Man meets bean: falafel results

Falafel

Falafel with chili paste and tzatziki

Let’s say you are a human being who has encountered a bean for the first time. I’m speaking of a bean with a hard shell, the kind that looks more like a pretty rock than anything to do with food. Your mission — find a way to turn it into food. What do you do?

You could boil it, of course. Boil it and boil it and boil it. This will work, and you will get a nice mushy meal.

Or you could keep that bean dry, and grind it into a fine powder. Then, you can use the resulting flour in all kinds of batters and doughs. This works too.

What else? Well, some creative people in the middle east decided on a third route. Soak it overnight, and when it is plumped up, grind it, and fry the resulting mash. This time it will be more like a dough that clumps together, rather than a fine powder, because the beans have drawn in all that water and gotten rather plump and soft with it. The only cooking the notoriously hard-to-cook bean will get is at the end, frying in a pan. Is that foolhardy? No, the soaking did most of the work.

"Il Falafel di Ramallah" by OneArmedMan - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Il Falafel di Ramallah” by OneArmedMan – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Well, well, falafel! That is what a falafel is, and the bean in question is the garbanzo bean (a.k.a. chickpea).

(Cooks in India discovered this trick also, but with a different bean: vadas are made by first soaking the split urad bean overnight and then wet-grinding it after).

Falafel, though, is made out of the whole garbanzo bean, soaked overnight. Parsley, onion and garlic are ground up along with the garbanzo for flavor. The resulting mash is bound with flour, or left as is. Balls made of this mash can be deep-fried or, as I did, patties formed in one’s palms can be shallow-fried. The result — an outside surface that is crunchy and satisfying, while the insides are still pliable and savory to the hilt.

Falafel: street food and mezze

Now you will agree that this is a pretty neat invention. Nifty, even. Tucked inside a pita bread, drenched with chili pastes and salads and strong stuff like onion, it makes a convenient item to eat while holding in one’s hand without ceremony. This is why falafel is known as the king of street food all over the middle east.

San Francisco has its own share of immigrants from all over the world, and of course we have our share of falafel food trucks and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Some are famous for their hot sauces, others for their pita, and yet others made their name for the pickled or fried vegetables that they tucked into the pita pocket.

Kan Zaman restaurant in SF (source: http://Pakibarbie.blogspot.com)

Erstwhile Kan Zaman restaurant in SF (source: http://Pakibarbie.blogspot.com)

Some serve falafel not as a sandwich or a wrap, but as one of a platter full of appetizers known as mezze. (This word, by the way, comes from the Persian mazze, the root of the Hindi mazza, meaning ‘fun’). One particular restaurant that ran for years near Haight Ashbury — and one that I sorely miss — served their falafel this way, on a giant brass platter with embossed designs, while you lounged on floor cushions and smoked flavored hookahs, and watched a raucous belly dance. Much as I love falafel, that was not the highlight of this particular establishment — it had so many others.

Soaking garbanzo beans and other ingredients

Soaking garbanzo beans and other ingredients

Everything in food processor

Everything in food processor

Ground up mash

Ground up mash

Add some spices

Add some spices

Mixture

Mixture

Pan-fry

Pan-fry

Flipped

Flipped

Stacked up

Stacked up

Served on pita

Served on pita

Falafel

  • Servings: About 10 patties
  • Print
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup dry garbanzo beans (a.k.a. kabuli channa, a.k.a chickpeas), soaked for 8-10 hours
  • 1/2 a medium onion
  • 3 fat cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed parley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika or red chili powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin powder (optional)
  • Oil for pan-frying
  • 1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (optional)
Method:

Soak the beans overnight in four cups of water. The next day, they will have swelled enough to fill up almost the entire container. Drain and rinse.

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Rinse, dry, and take tough stems out of the parsley. Put the beans and vegetables into a food processor, but make sure that everything is well-dried — one does not want extra liquid in the mash. Add salt and the optional spices. I needed two batches of processing.

The resulting mash should be able to clump together, and yet, not be dripping with liquid. At this point, you can add a tablespoon or two of dry flour if you like to bind it. I skipped this step.

When you are ready to fry, get a wide, thick-bottomed pan, preferably non-stick, nicely hot. Add oil generously. Spread oil on your hands and form the patties within your palms. You will need about a golf-ball sized amount of mash for one patty.

Lay it flat on the pan. It will sizzle. Press it flat with a spatula. When the underside seems browned (this will take about five minutes on medium-high heat), put a few drops of additional oil on the top (uncooked) surface of each and flip each gently. Another five minutes and you are done.

Alternatively, you can form balls and deep-fry them. You should make doubly sure that the mash is binding well with the added flour if this is your approach.

Have as a side or in a pita with tabouli (recipe forthcoming), chili pastes, and tzatziki (recipe forthcoming)


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I submitted this recipe to the Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck!

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The bane of every Sindhi child

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This is a meal that every Sindhi child has made faces over at the dinner table while dawdling over their food. But by the time that Sindhi child has grown up into a Sindhi adult, they begin to crave it with an intensity that is only matched by their craving for home.

