A chilla is a popular Indian snack that’s full of flavor and texture. When the batter is loaded with shredded vegetables, the result is thick and pancake-like. I prefer a thin chilla that’s filled like a crepe. Actually, depending on how you fold a chilla (also spelled cheela), you may have something that looks like a taco or an enchilada.
One of the most popular chilla fillings is a mixture of paneer, tomato, and onion. Some modern Indian cooks substitute tofu as a type of "soybean paneer." That approach works really well if you grate super-firm tofu into thick shreds. As the tofu warms up during cooking, it softens to reveal its natural richness, becoming practically indistinguishable from paneer.
Chilla batter is usually made of garbanzo bean flour (besan), available at South Asian, Middle Eastern, and health food markets, or soaked and ground mung beans. I like the ease of using flour and lighten it with rice flour (Asian and non-Asian brands work), which also helps crisp the crepes. Chillas are terrific as snacks but can also be part of a breakfast, lunch, or brunch.
Click here to see 5 Unusual Ways to Use Tofu.
Despite this being super-firm tofu, let it drain. Put the block on a non-terry dishtowel or double layer of paper towels. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the batter. In a bowl, stir together the garbanzo bean flour, rice flour, cayenne, cumin, and salt. Gradually whisk in the water. Pass the batter through a coarse-mesh strainer to smooth it out. You should have about 2 1/4 cups. Set aside.
Blot the tofu dry. Use the largest holes on the grater to grate it into thick strands; some crumbles are fine. Transfer to a bowl and add the red onion, tomato, chiles, cilantro, and salt. You should have about 2 cups of filling.
Heat 1/2 teaspoon of the oil in a medium nonstick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Wipe the oil off with a wadded-up paper towel. The crepe batter will cook better when there’s just a bit of oil on the cooking surface. After this initial oiling, you may need just a few drops of oil between crepes.
For each crepe, stir the batter until there is no more drag, then use a ladle (a wide shallow one works like a charm) to pour a scant 3 tablespoons of batter onto the skillet. Work the bottom of the ladle in a spiral pattern from the center to the edge to spread the batter out to a 5- to 6-inch circle. Drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon of oil around the edge of the crepe.
Then put a good 2 tablespoons of the filling on top. Distribute the filling on one half of the crepe if you want to fold it over like a taco. Or, center the filling if you want to fold the crepe up like an enchilada.
Let the crepe cook for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is crisp and golden or golden brown. Peek underneath with a spatula to check on its progress. These are thin crepes and do not need to cook on the other side. When done, fold the crepe in half or fold in the sides to cover the filling. The crepe may crack a bit at the folds if it has crisped a lot. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the remaining crepes. Expect the crepes to soften a bit during cooling.
Regulate the heat to prevent the crepes from browning too quickly. If the batter thickens as you work, stir in water by the 1/2 teaspoon. If you have a large griddle, you can make 2 crepes at a time.
These crepes are best hot or warm but are fine as a cold snack within a couple hours of being made. Serve with the chutney and eat with a fork or out of hand.