Saturday, March 8, 2008

luster lacked, falafel fried

So I do have pictures of pizza, but they are a little blurry, and I have pictures of thai curry, but I was really hungry and ate first so it's just leftovers and they are unattractive,

(side note: the curry was hampered by its lack of onions. I now know and occasionally cook for two people who absolutely despise onions, and it has made me realize how much I cook with onions all the freaking time. I am so used to onions being a part of the food I make that I leave it out and am just shocked at how sad and bereft the meals are. I am beginning to understand what it must be like for a carnivorous-type who cooks for vegetarians by making meat dishes but leaving out the meat, or serving meals entirely consisting of meatless side dishes. 'But there's something missing!," they say. "How can you eat like this all the time?"

And that is amusing, because they are just looking at their food the way they always have and taking things out, instead of starting from a vegetable-centric or legume-centric or any-other-centric point of view, where nothing is "missing" in a dish that happens to not have meat. And it turns out that I have the same problem with my onion-centricity. So I am sure -- positive! -- that it is quite possible to make scrumptiously delicious food without a whiff of onionness. I just don't know how yet. And since so many people try to make good vegetarian food on behalf of all the vegetarians in the world, which I do appreciate, I think I will start working on making onionless dishes that are more than onion-containing dishes with the onions left out. Does that even make sense?)

and last night was a pretty dull meal of lentils and rice -- not dreadful, certainly very healthy, but not good. I was lazy. Tonight's dinner was a case of, "Ah, shoot, I was supposed to go grocery shopping and blew two hours on the internet doing nothing productive instead, and we are running out of food. Beans it is," and so beans and corn and carrots served over thoroughly mediocre homemade tortillas. This tortilla thing is hard. I think a tortilla press would help loads -- it is the getting it to the correct thickness that is really vexing me.

The point is that there have been lots of un-special meals here lately. On the other hand, it cost me $30 for last week's groceries, so at least it was cheap. I will have to compensate for that a little bit this week -- we're low on oil and out of yeast, both pricey -- but I didn't really cheat at all. We had all the food we needed, and it was great. I wish I could do that every week.

THE POINT -- I'm sorry, I got distracted -- is that I am not going to talk about those meals. Instead, I am going to talk about falafel.

Mmm, deep-fried garbanzo balls. Heh. Balls.


Here are the balls (teehee!) after they have been rolled and are awaiting their splattery doom. I make such a mess every time I deepfry things, it is ridiculous. That was not a comma splice, I swear to you. If I weren't already trying to limit our deepfried-items-consumption to once a week for health and oil-conserving purposes, I would have to keep it controlled on behalf of my standards of mess-making. Those standards are very lax -- that is saying something.

Why do I keep deep-frying things? It is dreadful for us! I didn't grow up eating like that! I blame the fact that, 1) falafel is delicious, 2) most everything improves when you deep-fry it, including, evidently, tofu, 3) samosas are perfection in triangular form, and 4) eggrolls are still challenging me. Those are the things I deep-fry. I can't help myself! It's just too tempting!

Anyway, funny story about rolling the falafel balls. I will try to be more mature than a third-grader, and will now giggle silently to myself when I type "balls" instead of forcing you to read about it. Moving on. They are coated in bagel crumbs -- so if you were looking at that picture and thinking, "why does Camila have white bread? I thought she didn't allow that in the house," you are right. Those are bits of bagel that you see. I allow commercial bagels (with all the nutrition of white bread) in the house because I haven't figured out how to bake them myself yet, and William insists.

That's not the funny bit. The funny bit is that I was trying to bake pita bread at the same time, so asked William for some help. He was rolling the balls. Now, we have made falafel many times. We have made falafel many times because William, heaven help his arteries, absolutely adores them. When I decide to make falafel, I make sure to casually mention it the night before or that morning, just to see him get all happy and anticipatory. "You're making FALAFEL? Oh, I'm so excited!" It's kind of funny, because, I mean, they're just deep-fried garbanzo beans! -- but it is also adorable.

William has helped me make falafel many times. I thought he knew the drill. The drill, by the way, is 'make a ball, dip it in egg, coat it in crumbs.' So I handed him the bowl of mushed garbanzos (and onions and green bell pepper and garlic and cilantro and cumin and coriander and some hot pepper all mixed with bread/bagel crumbs) and an egg and the bagel crumbs and a bowl for the egg.

He broke the egg into the bowl. "Does the egg get all mashed together?" I was unhappily pictured a dish entitled Mashed Eggs as I answered, "Well, they get beaten, yes."

"Mashed together. Right. Don't use this fancy cooking terminology on me." So I busy myself with the pita bread and he is rolling balls and he gets very frustrated. "The damn bagel crumbs won't stick!," he said, and I apologized for the lack of bread in the house and said that I had thought bagel crumbs would work but it was just an experiment, it's okay if it doesn't work. I continued to pay attention to the pita bread.

When the pitas were all ready to be slipped into the oven, I glanced over and nearly had a heart attack. The falafel balls were totally eggy still -- it looked like the bagel crumbs had completely absorbed the egg they covered, and the balls were just a gooey, gross mess.

I remained calm, although inwardly I despaired. Another ruined dinner, what did I do wrong this time? "Wow, those crumbs really aren't sticking, are they?" I dropped a ball back into the bagel crumb bowl. "Have you tried squeezing it after it's been covered in crumbs?" I rolled the ball around, and it immediately was covered in lovely, fluffy crumbs. Strange -- it seemed to be working just fine.

William asked, "Well, aren't you going to dip it into the egg again?" I looked at him with what must have been a peculiar expression, and he looked back with a growing horror.

"Oh no!" I started to laugh, relieved that the bread crumbs were working just fine, and dropped the remaining falafels into the crumbs for a second coating. "Did I get it backwards? I got it BACKWARDS! I am so stupid!" He berated himself for a full five minutes while I tried to persuade him that it really was okay, he should keep going, it would be lots easier now that he'd be putting the crumbs on after the egg, come on, darling, it really is okay. You got a three-step process backwards, no worries. It'll be fine!

And it really was.

They were crunchy and deliciousful. That is all about the falafel.

Do my pictures look less-fuzzy? I bought an adorable little tripod for my camera. I was going to buy it online, and then I realized there is a professional camera store literally right next door. I stand by it and wait for the bus every day. Now I have a less-frustrating flash-free photographing experience, AND I got to support a local business!

I also made pita bread! The recipe is here. It worked just fine:

Mm, warm, paprika-sprinkled pitas. They aren't delicious yet. It was my first time making pitas, cut me some slack! But they were recognizably pitas, and that's what I was going for.

Look, some of them even had real pockets! They are filled with lettuce and falafel and yogurt sauce and feta cheese. And I made it myself. Not the lettuce and cheese, but -- you know what I mean.

Others were sort of unevenly puffy, and a few didn't puff up at all. Ah well. I think I will follow farmgirl's excellent advice and make pita chips. Because that sounds pretty much amazing. (Check out that chunk of feta cheese in the post-bite photo. What's it doing being so square? It looks weird. Whatever.)

Three cheers for foreign fast food! To think that something this delicious is another culture's junk food, another country's street-vendor fare... I'd take falafel and pad thai and even fish and chips over a hotdog any day of the week. Why does everybody else in the world do junk food better than we do? Junk food is America's staple food item! It is our trademark! Our MO! The death of us!

You'd think we could at least do it well!!

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