Eating costs money.
And I try to make nutritious, but yet tasty dishes for our family, and do it without breaking the bank. One of the ways that seems to help is to incorporate more vegetarian meals into our menu plan....meat does seem to be a big part of our food bill. I am also not a big fan of substituting meat with meat substitutes like soy burgers or tofu hot dogs. So I turn to recipes that are meant to be vegetarian, and are quite tasty too.
One of these is the Falafel.
Falafels are a Middle Eastern dish: deep fried balls of smashed chickpeas and spices, usually stuffed into pita bread. Which sounds like a daunting thing, but is actually not that hard at all.
First you start with chickpeas, otherwise known as garbanzo beans.
And since I am trying to save money, it is much cheaper to buy dried beans and cook them yourself, instead of opening a can. The biggest problem with this idea is that it does add a couple of hours onto your cooking time, so you do have to think ahead.
Almost all beans need to be pre-soaked, and chickpeas are no exception. So into the pot they go, with a couple of inches of water.
I do a fast soak, which means I bring them to a boil, then turn off the heat, put on the lid, and let them sit for an hour.
The other option is to have them soak in water overnight, but that takes even more ahead-of-time planning.
After they have soaked I drain them, and then put more water back in and bring it to a boil. I then turn it down low and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.
This part of my version is a bit of a controversy; falafel purists say that you can skip this cooking step, but I see the hard beans after my soak and feel I need to cook them just a little.
After a bit of a simmer, they get drained.
Now the spices come out.
I add coarsely chopped parsley and onions, cumin and coriander, garlic, salt and flour. This all goes into the food processor.
( You can see that I had to switch machines....this one here is my trusty food processor that never dies. It has been with me since someone gifted it to us on our wedding; the only problem is it only holds about a cup at a time.)
The whole batch pureed.
Now comes the fun part.
Get your hands wet and make golf ball-size lumps with your hands.
Then I press them like a pancake.
Not too thin; these are still at least a half an inch thick. If they are too thin, they will fall apart when you fry them.
At this point they can go into the fridge until 10-15 minutes before dinnertime.
The other thing that is a MUST with Falafels is the Tzatziki Sauce.
You begin by straining out yogurt by lining a colander in a bowl with cheesecloth and letting it sit in the fridge for a few hours.
Or, if you are like me and never seem to have cheesecloth on hand, use a dampened paper towel.
Into the strained yogurt goes thinly sliced cucumbers, garlic, salt, and olive oil.
Traditional Tzatziki can also have dill or parsley, but we like it this way.
Finally I chop up some lettuce and coarsely chop some Kalamata olives.
Now we are ready to fry the Falafels.
I wanted to have them all done at once, so I heated about a half inch of oil in both my cast iron skillet (my favorite pan in the world) and my other teflon frying pan.
Once the oil is hot, in goes the Falafels.
If your heat is good, ( I fry at about medium-high), each side should take about 4-5 minutes.
Don't worry about bits coming off; these are kind of fragile, so you have to be careful. And the little crumbs taste just as good as the patties.
After a few minutes of draining on paper towels, they are ready to eat.
With our Falafels I usually make Tabbouleh, and serve home-baked pita chips (pita bread, cut into wedges, brushed with olive oil and sea salt, in a 375 oven for 10 minutes), hummus with olive oil, and slices of feta cheese.
The garlic is so tasty, but not overpowering, the Falafels are crunchy and moist at the same time, and the olives and Tzatziki sauce lend the perfect flavoring to this lovely dish.
Here are some other vegetarian dishes I have made that I love....
Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Sauce
Tostadas with Jalapeno-Lime Sauce
Easy Refried Beans
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, or 2 cans of garbanzo beans
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup flour
salt to taste
Tzatziki Sauce (see below)
Sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions....
If using dried chickpeas, either soak overnight or use quick soak method. (Bring chickpeas to a boil, turn off and cover with lid for 1 hour.) Drain. Add water to cover by two inches and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Combine chickpeas and remaining ingredients; blend in a food processor. Taking a scoop in your wet hands, form golf-size balls. Lightly press and place on wax paper in refrigerator. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in frying pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, gently add patties. Fry 4-5 minutes on each side, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Serve in warmed pita bread with olives, lettuce, tomatoes, sliced cucmbers, other toppings, and Tzatziki Sauce.
2 cups plain yogurt
2/3 cup thinly sliced cucumbers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
A couple pinches of sea salt
Strain yogurt by placing it in a cheesecloth (or paper towel) lined-colander in a bowl, in the refrigerator for several hours. Thinly slice cucumbers with a mandolin or sharp knife. Squeeze cucumber slices with your hands (over the sink) to remove excess moisture. Add to yogurt, along with other ingredients. Mix and store in fridge.