Food Truck Falafel vs Gourmet Dining Falafel

Falafel is an Israeli dish that is often served in a pita or laffa. But it can also be served separately as an appetizer or even as a snack, so basically you can eat it anywhere, at any time. You take fava beans and ground chickpeas and shape them into a ball, patty, or a doughnut and then deep fry them.

I learned that buying them from a food truck is actually better than the gourmet style types, but this is a personal preference. OK, I will admit that the Food Truck Falafel is probably not as healthy as the Gourmet Style which is why I probably like it more. In general, falafel can be a healthy food but are you really going to eat at a food truck and expect seriously healthy food?

The way the numbers work out is that depending on where you get your falafel from and the number of toppings you choose, it can be a whale of calories. Gourmet Dining Falafel places are far more likely to be careful with your calorie counts because they want you to come back. But remember the most important nutritional fact about falafels – they are deep fried.

Even foods that are not Jewish and are dropped into a vat of grease are generally said to be no good for you. Think about French Fries. All they are is sliced up potatoes submerged in grease, yet they are so tasty! Here are these harmless fava beans and chickpeas and all of a sudden this is bad for you because they are deep fried?

OK, enough of my personal preferences. Here are the numbers on the falafel and why you should exercise some modicum of restraint before loading them up with all the toppings.

One 3.5 ounce serving of a deep-fried falafel, plain without toppings or laffa, has roughly 330 calories. There are 31 grams of carbohydrates that go with it, along with 17.5 grams of fat, 13 grams of protein and 294 mgs of sodium (salt). Almost half of its calories come from fat if deep friend normally (meaning it will taste great). You can substitute olive oil or canola oil for cooking, but don’t expect that at a truck food stop! The truth is, nutrition experts cringe at the amount of salt in an average falafel – almost an entire day’s worth in an entire falafel.

So if I am to be fair and objective in comparing the two, it will actually depend more on whether you are someone who prefers to eat healthy. I like to think I eat healthy – and there are times I prefer not to. Falafels from a truck stop with lots of toppings are one of those times. If you are a weight or cholesterol watcher, you are likely to prefer the gourmet style option because you can inquire as to exactly what they cook it in and how it is prepared. I doubt a truck stop is likely to change the cooking oil in their deep fryer every hour, but that may be exactly what makes the truck stop food so tasty!

How to Make Great Israeli Couscous

I live here in sunny Southern California. As many people know, there are two Californias. I live in the warmer locale. One of the great things about America is the enormous variety of food that can be found here. My favorite food is Israeli because of the many ingredients they use to make some of the tastiest dishes to be found anywhere! So I hope to share with you some of my secrets and knowledge to make you more knowledgeable and comfortable with the best of Israeli cuisine!

This means that I enjoy cooking and employing tried and true techniques to make the food taste better. Let’s start with couscous. It is a staple in Israel and it is in the Middle East. This means there are variations on a theme. It is a type of ground wheat semolina pasta, not grains, a solid base that can be pepped up with all kinds of exotic flavors. Israeli and Moroccan couscous are not exactly alike.

I love the scene in the movie, Pineapple Express, when one character exclaims, “Couscous, the food so nice, they named it twice.” Not sure which variety he was mentioning. Interestingly enough, the Israeli version of the semolina is larger in terms of the granule size, maybe as big as small pearls. It uses a toasting process rather than the drying technique preferred in Morocco. They both end up being cooked in boiling water.

Water is an important element in cooking any dish and we usually take it for granted. However, chemicals and impurities can taint its taste and affect the outcome of the couscous flavor. No one wants to eat toxins in any case. Israeli semolina pasta is known for its nutty flavor and more chewy texture. Why not get the most of it by using filtered water from one of these machines. Yes, you heard me. It doesn’t have to be bottled water from the fridge. You can install a simple system on the kitchen faucet. This is my first and most important tip.

The next is to add salt to the water to draw out the inherent taste. It is easy and fun to make Israeli couscous and it tastes so good with almost anything added. Some people like vegetable or chicken broth. I suggest trying each one and judging for yourself. Meanwhile, the couscous should be light and fluffy. If it is gummy, you cooked it for too long. You will have to start over.

You can add diced vegetables as you like, chunks of lamb or chicken, and nuts. Israeli couscous makes a great sweet with cinnamon and milk. I like to experiment and make it a different way all the time.

