A thought has been bugging me for a while, are we losing the balance? Losing balance to live a healthy yet happy life? Probably yes. As I write about food, I’ll keep it food related. After I came to this country (USA), it took me a while to adjust to the abundance and wastage and also the culture of fried chicken and humongous portions at restaurants. I wasn’t used to it. I have seen my Maa saving every last grain, not because we were poor, but because she thought it’s wrong to waste food. She didn’t pour a gallon of oil in her pot to cook something. She knew how to make food taste good without soaking it in oil. I couldn’t be like her. Rather to put in another way, I am not there yet. We Indians eat a lot of fried food, but when I was growing up, we were taught to live in moderation. It’s called ‘Bengali middle class culture’, rather ‘Indian middle class culture’. People were not super thin like the malnourished fashion models who have unfortunately become the stereotype of female beauty. Bengalis were proud of their ‘bhNuri’/potbellies and didn’t mind at all being a little on the heavier side of the weighing scale. I don’t know if it was right or wrong, may be neither right, nor wrong.
Now things are rapidly changing. I can see two distinct mentalities, both being far from the reality. One section of society is willing to accept anorexia to achieve the Victoria’s Secret look while another is breaking the weighing scale. Some people freak out even if they hear the sound “deep frying”; others indulging with saturated fat almost in every bite they eat. I suppose both extremes have always existed but the number of people at either end seems to be increasing. I am seeing people going to such an extreme that they see everything unhealthy. They lose the fun of eating good food. Being suspicious of every grain they consume, or do not consume. On the other hand some people seem to have lost all semblance of self-control and are completely comfortable with their extreme obesity.
Although I am nowhere close to my “ideal weight” (read model like), I do try to maintain a middle path. I don’t want stick thin legs and skinny arms. I also do not want to go XXXL. I believe in moderation. It’s ok to indulge yourself with deep fried food like these super delicious falafels if you crave them occasionally. Eating ice cream and skipping the gym once in a while is not going to kill you. The perfectly flat tummy you are trying to achieve is going to rob half of the happiness from your life. So, people, find the happy medium. Whole grains and bacon, gluten-free and artificially flavored, GMO and organic, fast food lovers and locavores, farm-raised or Wal-Mart bought can all be on the same plate…but just in the right amounts.
As I didn’t grow up eating falafel, I have no secret family recipe. I have adapted (rather followed it religiously) the recipe from here. I am copy-pasting the original recipe only with one or two minor changes. Go to the link if you want to see step by step pictures. It’s a no-fail recipe if you follow it carefully. It’s also a crowd pleaser and very easy to make.
- 1 pound (about 2 cups) dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans
- 1 small onion, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 3-5 cloves garlic (I prefer roasted)
- 1” piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
- 3-4 green chili peppers
- 1 1/2 tbsp flour
- 1 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Pinch of ground cardamom
- Vegetable oil for frying (grapeseed, canola, and peanut oil work well)
- Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them by about 3 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight. They will double in size as they soak – you will have between 4 and 5 cups of beans after soaking.
- Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans well. Pour them into your food processor along with the chopped onion, garlic cloves, ginger, green chilies, parsley, flour, salt, cumin, ground coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cardamom.
- Pulse all ingredients together until a rough, coarse meal forms. Scrape the sides of the processor periodically and push the mixture down the sides. Process till the mixture is somewhere between the texture of couscous and a paste. You want the mixture to hold together, and a more paste-like consistency will help with that… but don’t overprocess, you don’t want it turning into hummus!
- Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, pour it out into a bowl and use a fork to stir; this will make the texture more even throughout. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
- Note: Some people like to add baking soda to the mix to lighten up the texture inside of the falafel balls. I don’t usually add it, since the falafel is generally pretty fluffy on its own. If you would like to add it, dissolve 2 tsp of baking soda in 1 tbsp of water and mix it into the falafel mixture after it has been refrigerated.
- Fill a skillet with vegetable oil to a depth of 1 ½ inches. I prefer to use cooking oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed. Heat the oil slowly over medium heat. Meanwhile, form falafel mixture into round balls or slider-shaped patties using wet hands or a falafel scoop. I usually use about 2 tbsp of mixture per falafel. You can make them smaller or larger depending on your personal preference. The balls will stick together loosely at first, but will bind nicely once they begin to fry.
Note: if the balls won’t hold together, place the mixture back in the processor again and continue processing to make it more paste-like. Keep in mind that the balls will be delicate at first; if you can get them into the hot oil, they will bind together and stick. If they still won’t hold together, you can try adding 2-3 tbsp of flour to the mixture. If they still won’t hold, add 1-2 eggs to the mix. This should fix any issues you are having.
- Before frying my first batch of falafel, I like to fry a test one in the center of the pan. If the oil is at the right temperature, it will take 2-3 minutes per side to brown (5-6 minutes total). If it browns faster than that, your oil is too hot and your falafels will not be fully cooked in the center. Cool the oil down slightly and try again. When the oil is at the right temperature, fry the falafels in batches of 5-6 at a time till golden brown on both sides.
- Once the falafels are fried, remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon.
- Let them drain on paper towels. Serve the falafels fresh and hot; they go best with a plate of hummus and topped with creamy tahini sauce. You can also stuff them into a pita.
Troubleshooting: If your falafel is too hard/too crunchy on the outside, there are two possible reasons– 1) you didn’t process the mixture enough– return the chickpea mixture to the processor to make it more paste-like. 2) the chickpeas you used were old. Try buying a fresher batch of dried chickpeas next time.