Falafel with Pita Bread

Deep fat frying is not a cooking method I use very often.  To be completely honest, it scares me a little.  The idea of placing a large pot of oil over a gas flame and heating it to 350F+ is a bit risky, especially if you have small children or pets underfoot in the kitchen.  It can be messy and, if your vent is not strong enough, you may have lingering odors afterward.  You have to monitor the temperature of the fat very carefully; too hot and your food is burnt on the outside and raw on the inside, too cool and the food becomes soggy and heavy with oil.  So when I decide to take up the challenge of deep-frying, it has to be for something I really like.  And I really like falafel.  All week I was looking for falafel in my usual grocery shopping venues, but there was none.  Not even the salad bar at Whole Foods** (which makes a very good falafel, by the way) could come through for me.  So I took matters into my own hands, so to speak, and made a big batch of falafel.  I may have mentioned previously in this blog that I prefer not to eat sweet foods first thing in the morning; so falafel is a great breakfast option.  It’s a vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free (if you don’t add any flour to the mixture*),  protein and fiber-rich food.  I like falafel tucked into small pita pockets, with lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes (if you can find good ones), and a little tahini sauce.  It’s a great way to start your day, and a falafel sandwich makes a very portable lunch.  So, if you don’t have “fear of frying”, give this one a try.
(yields 6-8 servings)
1 3/4 cup dried chickpeas
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Scant teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Neutral oil for frying
Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches; they will triple in volume.  Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep beans submerged.  Drain the beans well (reserve a little soaking water) and transfer to a food processor.  Add the remaining ingredients except the oil; pulse until minced but not pureed, scraping the sides of the bowl.  If necessary add 1 or 2 tablespoons of the soaking water until the mixture comes together.  (Try to keep the addition of water to a minimum, as too much will make the batter fall apart when it hits the oil).  Taste the mixture and adjust for salt, pepper, cayenne, and lemon juice.  Put the oil in a large, deep saucepan to a depth of at least 2 inches; more is better.  Turn the heat to medium-high and heat the oil to about 350F.  Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter and shape into balls or small patties.  Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, turning as necessary; the total cooking time will be less than 5 minutes.  Remove to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and serve warm or at room temperature.
*If your falafel batter breaks up when you first put it into the hot oil, stir a spoonful or two of flour into the mixture.
**Kudos to Whole Foods for powering a number of their prepared foods commissaries with used cooking oil!
( from Mark Bittman, The Diner’s Journal, New York Times)


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