OMG, I can eat this? aims to reconstruct your favorite No Go meals and turn them into delights you can chow down on without feeling terribly afterward.
Falafel is one of those things… When it’s not done well, it’s freaken’ horrid. Dry, claggy, soul-destroying. When I was growing up, the local Turkish kebab shop was my only experience of these bites of fried chickpea cardboard. For those in the North American region, there are establishments that serve regional variants such as Halal carts or Middle Eastern Shawarma restaurants. You also might understand my pain.
You know when you bite into something and, after chewing for a few moments, it hurts to swallow? It’s so dry that it draws all of the moisture from your gullet as it slowly works its way down into your stomach, grazing every surface on the way down, enabling the acid-reflux gagginess that your body loves so much. That’s what a mid-90s kebab shop falafel sandwich was. The epitome of desert-eating. No amount of soothing, garlicky white sauce fixed the trachea destruction. There was no reproach.
I had been raised in an upper-middle-income area filled with white-bread-salad-sandwich-eating children whose eyebrows were raised when I brought fried rice in a purple Aladdin insulated food container. Middle Eastern food was beyond the imagination of my consorts.
Fast forward to my late teens and the expansion of my world through university. I was assigned to a group film assignment that paired me with four other undergrads. The assignment itself is beside the point, what matters is that our filming took place in the suburb of Lakemba – a region heavily populated by migrant Lebanese people.
Now, for those laymen, scouting for locations really builds up an appetite… I’m totally messing. For me, absolutely everything builds up an appetite. For the love of all things, standing makes me hungry. To satiate the burning need, our locally-raised teammate brought us to Jasmin; a non-descript, plastic chair-toting establishment where you ordered at the same stainless steel counter behind which your food was prepared.
Even back then, I had an incredibly curious stomach, and so I asked her what the one thing I needed to try was. She replied that the falafel sandwich was the must have. I, being the worldly, upper-middle-classman that I was, wrinkled up my nose and said, “Seriously? THAT’S what you brought us here for?”
Nevertheless, I persisted with her recommendation. Daaaaaaamn, I’m glad that I did. The spicy, crunchy exterior gave way to a steamy, herbacious, crumbly interior that maintained its moisture and begged to be consumed immediately. I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve eaten many a variation on falafel: Israeli versions with fries in the pita, hippie-… versions at trendy vegan cafes, even visiting shawarma shops and the Halal guys, here in New York. I’ve come to crave the texture and feel the impulse to order it whenever I see it on a menu.
That being said, when making this at home, I definitely want to substitute a couple of the ingredients to SALT it up, a little. Firstly, substituting the white flour for coconut flour makes for a quick reduction in carbs and giant fiber boost. Adding in some greens boosts the chlorophyll, fiber and protein and pan frying in a non-stick pan still gives us that crunchy exterior without deep frying.
It’s because we’re pan-frying that I flatten these out into more of a patty than a ball, because you get more surface area touching the pan, which means more surface to crunch on. Nom nom nom.
Serving this in cloud bread or our cauliflower bread buns (maybe using some za’atar or other middle eastern spices) would just hit this out of the park, but I was feeling carby this day, so a good ‘ol whole wheat pita did us wonders.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 mins
Makes 4 serves
- 2 cups of stemmed and torn collard greens or other hearty green
- 2 cans of chickpeas
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 3 tablespoons of tahini
- 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon of cumin
- 1 pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 pinch of cardamom
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 egg
- 3 (or so) tablespoons of coconut or oat flour
Method (and a touch of madness)
- Using a food processor, load the bowl up with all of the ingredients except the flour.
- Pulse and then process the ingredients. There should still be a little texture to it, but no big chunks. It should definitely not be smooth.
- Dump into a big bowl and add a tablespoon at a time of the flour and mix. When you see it start to come together (basically, when you’re confident you can form patties), stop adding the flour and set aside.
- Heat non-stick pan to medium with a teeny bit of oil. Fry off a few patties, flipping after 3-4 minutes, ensuring that you’ve formed a nice golden crust.
- Serve in your choice of warmed bread, with fresh tomatoes, a quick lemon-dressed cabbage salad and hummus.
Guide for the ‘arians:
- Flexitarian – good
- Pescetarian – good
- Vegetarian – good
- Omnivore – good
- Vegan – use egg replacement
- Gluten free – use GF bread
- Lactose free – good