What Eating Kosher Really Means

One of the most misunderstood of Israeli food and the Israeli culture is what exactly kosher means. When it comes to food, whatever is eaten must be approved by specific Jewish laws and regulation, set forth by the laws of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). As with the Passover, eating kosher is a very important part of the religious culture of the nation and people of Israel.

There are kosher meats, which are from animals that meet two specific requirements: they must chew the cud and have cloven hooves. You may not think of your favorite hamburger place as meeting kosher food requirements, but the hamburger is a kosher food because it comes from a cow. The most commonly known and eaten types of kosher food animals are cows, sheep, lambs, goats, and veal.

But that is not all. The animal must be killed in a very specific way to be kosher (so there goes the kosher Wendy’s burger). For those of you who believe animals should suffer no pain when being slaughtered for food, the Jewish kosher laws agree with you! So everything that is truly kosher meat guarantees that the animal did not suffer in order to give you a tasty meal.

There is also a certain way the meat must be prepared before actually eating it, but the details are a bit too graphic for this blog. What is worth noting is that you can have a sit down with a kosher hamburger but be in violation of Jewish eating laws if you drink anything that is related to milk with the meat. That is because it is forbidden for kosher meat and milk of any kind to be eaten together, or even served at the same table. Again, this goes back to the laws of the Torah.

All fish that have fins and scales can be eaten. But kosher does not allow shellfish such as crabs and lobsters to be eaten. The kosher requirements extend even to fruits and vegetables. There are certain fruits that if contaminated by insects that have many legs or short legs cannot be eaten. There are inspectors that are qualified to determine whether a fruit can be eaten if the insects are removed. If you wonder why companies and farmers use insecticides, it is because they are being kosher in the treatment of their food.

That leads us to the question of those famous kosher wines. The first thing you need to understand about kosher wine is that the grapes it has come from are not the result of any mixing of different grapes or a hybrid type of grape. It is prohibited for grapes that are used for wine to be cross-breed with other plant variations of grapes. This also applies to any type of drink where grapes are used. So grape juice that is kosher will be prepared according to the rules of kosher vineyard care.

If all this sounds like a lot of rules and regulations, and a lot of work, you are not alone. But when you think about it eating kosher has a number of health and dietary advantages. Obviously kosher foods are likely to be more expensive, but you eliminate the possibility of having to ingest unwanted chemicals, additives, or other harmful substances that while well-intentioned (preservatives) may harm your health more over time. The simplest way to avoid any type of food contamination illness is to eat kosher.

This was one of my longer blogs, but it is important to understand that many of the Israeli dishes I love are also foods that are fully kosher! Maybe that is why they always taste so good (even though I will have a non-kosher hamburger with a chocolate milk shake on a hot summer day). If you want to eat healthy and still keep meat in your diet, you can have the both of best world by choosing only kosher foods.

In my next blog we will talk about Israeli foods that are strictly for those of your who want to go 100 percent vegan.

Anything is Good on Warm Laffa

Laffa is one of those foods that Jewish people seem to appreciate more than most other people. One reason is the annual celebration of the Passover has the people going for weeks without leavened bread. The Passover is considered to be the most important religious holiday of the Jewish faith. Being able to have laffa, which is similar to pita bread, but is thicker and chewier, is welcomed on the first day following the Passover. There is nothing like fresh bread coming out of the oven with the smell of yeast permeating the air.

In preparing laffa, it is one of the most versatile and easiest foods to cook. It can be cooked in a normal frying pan, a wok, or on a griddle. What is even easier is making the dough! Many people do not realize that making laffa is easy; all you may want to do is change the amount of flour you use to make the result as chewy and thick as you would like. If there is any left over after you are done enjoying it you can wrap it up and put it in the freezer. It is just as good the day after.

Because laffa is a very versatile type of bread, you can do amazing things with it. It is especially good right after it comes out of the pan. You can use it as a wrap or as the basis for a more traditional sandwich depending on what you are comfortable with. More traditional Israeli combinations include falafel, chicken breast, ground beef or lamb, and salmon.

Try the Vegetarian Dish!

Since we already know about kosher if you read my last blog, we can focus on those of you who prefer to eat strictly vegetarian. As you can tell from some of my earlier blogs, I like to eat and healthy concerns are not a major priority for me. But out of respect to those who love to eat and eat healthy, I have prepared this blog especially for you.

I could go down the list of strictly Israeli-vegan foods I like such as cabbage strudel, soups full of veggies, or pomegranate topped cheesecake and sour cream apple coffee cake for dessert. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought you might want a few recipes I came across.

