in a 2:1 combination with Cornstarch most of the time, and occasionally with some Soy flour. So I can use a “mix” of only two ingredients most of the time, rather than the four or six that a lot of people use.

I said that Sorghum flour is inexpensive at the Indian Store, where it goes by the name of Jowar. I have looked for cheaper sources, and found that I have the hook-up for the cheapest Jowar anywhere. If I lived somewhere bigger, it would cost more. You might look into ordering from Twin Valley Mills,, depending on your city size, location and East Indian concentration, it may be cheaper for you.

Ideally, I would have had this blog set up around the time of the purple millet bread, but I didn't. Hopefully some-day I will get everything caught up so you know everything I have learned. Until then, enjoy your pancakes.

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