Let’s talk about veggie pizza.
Either you love it or you hate it. I remember anytime I was at school or work and there were a group of people ordering pizza, there would inevitably be someone who wanted a veggie pizza. This request often elicited a round of groans from the group at large.
There’s a reason for this. Veggie pizzas suck.
One of the most difficult things for me when transitioning to a whole food/plant based diet (I really need a catchier name for this) was how to top pizzas. Normally Friday nights are pizza night in our house. More often than not, I make the pizzas from scratch.
But without delicious meat options to choose from, I was stuck. What is life without a superb supreme pizza or a classic pepperoni pie? And what about my very favorite pizza of all time: ham and pineapple?
We’re not vegetarians. However, since traditional meat pizza toppings are the most processed meat products you can possibly imagine, they’re definitely not coming into our house anymore. This makes me sad.
So sad, in fact, that for a while I simply quit pizza night. What was the point of going to all the work to make crust, sauce, and pies if I couldn’t enjoy any of the toppings that went on them? It was too depressing.
Our options for ordering out are equally depressing. Traditional pizza chains have zero good options when it comes to veggie toppings. And our favorite local place has a vegan pizza option but hello, I love cheese. (Cheese is why I’ll never go vegan.)
I’m simply not a fan of salad on a pizza. If I’m ordering pizza, I want it to be something special – not a crust with sliced veggies and cheese.
The Veggie Pizza Experimentation Phase
Thus, I settled that I simply had to be the one to come up with delicious veggie pizza options that would make me actually get excited about slave in the kitchen pizza night once again. Throughout the past year or so, I’ve slowly reintroduced pizza night and experimented with a lot of different topping options, all to varying degrees of success.
As you’d expect, there have certainly been successes and failures with this experiment. For example, there is no way to put fresh pineapple on pizza. It’s the literal worst.
What this phase has earned me are a few standby pizza recipes that really knock it out of the park. My goal was to develop a few pies that are so good that 1) we forget there isn’t even meat on them and 2) are equally loved. (Or are we the only family that inhales one pizza and exiles the poor reject pizza to leftovers? I hate leftover reject pizza. Just kidding. I still love it. It just makes me sad when my family rejects one of my culinary creations.)
Buffalo Chickpea Pizza
My white whale of vegetarian pizzas comes in the form of a buffalo chicken pizza. This is my all-time favorite pizza. Forget everything I said about Hawaiian.
The problem with traditional buffalo chicken pizza is that you can’t really even order it from a pizza place. It has to be homemade. My mom started the buffalo chicken pizza tradition, and I carried it on. Nothing restaurant made even remotely compares. There’s something about a chewy homemade crust that pairs so well with the topping combo. It’s just magical.
It’s actually not that hard to make a buffalo chicken pizza with sustainably sourced, minimally processed chicken. But I honestly don’t feel like going to the effort of preparing a chicken at the end of the week, simply to add it to our pizza. Plus, we buy meat so infrequently, that it’s easier to grab something I’ve already got in the pantry.
Recently I was inspired by a picture from Pinterest of a buffalo chickpea pizza. I automatically added it to my menu board for the coming weeks, but when I went to jot down the ingredients, what should I find but a linkless picture? (Side note: why do people pin crap like that? I want links!)
I had already pinned it… So I had to make it. How hard could replacing chicken with chickpeas be?
Honestly? Not that hard.
Since I make my own pizza crusts and sauces, pizza night usually starts in the early afternoon. I use a sourdough pizza crust recipe that yields two pizzas, and I like to activate the dough by lunchtime at the latest. This time, when I tossed my sourdough starter into the mixing bowl, I also grabbed some dried chickpeas and threw them into a bowl with water to soften.
You can, of course use whatever crust floats your boat. Storebought crusts are great in a pinch, as are traditional yeasted ones. You can also go ahead and use a can of regular old chickpeas for this recipe. We just always have bulk on hand, so making beans is part of the course of the day.