First, I once knew someone who absolutely hated green bean salad. His wife (and mother-in-law) had tried for year to get him to at least try it. Then he was invited over to dinner by a woman from the church (he thinks it was a conspiracy) and out of politeness (guilt?) he tried her green bean main course. He was surprised he actually loved it! So in dedication to this conspiracy and nutritional vegan breakthrough moment, here are the ingredients to that dish. Maybe you can use it on another unsuspecting soul!

1 – 1 1/4 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and dried

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

a pinch (about 1/16 teaspoon) black pepper

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

3/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Before I move on to the second recipe, I want you to know that there are people who actually love lentil soup. There was a client who went to a restaurant to have a business lunch for the normal business meeting. The consultant ordered lentil soup because, as I found out later, the alternatives were less appetizing. The client told the consultant that while he had known other people to order the lentil soup, very few people actually liked it. Strange things can happen in the world of vegans!

As for the second recipe, this one is a dessert and has a lot of flexibility that goes with its preparation. One thing I know from experience is that many people who try recipes without knowing the person who actually makes them ends up getting frustrated because following the directions didn’t work for them. There always seems to be one thing that is forgotten or is missing, which as we all know can lead to disaster.

Caramel ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a little extra to grease the pan

1 cup white sugar

1 cup dark brown sugar

water (¼ cup or less depending on weather, altitude, etc.)

pinch of kosher salt

Batter ingredients:

1/4 cup chestnut flour

OR

1/2 cup coconut flour

OR

1/2 cup flax meal

OR

½ cup almond flour

OR 3 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt (OK, not quite a full teaspoon)

½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 cup sugar

¼ teaspoon fresh lemon zest (orange is ok)

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ cup brown sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil)

1 almost-over-ripe banana

⅓ cup orange juice (the fresher the better)

½ cup water

OK, so you are wondering where the directions are for these recipes? The truth is, I didn’t have the time to finish this blog, so I will put them up online in the next blog. I know it’s a tease, but I want you to come back!

See you next time with a full scoop!

The Secret to Great Kebabs

I want to start off by saying that there is often a misperception that there is only one type of kebab, and that is the famous shish kebab. (In Turkey it is spelled sis kebab.) The basic ingredients of a kebab are much like what people will put on a plate – meat or fish, potatoes, and vegetables. One difference is a kebab should be grilled to be a true kebab. The second is a kebab is both about the taste and the appearance. You line up the ingredients on a skewer (which originally was a sword) and then cook them over an open flame (a.k.a. a barbeque). Though this preparation and method often is credited to the Turks, it actually has its culinary roots in Greece.

Now actually there are two main types, the shish and the doner. You don’t hear much about the doner, but the major difference is that it is cooked vertically rather than being placed on a grill. If you have ever seen gyros prepared you have a very good idea of what doner kebab is like. In either type, cooking over an open flame is essential.

For those who never had the pleasure of eating a kebab, you don’t know what you are missing. The thing is, you can mix and match so many varieties of foods that it is impossible not to find a combination that will please your palette. But when you want to take taste to the next level you need to find exactly the right types of meat and vegetables, and create a secret mix of herbs and spices to saturate and glaze your meat and veggie combo. Many of the best kebab combos have been handed down from one generation to another. When you think about the many journeys Israelis have experienced during their heritage, it is amazing how any more than two generational recipes have survived.

Those who have held on to these culinary treasures say that the most important part of a great kebab in the keeping to the exact order and process of the preparation. Anyone can throw some ingredients together, but it is the careful planning and timing of adding and mixing each ingredient that makes a recipe stand out above all the others. Creating a flavor that is slightly greasy, with the right amount of rich spices is something I prefer. After cooking I prefer the final result to be a bit on the crispy side, but I can appreciate a kebab that is also softer but well-done on the inside.

If you are interested in making kebabs on your own, my advice is to not be afraid to experiment. Start with the kind of outside texture you want, then focus on the ingredients and work to mix them in a process that will give you the flavor you want while maintaining the outer texture. What is most important, if the greatest kebab chefs are worth listening to, is make sure you write down every detail of the process. You may even want to note where you purchased your ingredients.

So that’s the basics of kebabs and how you can get started making your own. But if you are not a grillmeister, don’t worry. There are plenty of places where you can get kebabs prepared for you – exactly the way you like them.