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Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Given the positive responses from our pancake post a couple weeks back, I thought we'd venture down the technique path again, this time with a slightly more unusual homemade item, falafel.
I've loved falafel since my freshman year at Emory and would consider myself to be somewhat of a connossieur with the little fried poppers. They are like the platypus of the food world, a total conundrum. Typically deep fried in vegetable oil, they are still universally considered to be a health food given that for every 1 gram of saturated fat, they provide a full 7 grams of that oh-so-good-for you unsaturated fat.*

While the health benefits of these chickpea and herb gems go generally undisputed, the ideal recipe is as highly debated as that of a pancake. Points of contention include but are not limited to the interior color (green or brown?), the outside and inside texture (smooth, crisp, both?), the flavor notes (mostly herb-y, mostly chickpea-y?), and so on and so forth.

As for the very largest debate point, that which whole blog posts and articles are dedicated to, the texture of the falafel depends almost entirely on your cooking method of choice. (hence today's post...get it?) Do you bake it in favor of a fluffier interior and healthier falafel or do you fry it in favor of a crisp crust and creamy center? Well, today, we'll explore the pros cons and genius of both (says captain obvious).

Let's start with my recipe of choice gathered from the deepest caverns of my imaginative noggin. Of course, given the opportunity to completely change a recipe milenia old, I jumped right to it and replaced common herbs like parsley and coriander with basil and chili powder. And, at the risk of initiating a falafel revolution, allow me to tell you that the result was so.much.better. This is clearly only applicable if you, like me, prefer basil and chili powder to parsley and coriander. I digress...

Servings: 25 tablespoon sized falafels with 5 per serving as typically satiating

1 15, oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 packed cup spinach
1 tbsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1 carrot
1 celery
3 garlic cloves
1 tspn chili powder
2 tspn cumin
1 tbspn flax seed
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbspn lemon juice
1 tbspn olive oil

In a food processor, combine the first 10 ingredients and process until combined.

Add in last 3 ingredients and process until it begins to form a ball.

Put mixture in refrigerator for an hour or up to 24 hours.

Method #1 - aka The Deep Fry, lightened

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that you do not own a deep fryer either. I'm glad that's settled. Let's proceed with pan-frying, or pan-searing for those who shiver at the meer thought of frying.
start by adding 1 tablespooon olive oil to a non stick pan and heat on medium
start slow, adding only a couple tablespoon sized amounts of the batter to the heated oil
press down on the balls to flatten out slightly and cook on first side for approximately 2 minutes or until golden edges start rising up on the batter. do not cook at too high a heat or you will get blackened surfaces which is ugly on top of being nasty
flip those suckers over and allow them to cook for another 2-3 minutes
once browned golden on both sides, place on cooling rack or plate with a couple layers of paper towels to absorb unnecessary oil. Unless you like unnecessary oil, in which case, go for it.
I whipped up a tablespoon of tahini (sesame paste) with a tablespoon of non fat greek yogurt for a light dip and promptly devoured two

Pan-frying the falafel is definitely your quickest bet. While only needing 4-5 minutes total cook time, you'll have these on the table twenty minutes after bringing out your food processor.

The resulting texture is magical. It has a super crispy (without being too dense) exterior crunch that makes way to a creamy like hummus center. Texture-lovers will adore the contrast.

While pan-frying is definitely a healthier method than deep-frying, in our little competition here, it is definitely the loser. The two tablespoons of oil go a long way, but at the end of the day, frying is never going to increase the health value of your cooked goods.

Method #2 - aka Half Baked

Mid-way through my second pan-fryed falafel, I happened upon a conundrum. I knew that a baked falafel, no matter how tempting the little halo that comes along with healthier eating is, could never measure up to a golden delicious fryed falafel.

What's a girl to do? Well, luckily for you and me, the glorious amino acids in my falafel gave me an even more glorious idea...(don't you love a good cliffhanger?)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the tablespoon sized falafel batter on a baking sheet lined with either silpat or parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip all the falafel balls over and press down on them to flatten.
After flipping and flattening, put those suckers back in the oven for a broil on the very top shelf of your oven for 3-5 minutes. Hence the 'half-baked' bit. Maybe it's 3/4 baked but that's not clever.
allow your little army to cool, and then commence your photoshoot. Or you may just get to eating if you'd so prefer.
served up with more of our tahini-yogurt mixture, a bit of horseradish, dijon, pickles, and loads of veggies

Baking your falafel does take a bit longer, however it requires a lot less of your attention. With the flipping and the potential for burning and the stress of managing heat, pan-frying can totally leave you brain-fried.

Additionally, with no added oil, the half-baked falafel come along with a little golden halo and an A+ nutritionally.

As for the texture worries I had, feel free to applaud audibly. That last minute broil really does the trick and leaves you with a firm, crisp (albeit not entirely crunchy) shell. As for the center, you'll find a fluffier version with the baked variety.

Take your pick and enjoy. I promise you'll think twice about going out and paying for them again once you've given a homemade version a try.


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