Saturday, June 9, 2012

Falafel

I love falafel. It's a Middle Eastern, chickpea(garbanzo bean)-based, fried, crispy little pseudo-hush-puppy. These are awesome. They're usually made with onion, though, which is a no-no for sulfite folks, usually.

If you can tolerate beans, though, these should be fine for you, I believe. But if beans are an issue, or only to be eaten when you have a low sulfite load for the day, this should be eaten with caution. Falafel is typically eaten with more Greek or Mediterranean sides, like hummus, but I've varied the herbs on numerous combinations to go with a variety of different cuisines - or in other words, I was desperate and bored and fiddled until I found something that worked.

A Mexican version of my falafel, with tomato and green chile



Gluten free, Sulfite Free Falafel
Ingredients:
Dried chickpeas, soaked 8-24 hours (NOT cooked, not canned). I use about 1 1/2 cups of these soaked chickpeas. Dried beans triple in size, so you'd need to soak about 1/2 cup beans for this.
1/2-1 1/2 cups, chopped fresh yellow crookneck-type squash, zucchini, or eggplant
2-3 Tb. fresh herbs. I like parsley, but cilantro, oregano, sage, mint, or even epazote can work. Or dried chile. Chop coarsely.
sea salt to taste (I use 1 tsp. or less usually)
olive oil or animal fat.

Equipment needed:
food processor. I've got a little 3 cup one. Blender might be able to do in a pinch, or a REALLY big mortar and pestle, but I don't know if the blending would need to be done in a different order with those.

Directions:
1. Drain the chickpeas and measure out the 1 1/2 cups.  Don't use cooked beans or canned beans for these. The cooked/canned beans are too mushy and full of moisture - without any flour or starch, these falafel kind of melt into goo if the chickpeas aren't firm enough.

2. Put the chickpeas into the blender/food processor. Add sea salt. Add the chopped squash, zucchini, or eggplant. I like the yellow squash the best because it has a slightly sweet tastes that meshes well with this dish, IMO.

3. Grind these up in the food processor a bit, until it's like big, honkin' crumbs mixed in a thick paste. Now add the chopped herbs. I usually use only parsley, and if your food processor rocks, you don't need to pre-chop. Mine needs a bit of help.

4. Start heating a skillet and add olive oil or animal fat until it's 1-2 inches deep with oil. Heat to about medium-low to medium.

5. In the food processor, process the chickpeas and other ingredients until they becomes a barely crumb-ish, mushy dough. The dough should actually turn somewhat green like the parsley. The crumbs should not be too big by the end, more like rough mush. If the pieces are small sized, the falafel has a wonderful, bready texture with a crispy coating after cooking. If the crumbs are a little too big, they will cook, but when they crisp up in the coating, they crisp up TOO much and it's too hard and unpleasant to try and eat.

6. The consistency of the dough often takes a little fiddling to get just right. Because there's no flour added, the moisture content has to be regulated by the chickpeas and the vegetable used. How wet the veggies are affects how much to use. If the dough is too dry, it needs more squash or eggplant. If it's too wet, it needs more soaked chickpeas. The dough should be firm enough to hold the shape of a small golf-ball sized patty, flattened slightly, in the palm of your hand. It will not be firm enough to hold that shape for much longer than it takes to make it an drop it into the pan, though. Too firm and the falafel ends up too dry after cooking. This recipe does not work with cooked chickpeas, because they contain too much moisture and the dough ends up too soggy and won't hold together.

7. Test the heat of the oil with a tiny piece of the dough. Drop it in and set timer for 1 minute. If it cooks in 1 minute, the temp. is good. Now make the little golf-ball sized falafel patties, flatten slightly between your hands, and drop them into the oil. Brown on one side - it should take 1-2 minutes - turn over and brown on the other side for the same amount of time. A patty's thickeness shouldn't be more than twice the depth of the oil, usually less, or the middle may not cook right. When done, scoop out finished falafel and cool on a non-sulfited paper towel, towel, or heck, bed of rice, even.

8. Serve with a dip of some kind or with roasted veggies. I've used home-made hummus along with a tomato/cucumber/dill salsa, or chopped cucumber and lemon juice, or just a tomato-chile cooked salsa, or I've also made a more italian tomato-based dip to go with the eggplant based falafel, or roasted red bell pepper dips. :-)

Inspired by:
Oddly enough, this was inspired by completely misinterpreting a recipe online. The falafel was a Lebanese version, I believe, but I was watching a video recipe and accidentally skipped the part where there were other ingredients involved, LOL.  I fiddled with this until it worked for me, especially after I started reacting to onions.

Additions or changes:
--If you can have onion, I originally made this recipe with 1/3-1/2 an onion instead of the squash. It is very flavorful that way. With the squash, I tend to add more herbs to make up for the change in flavor. Garlic could be added, too, if one could have that.
--This recipe can be made with many different types of beans. We've done it with pinto, mostly. It works, but we've never been able to get the texture quite as bready with other beans, and they tended to have bigger crumbs more often. However, when I had pinto beans, oregano and epazote, and zucchini, it was awesome. Ate that with a tomato and green chile sauce we made with salt. Very nice!
--Baking - yes, these can be baked, but I'm still working on perfecting that. So far, what I've discovered is that it turns out best if they are fried with just a teeny bit of oil or fat first. Fry one side for like a minute, turn over and fry the other side for a minute, and then just like potato cakes, put the iron skillet they are on into the oven to bake. The temperature is what we're working on now, because too high and it crisps outside but doesn't bake inside. I think a lower temp. may be needed for baking than we've used. If they are baked without any frying, I could never get the outside to get crispy enough.
--This recipe could easily be double, tripled, quadrupled, whatever. I do a small batch because I have a small food processor, is all.

EDIT 2/4/13:
- cucumber can be used instead of yellow squash, in a pinch. It does have the faintest hint of cucumber taste, though, if you look for it.
- When it's been a bad week, I've soaked the chickpeas for 1-2 days and then let them sit, drained and sealed in a plastic bag in the fridge, for a day or two until they sprout. This changes the flavor slightly but is still quite nice, and might even be more nutritious, from what I read on sprouted legumes.
- Falafel fried with animal fat leaves a very strong animal fat taste which I don't like as much as olive oil. Coconut oil also leaves a strong taste, so to date, olive oil is still my preferred oil for cooking this.

LOW HISTAMINE DIET COMPLIANT - although hummus will usually contain citrus juice, so you'd have to be careful about what you use to accompany this with. I've also heard that high fats may be bad for those who need a low histamine diet, so for that, you could potentially put just a teeny bit of oil on an iron skillet, brown both sides quickly, and then bake it in a hot oven.

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