I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainable kitchen practices, by which I mean not just the foods we’re eating and cooking, but how we’re shopping, planning (or not), growing, and storing. For years, I’ve been a big believer in planning an entire week’s meals as a way of saving money. But sometimes I think that holding too fast to a planned menu can actually cause food waste; if you purchase what you imagine to be a week’s worth of food at one time, but you end up not needing that much, what do you do with the excess? And what happens if the meals you planned to make don’t store well once prepared? I don’t have easy solutions to these questions, other than trial and error, and an idea that’s new to me: maybe a little less planning is a better way to go.
With less planning, I feel like I have to be more adaptable to what’s still sitting around days after the market was visited. Maybe I’d been hankering for a big pot of corn chowder, but we need to do something with these fistfuls of herbs and cucumbers that aren’t going to be worth anything soon. The past few weeks, I’ve been aiming for three planned meals per week, and for the rest, I try to let the veggies fall where they may. Buying and using up a CSA box was a good way to challenge myself to cook what I had instead of what I might have wanted. We ate pizza with mushrooms and bacon, eggplant stir-fry, fried okra, and peach and blueberry crisp–none of which I can say was really on my cooking radar until we had those things in the house.
So this week, I’d like to share this really good falafel recipe that I adapted from Tom Hudgens’s The Commonsense Kitchen, one of my favorite books. It uses dried, soaked chickpeas (find in the bulk section of the hippie store or the international section of the yuppie store) that remain uncooked until you fry the fritters, which results in a fresh, springy texture. I added a lot more herbs to the mixture, and used all the fresh salad vegetables we had sitting around in the falafel wraps. Falafel is one of those tasty, crunchy, classic but sometimes forgotten salady meals that doesn’t feel like a salad. Plus, you know I like that fried stuff.
Unfried, formed falafel. Form the fritters by scooping up some mixture in a soup spoon (tablespoon), then using another same-sized spoon to shape the mixture into ovals. They’re delicate, so try not to handle them after forming. Use the spoons to scoop them up and slip them into the oil when you’re ready to cook them.
[crunchy, fluffy falafel, cooked through in about 6 minutes.]
Here’s a super-informative link to lots of ideas about keeping your kitchen more sustainable. As for knowing how or what to cook when my counters look like a vegetable market, I mostly use cookbooks that are more instructive than prescriptive so I feel easier about improvising. My current recommendations are Heidi Swanson’s website, Pamela Anderson’s How To Cook Without a Book, and Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food.
- 1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked 8 hours (or overnight) in 4 cups water, drained (you can use one drained 15-oz. can of chickpeas--do not soak--, but the texture will be slightly different)
- ½ cup chopped red onion
- 1 cup soft herbs, like cilantro, mint, parsley, basil, or thyme (I used parsley and cilantro)
- 1 large garlic clove, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 egg
- vegetable oil for frying
- for serving: any combination of extra chopped fresh herbs, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts, avocado, red onion, salsa, plain yogurt, hummus, lemons, limes, pita/flatbread/tortillas for wrapping, or tahini sauce (see below)
- quick tahini sauce: whisk together ½ cup water, ½ cup tahini, juice of one lemon, and ½ teaspoon salt until smooth.
- In a food processor, combine the chickpeas with everything else down to the egg. Pulse until the mixture is a "grainy, uniform mush," but not liquified or pasty.
- Heat 1" of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat for about 12 minutes. The oil is the right temperature when a pinch of falafel mixture dropped into it starts to sizzle immediately. Make falafel by sandwiching scoops of mixture between two soup spoons, letting the excess fall of the sides, pressing lightly into an oval. Gently slip the ovals into the hot oil (it will probably take two or three batches for this) and let cook on one side for 3 minutes, until golden brown, before turning to the other side for another two to three minutes.
- Remove from oil when both sides are golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels.
- Fill wraps with two or three falafel fritters, a drizzle of tahini sauce or yogurt, and all the extra veggies and herbs your garden can't hold onto anymore.