I've toured Europe a couple of times - once while studying abroad and once after I graduated a few years ago. Both times I was traveling on a dime and every penny counted, so I was delighted to find Doner Kabob shops across a variety of countries.
Doner Kabob stands, though independently owned, were the equivalent of McDonald's here in the states. They were everywhere and their food was cheap and filling - except it was much more delicious and way healthier than the traditional fast food of the 'States.
A doner kabob is a traditional Turkish dish in which a large piece of meat is cooked on a vertical rotisserie, the meat of which is used to fill a gyro. Gyros are typically filled with lamb, beef, chicken or (for the vegetarians out there) falafel.
Now, don't get me wrong, I love lamb (it's probably in my genes, as Grandpa Finger raised lambs for a living), but falafel is very delicious.
Falafel is a middle-eastern dish made from ground chickpeas (some call them garbanzo beans) or fava beans that are rolled into balls and fried. They are served inside gyros or beside cucumber salad. Falafel is healthy, cheap, and so delicious. It's a win-win-win.
Of course, the chickpeas in falafel serve as a great source of vegetarian protein, but as you may know, they also contain carbohydrates. Beans are one of four major starchy veggies (the others are corn, peas, and potatoes).
That's right: I'm promoting eating a starchy veggie. Despite their bad press, carbohydrates are not evil.
Poor carbohydrates. Lately they've really had a hard go in many popular weight-loss diets. The trouble began in the late 1980s when the news came out that high-fat diets were the cause of the increase in heart disease in America (later found to actually be related to the type of fat rather than fat in general - more on that later).
The market responded accordingly, and snack cakes and candy across America started boasting "low-fat" on their labels. However, to replace the flavor lost when taking out the fat, the manufacturers added extra sugar. Thus, America swung from one extreme to the other, and instead of over-indulging on fat, our country began to over-indulge in sugar.
Fat-free hard candy and gummy bears. Low-fat cookies. Fat-free pretzels. Those sound like sources of quality carbohydrates, right?
(Just kidding. They're not.)
Fast forward to a year ago, when Time Magazine ran the news article, "Ending the War on Fat". The media took the news that not all fat is bad for you and not all carbs are good for you and ran with it, making it seem that this is the first anyone had heard of this.
In actuality, we've known this for a very long time. Eating a low-fat diet should not give you liberty to eat all of the sugar you want, but that's what happened in America. Thus, instead of becoming healthier with the low-fat craze, our national eating disorder only worsened.
Now the pendulum has swung the other way and instead of avoiding fat, the new trend is to avoid carbs. In actuality neither of these extremes is particularly balanced. Some types of carbs and fat are really good for you while other (less healthy kinds) should be enjoyed in moderation.
You see, there is not one evil food that you should avoid and which doing so will give you eternal health.
I'm not always a huge fan of the author Michael Pollen, but I do love his quote, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I think if we lived by those words, we would all be a lot healthier and happier. Moderation is the key to almost everything.
Now that you've had your nutrition lecture for the day, I can move on to teaching you how to make the wonderful and delicious falafel. As I mentioned before, falafel is traditionally fried, and I myself have pan-fried these gems with much success. However, baking them allows all of them to come out hot and ready to eat at the same time.
Note: I'm using the term "baked" rather loosely. I add quite a bit of oil to the dish before baking, so this isn't necessarily low-fat.
That being said, let's get started. Combine chickpeas, onion, and garlic in a large bowl and smash with a potato masher. If you prefer a slightly more even texture in your falafel and you own a food processor, you can use it to make your falafel dough; pulse the ingredients in a food processor until well combined.
Add spices, egg, lemon, and salt and combine well, then mix in flour and baking powder. Mixture should not be completely smooth, but still have pieces of chickpea visible.
Roll chickpea mixture into 12 balls and arrange in a 9x13-inch baking dish.
Add 1/4 cup of canola oil to the dish, then bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn falafel, then bake an additional 10 minutes until golden brown.
Serve falafel hot, tucked inside a whole-grain pita with tzatziki sauce or plain Greek yogurt and fresh cucumber and tomato salad.
- 3 (14.5 oz) cans chickpeas (or about 4 cups, cooked)
- 1 onion, diced finely
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 2 Tbsp. parsley
- 2 Tbsp. cilantro
- 1 egg
- 1 lemon, juiced (or 1 Tbsp.)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/3 c. flour (can substitute a gluten-free flour blend for a gluten-free option)
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 c. canola oil
- Combine chickpeas, onion, and garlic in a large bowl and smash with a potato masher. Alternatively, pulse in a food processor until well combined.
- Add spices, egg, lemon, and salt and combine well, then mix in flour and baking powder. Mixture should not be completely smooth, but still have pieces of chickpea visible.
- Roll chickpea mixture into 12 balls and place into 9x13-inch baking dish.
- Add oil to dish, then bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, the turn falafel and bake an additional 10 mintues until falafel is golden brown.
- Serve hot with tzatziki sauce or plain Greek yogurt (not included in nutrition information)
Serves 4 - Serving Size: 3 pieces falafel - Nutrients per serving: 372 calories -- 16g total fat -- 1g saturated fat -- 53mg cholesterol -- 915mg sodium -- 54g total carbohydrates -- 15g fiber -- 16g protein