• Stir It Up: Singing the praises of falafel
    By
     | January 24,2014
     
    General Mills Photo

    Patties of chickpeas and bulgur with yogurt sauce make a delicious and healthy meal or snack. The recipe and photo are from “Betty Crocker 300 Calorie Comfort Food.”

    Many college students will credit ramen as their chief source of sustenance, but some of us owe a debt to falafel. Cheap, nutritious and filling, falafel — fried chickpea patties in pita bread — got me through a good chunk of school. I was living in New York City then and was unaware that wide swaths of the country didn’t know about this amazingly delicious Middle Eastern dish.

    Like all classics, falafel is a subject of debate. Some make it only with fava beans, others with fava beans and chickpeas, or fava beans, chickpeas and bulgur, or with chickpeas alone. Falafel is usually topped with a tahini (sesame) sauce and cucumbers and tomatoes, but other condiments — pickled turnip, eggplant or mango, chopped peppers and hot sauce — have their fans.

    Egypt claims to have originated falafel. During Ramadan, Muslims often eat falafel as part of the “iftar,” the meal that breaks the daily fast. Israel claims it as a national dish. For a time, McDonald’s offered a “McFalafel” in both countries.

    Now, none other than Betty Crocker offers a simple recipe in a new cookbook, “300 Calorie Comfort Food,” which celebrates lower-calorie, high-flavor foods. (One serving has 240 calories, 5 g fat, 5 g dietary fiber and 10 g protein.) I’ve included a more labor-intensive and perhaps more “traditional” (and, doubtless, higher calorie) version from “The Take-Out Menu Cookbook” from 2007.



    Falafel Sandwiches With Yogurt Sauce

    Yield: 8 sandwiches

    For the falafel:

    ¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons water

    ¼ cup uncooked bulgur

    1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

    ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

    ¼ cup chopped scallions

    1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

    2 teaspoons ground cumin

    ¾ teaspoon baking powder

    ½ teaspoon salt

    2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

    2 tablespoons vegetable oil



    For the sauce:

    1 cup plain fat-free yogurt

    2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

    ¼ teaspoon ground cumin



    For serving:

    4 (6-inch) pitas, cut in half to form 8 pockets

    2 tablespoons vegetable oil

    8 slices tomato

    16 slices cucumber



    In a saucepan, heat ¾ cup water to boiling. Stir in bulgur; remove from heat. Cover; let stand about 30 minutes or until tender. Drain; set aside.

    Meanwhile, place the chickpeas, cilantro, scallions, flour, cumin, baking powder, salt and remaining 3 tablespoons water in a food processor. Pulse 10 times or until well blended and coarsely chopped; mixture will be wet. Spoon into large bowl.

    Stir bulgur into bean mixture. Divide into 8 equal portions, about ¼ cup each; shape each portion into an oval patty ¼ inch thick.

    In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add 4 patties; cook 8 minutes, turning once, until golden brown. Transfer patties to platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 4 patties. Alternatively, the falafel can be baked in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes on a greased cookie sheet. Turn them once during baking. (They won’t have the crisp crust that comes from cooking on the stovetop.)

    In small bowl, stir together sauce ingredients. Spread 2 tablespoons sauce in each pita pocket half. Fill each with tomato slices, cucumber slices and falafel patty.

    (Recipe from “Betty Crocker 300 Calorie Comfort Food”; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)



    Falafel

    Yield: About 8 servings

    For the falafel:

    2 cups dried chickpeas

    ½ onion, sliced

    6 cloves garlic, chopped

    ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves

    ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

    1 teaspoon baking powder

    2 teaspoons ground cumin

    2 teaspoons ground coriander

    ¼ teaspoon cayenne

    1½ teaspoons salt

    1 teaspoon black pepper

    4 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying or several tablespoons for pan-frying



    For sauce:

    ½ cup tahini

    ½ cup water

    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

    1 clove garlic, minced

    Pinch of salt



    For serving:

    4 pita breads, sliced in half and warmed

    Shredded lettuce, sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes



    Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add cool water to cover by 2 inches. Refrigerate 18 to 24 hours. Drain and rinse.

    Combine the chickpeas and the remaining falafel ingredients — except oil — in a bowl. Working in batches, process in a food processor to a smooth paste. Return to bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, or for several hours or overnight.

    Make the sauce: Combine sauce ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

    Form the falafel into balls about the size of golf balls and fry them until brown in several inches of vegetable oil heated to 375 degrees. Or form them into 3- to 4-inch round, ½-inch-thick patties and pan-fry in a few tablespoons oil until crispy and golden.

    Stuff each pita pocket with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Add 2 falafel balls (or one patty) and spoon in some sauce. Serve immediately.

    (Recipe from “The Take-Out Menu Cookbook” by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds; Running Press, 2007)



    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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