BUNDLES OF JOY – GREEN PEA FALAFEL WITH SPRING GARLIC & PERSIAN MINT
Posted Aug 27 2009 11:38pm
T hough they are straight out the red Le Creuset full of 365 degree oil, I can’t resist. I squeeze a seeded, sun-gold Meyer lemon on the prettiest subject I spy (selfish, sure, but I’m in the hot kitchen). I take a bite at the expense of my oral cavity. Steam escapes, carrying the irresistible scent of fried food – you know the one. A crunchy exterior graciously gives way to a slightly creamy, ethereally airy interior. The flavor is at once sweet, salty, and spicy; it is subtle yet fierce, and I am relieved that the potent aromatics, cumin, cayenne and green garlic, do not overwhelm the delicate taste of peas. The bright, almost fluorescent, green color is arresting. “Precious bundles of joy”, I actually whisper aloud. Then I descend upon the platter like an ant on candy.
At nine in the evening, having recovered from my mid-morning gorge-session, I opt for a more composed dish, realizing the falafel could be improved by further accoutrements: good fluffy pita, refreshing cucumber, a sheep’s milk yogurt-tahini sauce that I loaded with green garlic, and freshly clipped Persian mint (the only herb I can grow in this Lilliputian apartment). I compose an aptly untidy, overloaded ‘sandwich’. With each bite comes an explosion of flavors and textures – and a welcome mess. The sauce dripping down my hand is heady with the mild bite of green garlic. I try not to eat too quickly, and blame my speed on the pita that seems to rip seam if I even look at it.
So perhaps I shouldn’t share my gluttonous proceedings or a recipe for fried legumes on a blog that claims to be devoted to improving health. But to me, this thing we call health is less about calorie-counting and fat-avoidance, and more about the quality of life. I have found that an exponential increase in quality is correlated with playfulness (especially in the kitchen), laughter, enthusiasm (I can be seriously enthusiastic about pomme frites dipped in aioli. Seriously.), and consciousness. Consciousness, as it relates to eating, is listening to the body, to what it needs and when it screams enough is enough (which I admit to disobeying on the storied evening, consequently paying for my actions dearly in yoga the following morning). It’s literally asking yourself – repeatedly if necessary, out loud if that’s what it takes – What is the most loving thing I can do for you? What do you truly want right now?
Occasionally, my body wants steamed bok choy with fish sauce over brown rice; yesterday, it said please(!) to the thought of frisky fried peas, dancing in front of the stove to a Pandora 80’s mix, and unabashed fun. And I promise, this recipe is fun to nth degree.
G REEN PEA FALAFEL WITH SPRING GARLIC & PERSIAN MINT
YIELDS APPROXIMATELY 2 DOZEN PIECES Falafel is a sort of Middle Eastern fast food, traditionally prepared with dried chickpeas or fava beans. However, I was so inspired by the bountiful, candy-sweet green peas showing up at the Spring market, I decided to make a swap. I think you’ll find the change a delicious one.
3 cups fresh green peas (or frozen – see NOTES) 1 cup chopped green garlic, or 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped 2 medium spring onions, both white and green parts, roughly chopped 1 cup chopped fresh parsley 1 cup chopped fresh mint pinch of cayenne 1 ½ teaspoons cumin (preferably freshly toasted and ground) zest of one lemon ½ teaspoon baking soda ½ teaspoon baking powder sea salt to taste (I used approximately 1 ¼ teaspoon)
all-purpose flour ( optional, see NOTES)
oil for frying, such as organic safflower, grapeseed, or deodorized coconut oil
If you use frozen peas, you are more likely to have to add flour, as they will give off more water than fresh.
The flour absorbs water; if the mixture is too thin, the falafel will fall apart the second they hit the hot oil.
It is important to get the oil at the right temperature – too hot, and the outside will brown before the inside cooks; too cool and the falafel will come out “oily”, an undesirable characteristic.
Forming the falafel into oblong, football-like shapes not only ensures more even cooking than a perfectly round ball, they are also better suited for stuffing inside pitas, which make it their mission to fall apart and laugh in your messy face.
To make a delicious sauce to accompany the falafel, blend equal parts yogurt (I prefer sheep’s milk for it’s creamier texture; I also find it easier to digest than cow’s) and raw sesame Tahini (a sesame seed paste) with green garlic, fresh lemon juice and sea salt to taste.
Green Garlic is immature garlic that is available in the spring and early summer. It looks like a baby leek (see photo) and possesses a mild garlic flavor with a hint of onion, a tender texture and the key to my heart.
Add all ingredients except flour and oil to the bowl of a food processor. Puree until a thick paste forms, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt or spice to your liking.
Heat oil in a large, heavy pot – the oil should be 2-2 ½ inches deep and the pot should rise at least 4 inches above the surface of the oil. Heat oil to 365 degrees F (use a candy thermometer or heat the oil on a fire of 8 (scale of 1-10), for about five minutes, and hedge your bets; I recommend investing in the handy dandy candy thermometer).
Press a bit of the mixture between your thumb and forefinger. If it holds together, you’re good to go. If the mixture is too wet to stay together, add all-purpose flour, a tablespoon at a time until the mixture holds its shape; do not add more than three tablespoons.
Using two tablespoons, form oblong, football-shaped “ quenelles ” of the mixture and drop them, one at a time, in the hot oil. It is important not to overcrowd the pan; this will have to be done in several (it took me four) batches, how many depends on the size of your pan. Once the falafel turns a deep, dark brown on all sides (they usually turn themselves, but occasionally need assistance), remove them from the oil with a spider or slotted spoon and drain them on a paper towel-lined sheet pan. Continue this process until all falafel have been fried.
Serve warm or at room temperature. I like to squeeze fresh lemon juice on top of each piece, stuff several in a folded pita, and top them with thinly sliced cucumber and spring onion, a garlicky Tahini sauce (see NOTES for recipe), and fresh mint.