When I was the Sindhi child making faces at Sai Bhaji — which translates simply to ‘greens’ — no amount of talking up by my mother about how this meal is a nutritional powerhouse mattered to me at all. Now as an adult (and a mother myself) I’m thinking — a delicious, simple-to-make, nutritional-powerhouse meal-in-a-pot! What’s not to like?

Sai Bhaji is a stewed concoction of spinach and other greens, some lentils, with other veggies thrown in. It is eaten with rice and plain yogurt and possibly something fried on the side.

One of the selling points of this dish is that you can throw in basically any vegetable you have lying around in portions that are too small to make a meal themselves. The taste of spinach and dill is strong enough that all these mini-portions will be swallowed, subsumed, absorbed and spat out as part of the Sai Bhaji empire. Thus adding even more nutrition.

Sai Bhaji (spinach-lentils stew)

Ingredients:

  • One bunch spinach
  • Half a bunch fresh dill
  • Two tablespoons channa dal, soaked for half an hour at least. This post talks more about channa dal.
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons oil
  • One small potato chopped
  • Half an onion, chopped
  • 1 – 4 fresh chilies, jalapeno/serrano/bird’s eye/cayenne
  • Half inch slice of ginger root, minced
  • One teaspoon coriander powder
  • Half a teaspoon turmeric powder
  • One teaspoon dry mango powder (aamchur) or substitute with lime/lemon
  • One teaspoon salt
  • Optional: 1 cup of other chopped vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, tomato, carrots, bell peppers, etc.

Method:

Have the channa dal soaking in plenty of water for about half an hour. Wash the green thoroughly in a sink full of water a few times. Chop them up roughly including the stems that are not too woody.

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Now start layering the dish in a thick-bottomed pot with a well-fitting lid. First, the oil. Then, the onions, chili and ginger. Then, the potatoes, and the coriander and turmeric powders. Then about half the greens. Sandwiched between this and the other half of the greens throw in the drained channa dal. After the last of the greens, sprinkle the salt over, cover, and bring to a boil. The water from rinsing the greens should be enough to cook, or add about a quarter cup if it seems dry.

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Once it comes to a boil lower to a simmer and let it be, covered, simmering for about 45 to 50 minutes.

When you open the lid, the lentils should be softened and the greens cooked down a lot. Add the dry mango powder or lime/lemon juice, and mash it with a potato masher or the handy-dandy mandheera.

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mandheera

mandheera

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Warm it through before serving. This is generally eaten mixed with rice and plain yogurt. Three types of rice dishes work well: rice browned with onions, khichdi rice, or yellow garlic rice (recipe forthcoming).

On my plate, I served sai bhaji, rice and yogurt in three neat sides, with some fried taro on the side. My husband however likes it all piled up, like this:

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Far be it from me to dictate which way you choose to eat it, but you won’t be sorry you did.

Solid citizen channa dal

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Channa dal is the dehusked, split version of the black chickpea or kala channa. Most people know chickpeas or garbanzo beans in their lighter, bigger form (and often from a can); this lighter chickpea (known as kabuli channa) is native to the middle east, and eaten all over India too.

The black chickpea on the other hand, looks like this:

Black chickpea

Black chickpea

It is known as kala channa, and is a smaller, darker chickpea that is native to India (strongly resisting the urge to make a racial joke here). Kala channa is eaten whole often and someday The Odd Pantry will delve into that. But get its wrinkled brown husk off, and split it into its two cotyledons, and you have yellow channa dal.

Channa dal

Channa dal

Among the dals, it is a mighty stubborn one and resists softening. It takes the longest soaking, and the longest cooking. Still, once you get there, the results are hard to beat.

I believe each dish must showcase the main ingredient’s essence; and since channa dal likes to keep its integrity, we will help it. What I mean by that is that we don’t cook it down to mush (as is the case with most split dals) but allow the channa dal to keep its shape. An initial saute step helps seal in the grain’s shape, so let’s get to it.

Solid citizen channa dal

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup channa dal, soaked for one to two hours
  • Half inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 1 – 4 serrano or bird’s eye or jalapeno chilies
  • Half a teaspoon turmeric powder
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • Half a teaspoon of asafetida
  • Half a teaspoon of red chili powder
  • Dry mango powder (aamchur)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste

Method:

Once you have soaked the dal, its volume will have doubled. Drain it of the soaking water.

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Heat half the oil in a thick-bottomed pot and when it shimmers, lightly saute the green chilies and ginger. Now put in the drained dal, and saute the grains on medium heat until the soaking water dries away; continue sauteing dal for another couple minutes or so. Now put in the turmeric and 2 cups water.

Bring to a boil with the lid off; once the water comes to a rolling boil and the foam subsides, lower the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid but leave a crack open for more foam to escape. The dal will take an hour and a half to soften.

Now add the salt and stir.

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Heat the remaining oil in a small thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers, add the asafetida and red chili powder. When they foam, add the cumin seeds. They will sizzle in a minute or two. Turn off the heat, add the oil and spices to the dal and stir once more. Also stir in the dry mango powder and the cilantro, leaving some for garnish.

Before serving, garnish with the dry mango powder and the cilantro to smarten it up.  I like this dal with roti/chapati or pooris, with perhaps a dash of lime juice if you like.