A vegan vegetable omelet that's been made in Indian kitchens for the longest time, this Besan Cheela or Besan Chilla is completely eggless and made with nutty, delicious chickpea flour. Stir in a rainbow of veggies and herbs for more flavor and health. Vegan, soy-free, nut-free, and gluten-free recipe.
It's easy to see why a Besan Cheela often gets called a vegetarian omelet, especially in Indian vegetarian restaurants that serve up this lipsmacking dish. This chickpea-flour pancake from north India resembles its egg-containing counterpart so closely, you might think they were separated at birth.
But the resemblance is entirely skin-deep, because they taste quite different and weigh far apart on the health scale. While the traditional omelet is packed with cholesterol and reeks with that awful egg smell, the Besan Cheela (also called a Chilla) is nuttily fragrant and can be made nearly fat-free if you just spray your skillet with one of those cooking sprays instead of using real oil.
And because chickpeas are packed with protein, you will definitely not miss out on your protein in this vegan omelet.
How to make a besan chilla
You'll find that this is one of the easiest recipes you've ever made--and the quickest. And it's almost fool-proof.
The starches in the lentils bind with water and firm up as they are heated, much as the proteins in egg would weaken and bind with each other when they hit heat. This ensures that your chilla will be flippable, just like an omelet, although you do need to add some insurance by way of cooking spray or a smidge of oil to coat your skillet. Use a nonstick skillet or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.
The Besan Cheela can be pretty much toyed around with to suit different tastes. You can change the veggies you add to it: I added mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and tomatoes, but you could add zucchini, carrots, or spinach (if using frozen squeeze out as much water as you can).
Or you can add herbs: coriander, sage, parsley, basil, all add different but delicious flavors that make the Cheela just that little bit extra-special each time you make it.
Here's one tip: to make your Besan Cheela extra-crispy, add a mashed potato to the batter. Or just add half a cup of rice flour (preferably brown rice flour to keep it healthy).
Frequently asked questions
There appears to be some confusion about the difference between chickpea flour/garbanzo flour and besan, which is frequently referred to as chickpea flour, and whether they are interchangeable.
The facts: there are two kinds of chickpeas cultivated in India, one being the regular garbanzo bean we are all familiar with, which has a beige skin and a creamy, smooth taste. Chickpeas are called "kabuli chana" because they are believed to have arrived in India from Kabul, in Afghanistan. Chickpea flour or garbanzo bean flour is usually made from this kind of chickpea.
Then there is kala chana, or black gram, a smaller chickpea with a dark brown skin that's native to India. Kala chana is used to make chana dal, used in dishes like Cholar Dal, and to make besan. Kala chana has a more full-bodied and nuttier flavor than the garbanzo bean.
What you really need to know: Besan and chickpea/garbanzo bean flour are eminently interchangeable and will perform alike in recipes. The only rider is that they need to be finely ground.
The batter should be a little runnier than a pancake batter. You want the chilla to be thinner than a pancake but thicker than a crepe, which would help it hold on to the veggies you add to it.
A chilla should preferably made just before eating, because it will taste the best when it is fresh. You can mix the batter and keep it in the refrigerator for a day or two, however. It takes very little time to cook the chilla itself.
Looking for more vegan recipes?
- Zunka Bhakar (rustic flatbreads with a chickpea-veggie scramble)
- Vegan Scrambled Eggs
- Soy-free Spinach Chickpea Quiche
- Crunchy Chickpea Roasted Potatoes, no oil
- Vegan Butternut Squash Farinata
- Moonglet, a vegan mung bean omelet
Besan Cheela recipe
Eggless Omelet (Besan Chilla)
- 1 cup chickpea flour (besan or gram flour or garbanzo bean flour)
- ½ small onion (minced)
- ¼ medium tomato (finely diced)
- 4 button mushrooms (minced)
- ¼ green bell pepper (finely diced)
- 1 tsp ginger (grated)
- 2 cloves garlic (grated or crushed)
- ½ to 1 tsp cayenne (use more or less per your taste)
- ¼ tsp turmeric (optional, but great for color)
- Salt to taste
- ¼ cup cilantro (finely chopped)
- Cooking spray or oil to brush on skillet
- Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir them together. Set aside for about 15 minutes. I strongly recommend this because some of the vegetables will express water when mixed with the salt, and this will give you a better idea of how much water you need to make the batter.
- Add water (I usually add around 2 cups to make a batter slightly runnier than a pancake batter, but temperatures in your home and the climate could cause this amount to differ in your kitchen, so always make sure you add water slowly, mixing as you go. There is no gluten in this batter so you don’t have to worry that it will toughen up with too much stirring, the way a traditional pancake batter would)
- Heat a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or non-stick skillet and spray lightly with oil.
- Pour about half a cup of the batter in the center with a rounded ladle and spread slightly with the bottom of the ladle to get an even-looking round, about five inches in diameter.
- Cook on medium heat until the sides dry up and the bottom of the Besan Cheela turns richly golden-brown.
- Flip over and cook until the other side turns golden-brown.
- Serve hot with an herby coconut chutney.
Love this vegan eggless omelet? Check out more Indian vegan recipes on Holy Cow Vegan!