Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Falafel Fun

For me, falafel has always been one of those foods that can go either way. At Middle Eastern restaurants sometimes the little fried balls of ground garbanzo beans and herbs are chalky and bland. But other times they are moist, delightfully crunchy and perfectly seasoned. When looking for meal ideas in the cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, Trevor found a falafel recipe. Since we know that when falafel is good, it’s very, very good, we gave it a shot.

The odd thing about the recipe it that the garbanzo beans are not cooked. You get dried beans and soak them for 24 hours. Then you whirl them in a food processor with parsley, garlic, onion and spices. Once shaped into little balls or patties, you deep-fry them for about 5 minutes. The recipe doesn't call for it, but I put them on a cookie-rack-covered baking sheet as opposed to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. I think it keeps fried foods from getting soggy.

We usually make a yogurt-tahini sauce to slather over them and stuff them in pitas with shredded lettuce, and slices of cucumber and tomato. (Sometimes I’ll sprinkle a little feta cheese on top, too.)

The best thing about homemade falafel is its consistency. You know it will always be piping hot, crunchy and seasoned to your taste. Sure it’s deep fried, but it’s also vegetarian. The only other fat in the meal comes from the tahini – and it’s good fat. It’s now become a meal we crave. And because it takes minimal work, it’s suitable for making on a weeknight.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dirty Hippie

Homemade yogurt and chunky granola with almonds, apples and craisins

When I told my friend Randi that I had started making headbands and selling them at craft shows, she said, “Denise, you move to Portland and become a dirty hippie.” The years since then, I’ve done plenty more to add to my dirty hippie status. Like growing vegetables, eating seasonally, canning, and sewing my own clothes and home accessories. I do admit to showering regularly though.

But the other day I think I reached the zenith of dirty hippidom – I made my own granola and fermented my own yogurt. For Christmas, Trevor’s parents gave us a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated magazine. What it lacks in modern, glossy layouts it more than makes up for in genius kitchen tips and recipes that work because of on-staff science editors and repeated testing. We’ve made several recipes from the issues we’ve received so far and each one is just perfect. One day I decided to make the super chunky granola from the March/April issue. I’d also been eyeing the yogurt recipe in Canning for a New Generation. And our friend Paul had recently given us a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, which also had a yogurt recipe. Yogurt and granola seemed like a perfect combination.

The granola was simple enough. Oil, vanilla, maple syrup and brown sugar mixed to coat rolled oats and almonds, then pressed into a lined baking sheet and baked at a low 325˚ for about 40 minutes. After it’s cool, you break it apart and add the dried fruit. We used apples and craisins. (Making this granola, I found getting rolled oats, dried fruit and nuts from the bulk bins at the grocery store is much cheaper than buying packaged versions!) I like granola, but it’s never been all that exciting to me. But this granola was so tasty and crunchy, I really liked it. Now Trevor is hooked and would rather eat it for breakfast than his usual Kashi goLean Crisp. He’s even said he’d be willingly to be the one to make it on a weekly basis.

The yogurt was surprisingly easy to make. You use a bit of plain yogurt with live active cultures as a starter. You heat up some milk to the right temperature, let it cool a little then add the starter and let it sit in a cooler warmed up with bottles of hot water. My first attempt at yogurt was a little thin. The couple times I’ve made it since then, it’s been thicker. Nevertheless, I really like the richness and tanginess of it. It’s a perfect foil to the sweet granola. When I have the two for breakfast, I feel like I’ve eaten something really good for me. Then I take a shower and put on some makeup, because I’m not a total dirty hippie.