Thursday, August 28, 2008

Veggie Might: When Did I Falafel in Love?

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

For Christmas, from my dear friend Miss T, I received Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Embarrassingly, I’ve only used it a few times. That thing is overwhelming. Most cookbooks are to me, which is why I rarely use them.

It’s hard for me to envision, while flipping through a 907-page tome (sans index), what’s in my pantry/fridge, whether my tiny kitchen can accommodate the gadgetry, and if I have the skills to pull of the recipes. These are the reasons I tend to improvise.

That said, I love to make things from scratch. Gone are the days when I would cobble together a meal from a box of this mix of, a can of that sauce, and a packet of whatever that powder makes. But sometimes, just sometimes, I need help figuring out where to start.

When I first became a vegetarian in 1990, I was living in a small town in Western North Carolina. Salad days indeed. Luckily, my tiny conservative college was a mere 20 miles from a progressive, hippie enclave nestled in a Blue Ridge valley, and there were several vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants and cafes.

A favorite hang out was a bookstore/café that fit my college-student budget and Seattle-scene sensibility. It was cool; it was cheap; and it was where I first fell in love with falafel.

Having discovered something delicious, healthy (if you don’t count the deep frying), and exotic (to my Midwestern/Southern tastes), I ate it all the time. When I found the Fantastic Foods falafel mix, I started making it for myself at home at least once or six times a week. Frozen veggie burgers and other meat analogs were not as readily available then as they are today, and not nearly as affordable as a box of chick pea powder.

But my college obsession with falafel took its toll on our romance. By the time I moved to New York—and could have authentic Middle Eastern food prepared by Middle Eastern people—I had broken up with falafel. It took years, and a great little Israeli restaurant in my ‘hood, to rekindle the romance.

Last week, thumbing through the seemingly impenetrable HTKEVeg, I came across a falafel recipe. What? Falafel either comes from Azuri Café or a box. But there it was and it looked pretty easy. Plus, I had a weird looking Japanese cucumber making me crave yogurt sauce; and what goes great with yogurt sauce? Falafel.

I only have a mini-food processor, so I tried to mix this in my blender. Well, as my Southern kinfolk would say, “Bless her heart.” That was not a good idea. The mixture was much too dry (it’s supposed to be) and came out very coarse no matter how much I mashed the puree button. So, one little serving at a time, it went into the mini-food processor. The texture became finer and more workable.

Instead of balls, I formed the mixture into small patties (5 patties = about 4 oz) and fried them in my cast iron skillet coated with canola spray. They came out great, and much more healthy than the deep fried version. They were still crispy on the outside and had great flavor, though next time I would up the cumin, coriander, and cayenne.

I’ve been eating falafel all week in sandwiches and salads with homemade tzatzki from this Cooking for Engineers recipe, and I’m still in love. Tzatzki is Greek yogurt sauce, similar to the traditional yogurt sauce served with falafel. I whipped this up with full-fat Greek yogurt, 3 times the garlic called for in the recipe, and sans the oil. It’s so amazing it could eat it with a spoon (and have). Be still my heart, that’s good.

from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
Yields about 12 4-oz servings

1 3/4 c dried chick peas (Note: I used 1 2/3 cups of dried chick peas for no good reason other than I misread the recipe. It turned out fine.)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed (Note: I minced 6 cloves. Mmm garlic.)
1 small onion, quartered (Minced again. I can’t help myself.)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 c chopped parsley or cilantro (Note: I added 1/2 cup chopped cilantro in addition.)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (Note: I was out of lemons [again!] so I subbed a little bit of vinegar.)
Neutral oil (grapeseed or corn) (Optional: I used canola cooking spray.)

1) "Soak chick peas overnight, adding water if necessary."

2) Drain chickpeas. Add to food processor with garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, cayenne, parsley (or cilantro), salt, black pepper, baking soda, and lemon juice. "Pulse until almost smooth." You can pour 1 or 2 tablespoons of water in if necessary, but try to keep mixture as dry as possible. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

3) Here MB tells you to add 2 inches of oil to a deep saucepan, but I used canola cooking spray in a cast iron skillet. Either way, medium-high heat is the way to go.

4) Using a heaping teaspoon to measure the mixture, make small patties (or balls if you are using oil) and fry until golden brown on both sides.

5) Serve on pita bread with greens, tomatoes, and tahini, hummus, or yogurt sauce.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
84.8 calories, 1.4g fat, $.17

1 2/3 c dried chick peas: 935 calories, 17g fat, $.21
6 cloves garlic: 24 calories, 0 fat, $.08
1 small onion: 20 calories, .1g fat, $.25
1 tsp coriander: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tbsp cumin: negligible calories and fat, $.04
1 tsp cayenne pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 cup parsley: 22 calories, 0g fat, $.79
1/2 cup cilantro: 11 calories, 0g fat, $.39
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1/2 tsp black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1/2 tsp baking soda: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tbsp vinegar: negligible calories and fat, $.10
cooking spray: 6 calories, 0 fat, $.02
TOTALS: 1018 calories, 17.1g fat, $1.98
PER SERVING: 84.8 calories, 1.4g fat, $.17


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