Fresh, crisp and hearty falafel. (Photo: Michael Hawkins, Wicked Ideas)
Have you heard of this Meatless Monday thing?
It’s something a lot more of you are doing, apparently, if my twitter feed is any indication.
I didn’t pay much attention to the movement until recently but I think it’s a good idea for several reasons.
First off, eating less meat, especially those with higher counts of saturated fats such as beef and pork (yes, sorry bacon lovers) is a step in the right direction and any kind of organized but easy way to take part is a good thing for the average Canadian diet. Canadians still on average eat meat every day in some way and the rates of heart disease are sadly an excellent indicator of the consequences. Beefing up your vegetarian options (see what I did there?) will reduce your overall intake of the bad fats and that habit can happily spill over to other days of the week if you let it.
A meatless day of week helps to get you out of a tired meal routine as well. Too many of us prepare meat products simply because it’s an easy, familiar way to get food on the table. Steaks, meatloaf and pork chops are all easy and familiar but perhaps it’s time to expand the offerings. Busting out of a comfort zone is usually a good thing.
Getting away from meats on occasion has its obvious advantage in that it’ll almost assuredly be replaced with something much healthier and it’s a change you can live with. I’ve long been an advocate for small changes that take a step in the right direction over wild detox diets or wholesale dietary changes that just make your life miserable.
So it’s time to face the question. Does your home menu have a few meatless but balanced and satisfying meals on it?
Here’s a recent addition to my meatless Monday repetoire. A classic, filling treat from the Middle East, falafel. These chick pea-based orbs of awesome remind me of many trips to Lebanese restaurants in Montreal and after a pita or platter, I certainly didn’t miss the meat.
They’re made with a shallow fry method that is fast and when done carefully, crisp and light. Fill out the meal with a feast of tasty toppings and sides such as a green salad or the more traditional tabouleh.
1 14 oz can chick peas, rinsed and drained, or a cup of dried chick peas that have been soaked overnight
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
½ small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
black pepper to taste
pinch of salt
water as needed
Oil for deep-frying
Combine all ingredients except water in a food processor. Add a tablespoon of water and begin to process in pulses. Remove the lid and scrape down the sides a few times to ensure it all gets mixed and processed without over-processing. Add another tablespoon of water if needed to help it get moving in the processor. The result should be a paste but still with some texture. Heat a 1.5 inches of oil in a pot until it reads 350 on a candy or deep fry thermometer. Once at temperature, test the falafel by frying a single ball, a bit smaller than a golf ball. It should brown quickly and stay together. If it comes apart, that may mean either your oil is not hot enough or the mixture needs a bit more flour. Turn the balls often to cook evenly. They should only take about three minutes per batch to fry golden brown. Make balls and fry three at a time for the rest of the mix and drain on a rack lined with a paper towel. Serve hot with sides such as chopped cucumber, pickles, tomato, tzatziki or yogurt, hummus, lettuce, fresh or pickled red onion, beetroot (turnip) pickles, hot or mild peppers and pita bread.
1 cup Greek or Balkan –style yogurt
½ English cucumber
1 or 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely grated
Juice of half a lemon
Fresh or dried mint
Salt and pepper
Put the yogurt in a fine strainer and suspend it over a bowl to drain for 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile, cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the watery seeds and discard. Grate the flesh side of the cucumber on the fine teeth of a box grater (no need to peel as the peel is magically left behind to discard). Put the cucumber in a fine strainer and use your hands to give it a few hard squeezes to get rid of as much liquid as possible. The idea here is to reduce water in the yogurt and cucumber for a thicker sauce. Place the drained yogurt and cucumber in a bowl, grate in some garlic, add the juice of half a lemon and a few tablespoons of fresh mint or a good pinch of dried. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. This sauce gets better if allowed to sit for 20 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
¼ cup bulger wheat
1 bunch curly parsley (about three cups), washed and dried well, roughly chopped
1 or 2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
A few tablespoons fresh mint
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of a lemon
Put the bugler in a bowl and add two cups of boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Transfer to a fine strainer and let any excess water drain away. Mix the bulger, parsley, tomatoes, mint, green onion, olive oil and lemon juice in a bowl and serve.
Fresh pitas ready to be stuffed. (Photo: Michael Hawkins, Wicked Ideas)