After about half an hour, I put the chickpeas on the stove to soften, since I wanted them fully cooked before I added them to the pizza. Then I knit some socks and took care of my crazy children.
A few hours after that, I got my pizza crusts ready and made the sauces. Our second (non-reject) pizza was a spinach and artichoke pizza that required a white sauce. And our star of the show needed a special buffalo one.
Now, you could go crazy and make your own buffalo sauce, which you would then add to your pizza sauce. While I do make a lot of things from scratch, condiments kind of still intimidate me, so I grabbed a bottle from our co-op during my bi-weekly shopping trip.
My sauce is a medium sauce, but go for mild or hot if that’s what floats your boat. The only caveat is that if you choose something really spicy, you may want to fiddle with the quantities that you use or adjust other ingredients accordingly. Too much spicy sauce can really overwhelm a pizza.
The Sauce and Toppings
For this pizza, neither a traditional tomato sauce nor a white sauce will do. I’ve experimented with different sauce and no sauce applications for buffalo pizza, but I’ve found that a simple cream cheese based orange sauce does the trick.
Yes, an orange sauce. Because orange is the best color ever.
All you do is melt down some cream cheese with a little butter and your buffalo sauce. I find that the sauce adds all of the flavors I want, but if you’ve got a notion to add anything else (perhaps some minced garlic or another kick of cayenne), now’s a good time to do it.
When you’ve got the sauce together, simply leave it on the stove over low heat until you’re ready for it. As that simmers, prep your chickpeas by rinsing, draining, and drying them. Then add them to a small bowl and toss with a small amount of flour. This adds a bit of a crustiness that mimics the crunch of a buffalo wing. It also helps the buffalo sauce to adhere better to each individual chickpea. Speaking of which, go ahead and drench your floured chickpeas with a good dose of buffalo sauce.
Then, get your cheeses ready to go. For our buffalo chickpea pizza, I opted for a little bit of mozzarella for meltiness, a sprinkle of sharp white cheddar for tang, and a healthy dose of crumbled bleu cheese for obvious reasons.
A note about bleu cheese: go ahead and splurge here (chickpeas are cheap – you’ve got the extra room in your budget 😉 ). Don’t settle for pre-crumbled bleu cheese bits, and preferably stay away from national brands or low-end store brands. These are convenient, but only a little cheaper than a wedge of the good stuff, and the taste difference is significant. The key to making veggie pizzas your family will actually want to eat to use high quality ingredients that make your pizza really shine. Chickpeas are a dime a dozen, but using a good quality sauce and cheeses will put the flavor over the top.
When everything’s together, you can go ahead and load up your pizza. I had to pre-bake my crust, so I used that opportunity to assemble the toppings.
Once it came out of the oven, I dosed the entire crust liberally with my orange sauce, then added a light sprinkle of mozzarella to glue down my toppings.
Next, I poured all of the chickpeas and their sauce on top of the pizza. They should roughly cover the entire surface of the pizza, but use more or less as you see fit.
Then I sprinkled my shredded cheddar on top of the chickpeas and liberally studded the entire pizza with pieces of bleu cheese. After that, I poured a small amount of buffalo sauce into a squirt bottle and drizzled that over the pizza. Lastly, I added a healthy dose of mozzarella to the top and another happy drizzle of buffalo sauce over the whole thing. You will really want to go with your gut here: if you don’t like spice or have a particularly hot sauce, you’ll probably want to skip one or both of the drizzles to keep your pizza edible.
And it was onto the oven. Follow your crust recipe for precise baking instructions (mine had me bake at 425 for 10 minutes, but I added two more to achieve optimal melt), and go until your cheese melts and your pizza looks gooey and delicious.
There you have it: buffalo chickpea pizza! This recipe is good for one pie, but I won’t even try to guess how many servings that makes in your house. You may want to make extras, because this is gonna fly off the table!