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Falling for Falafel

shutterstock_1371613By Kendra Atkins-Boyce, Portland, Oregon

I switched to a gluten-free diet a few months ago in an attempt to deal with the inflammation that makes my fibromyalgia flares worse. As an ovo-lacto vegetarian, a lot of foods were already excluded from my menu, so I was finding meal planning for my family to be a bit of a challenge. I had to get really creative to find items that fit my dietary criteria as well as please the discerning palates of my husband and daughter.

A few years ago, I discovered that nutritional yeast can be used as a low-carb alternative to breading in lots of recipes. The other day, with a dinner guest arriving in less than an hour, I realized my nutritional yeast supply was running low. I searched to find something else to coat my eggplant parmesan. I reached for the next nearest jar: falafel. The resulting dish was flavorful, crispy, and popular with my family and our dinner guest as well. I started experimenting with and researching other uses for falafel. Falafel, which is seasoned chickpea flour, contains only 100 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrates, and about five grams of protein per one ounce serving. It is an inexpensive and versatile food that just might become a staple in your pantry. I discovered many ways to use falafel to make meals.
Here are my top five falafel favorites:

  1. shutterstock_157760792Falafel balls. You may have enjoyed falafel balls at your favorite Greek restaurant, but you might not realize how easy they are to make. After adding moisture to the falafel mix, you can shape the mixture into balls and fry them in oil or bake them in the oven for a lower-fat alternative. Serve them with Greek salad, hummus, or in place of meatballs in your favorite pasta dish.
  2. Falafel patties. Wet the falafel mix and shape it into patties. Fry the patties, bake them, or grill them on top of aluminum foil as an alternative to burgers for your next cookout or burger night. You can add your favorite condiments and serve the falafel patties on burger buns or your favorite gluten-free bread or rolls.
  3. “Breaded” tofu, fish, or meat. My family loves tofu sticks, which are spears of tofu moistened with some sort of sauce (soy sauce, tamari, or barbecue, for example), then dipped in some sort of breading. As I mentioned, I’ve used nutritional yeast as one coating, but falafel adds a different flavor, texture, and crunch to the recipe. You can spread the tofu sticks out on an oiled baking sheet and bake them at 350 degrees for 20 minutes for a super-quick dinner protein. If your family prefers meat or fish, the same process can be used for breading, but you should adjust the cooking time to ensure food safety.
  4. Crispy vegetables. I’ve used falafel on eggplant and cauliflower, but you could add it to lots of vegetables to create a tempura- or pakora-style dish. Coat the vegetables in falafel, then fry or bake them until the vegetables are thoroughly cooked and the outside is crispy.
  5. Make a falafel scramble. I haven’t tried this one yet, but I ran across it in the comments section of a recipe for homemade pita with falafel. The idea seems to be to combine eggs, potatoes, vegetables, cheese, and falafel in a skillet and bake it until the eggs are cooked through. I’m sure this dish will be featured at the next brunch I host.

An accident of meal planning turned into a culinary delight. I look forward to finding even more ways to use this delightful ingredient.