Friday, May 16, 2014

Spaghetti and Falafel Balls

What're Ye About, Then?

We are not vegetarians, let's make that clear. Our diet in Iowa was meat-friendly, and we had a nice rotation of meats we liked to buy and cook. Iowa being the wonderful agricultural state that it is, good quality meat is available for reasonable prices, especially at a nice local meat locker I passed on my way home from work. 

We were always well-stocked with smoky bacon, ground beef and pork, and the American classic boneless/skinless chicken breasts. 

Now, in Ireland, we are living in a big city and an island economy. People always ask us, "Aren't meats like lamb and beef cheap in Ireland? The whole country is practically sheep pasture, right?"

Well, we do see a number of sheep when we travel out of town, but the general cost of living in Ireland and Dublin specifically is much higher than in Iowa. Costs of everything go up, but the prices of local meat really jumped. Cheap meat is available, but it's usually in the form of flavorless sausages and little bloody sacks of clearance steaks.

...So, we've become less dependant on regular meals of meat and have looked to the vegetarian menus for protein inspiration. Dried beans here (as in Iowa) are cheap and plentiful, so we replace meat in many dishes with the beans for some extra belly-sticking goodness.

Today, spaghetti with falafel balls, inspired from this recipe at


Falafel is a Middle Eastern and North African dish made of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) crushed into a batter, mixed with spices, and fried crisp. Many recipes call for a can of cooked chickpeas, but if using from dry (like we always do) an overnight soak and an hour simmer makes the beans nice and squishy.

Cooking Chickpeas for spaghetti with falafel balls
Cooking Chickpeas

After cooking, the beans are drained (with a little cooking liquid reserved for thinning if needed) and mixed with egg, parsley, cumin, salt, lemon juice, and fresh garlic. The whole thing is processed into a gooey paste, not easy with the stick blender, but whatcha gonna do?

Processing Falafel for spaghetti with falafel balls
Processing Falafel

Fresh Lemon Juice for spaghetti with falafel balls
Fresh Lemon Juice

Flour is added to the goo until the batter is thick and no longer sticky. The dough is then rested in the refrigerator for at least a few hours to hydrate the flour and to make the dough easier to work with come frying time.

Mixing Dough for spaghetti with falafel balls
Mixing Dough

When ready to fry, the balls can be deep-fried or pan-fried. Deep-frying makes a really satisfying and crispy falafel ball, but I chose to pan-fry them for easier setup and cleanup. Also, my deep-fryer (our only saucepan) was in use making bean-enriched tomato sauce for the pasta. This time, I replaced the regular adzuki beans with red lentils, just as cheap and faster to cook from dry if you didn't think ahead to soak beans.

The setup was well-organized before frying. I rolled the balls on the white plate, transferred to the hot oil, then onto the draining rack when brown on both sides. Working in small batches, I had the whole batch done in about 20 minutes. They went into the warm oven to drain and stay warm and crispy.

Frying Setup for spaghetti with falafel balls
Frying Setup

When the sauce was finished, I blended it up and cooked the pasta in the still-hot and still-saucy pot. Minimalist cooking requires careful container planning for raw, cooking, and cooked food. It's been a skill I've developed over the months cooking (and brewing!) in a small kitchen.

Onto the hot pasta went falafel balls and tomato sauce. It was an adventurous and inexpensive way to enjoy a new twist on an old classic. We do miss the old meat and home-canned garden tomato sauce made in the crock pot (slow cooker) by Mom, but this in some small way helps us celebrate our Midwest American food heritage in new and exciting ways.

Falafel Balls on Spaghetti
Before the Sauce

Finished Plate of spaghetti and falafel balls
Finished Plate

Final Thoughts

Great! We usually think of falafel with couscous and pita (spelled pitta here!) bread with vegetables and a cucumber/yogurt (spelled yoghurt here!) sauce. The tomato sauce, especially thickened with the lentils, really goes well with the cumin/parsley combo in the falafel.

Would this be on a restaurant menu? Maybe in Portland, Oregon or Brooklyn, New York. Not that this makes us hipsters, but I could see this being real Hipster Chow.*

...And it was way better than my first try at fish soup made from bullheads caught at the duck pond at S.T. Morrison Park in Coralville...

*Hipster Chow coming soon from the makers of Cat Chow.

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