Food can be the key to making connections and breaking down barriers, and there's no sector that does that quite as effectively as street food. On roads and down alleyways the world over, people from all social classes gather to engage and enjoy the delicious fare of their city. The island of Sicily off the coast of Italy has one such dish that for centuries has been blurring the line between the haves and have-nots and won the honour of being one of Sicily's most beloved dishes.

Panelle are chickpea flour and parsley fritters which are simple to make but rich in history and taste. Traditionally, the fritters are deep-fried and served in a sesame bread roll and are a common scene through the markets of Palermo. Originally conceived as a cheap and cheerful way to keep the poor fed, Panelle managed to spread in popularity to those of all classes. 

Also Read: Know-How Italian Cuisine Came Into Existence

Sicilian cuisine is an amalgamation of all its many conquerors. The Greeks, Arabs, French and Spaniards all inhabited the island leaving layers of culture and food habits that blended over time to create flavours that are distinctly Sicilian. You need only take to the streets and wander the markets to experience the kaleidoscope of flavours coming from each street vendor and Panelle is primarily a product of the Arab occupation of Sicily.

During their occupation from the 9th to 11th century, the Arabs ground chickpea flour and mixed it with warm water to form a type of polenta. It’s uncertain whose idea it was first to deep fry these fritters but the mixture itself is thought to have come from Carthage (modern-day Tunisia). The paste was then spread on wooden slabs to dry out and cut into shapes before frying. The only flavours came from parsley, salt and lemon and were sometimes sold as an inexpensive substitute for fish.

In India, the Panelle may seem very familiar, and that’s down to the fact that they’re very similar to our own pakodas, just without the addition of a vegetable filling. As such they are lighter, crisper and completely vegan which makes for a perfect snack at any time of the day.

Ingredients:

    ½ lb (230 g) chickpeas flour

    3 cups (690 g) water

    1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced

    1 lt vegetable oil

    1 lemon

    Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1.    Pour 3 cups of water at room temperature into a bowl.

2.    Add the chickpea flour, a little at a time, stirring until consistent, without lumps.

3.    Pour the mixture into a pot, and cook over medium heat until it forms a thick paste.

4.    Take off the heat and add salt, black pepper, and minced parsley, stirring well.

5.    Once the Panelle dough is ready, you want to spread it as soon as possible. So, Pour the mixture over a board, cover parchment paper and flatten with a rolling pin until about ¼ inch thick.

6.    Let the dough cool down at least 2 hours before cutting into the desired shape.

7.    Fill a saucepan with oil and heat to 170° C.

8.    Drop in the Panelle 2 or 3 at a time and flip them when they turn golden brown

9.    Transfer to a kitchen towel to drain the excess oil.

10.    Serve in a sesame roll with a squeeze of lemon.