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Healthy menu options

Falafel

Question:

I am working on healthy menu options. Can a baked falafel ever be good? Can it really be low-fat?

– Alexandra Zeitz, Culinary Student

Answer:

The way frying works, put simply, is that hot oil coats the entire surface of the food, every little cranny, and dries and browns it, with heat transferring to cook the interior of the food as well. That results in the crisp, brown fried food most people adore. What makes something like falafel so enchanting is that there are thousands of little ridges and dimples that all crisp thanks to their exposure to large amounts of oil.

As more restaurants strive to provide healthy options, yes it is possible to mimic—though not completely replicate—the deliciousness of fried food through baking (or more accurately, convection roasting).

With roasting as a substitute for frying, try to preserve the general principles:

  • You need fat. Either fatty food like bacon, which crisps perfectly well in the oven, or added fat like roasted vegetables liberally coated in oil.
  • Dehydrate quickly. When you drop something into the fryer, you see a familiar bubbling. That is the water evaporating from the surface of the food. To mimic this in the oven, you need relatively high heat. If the oven temperature is too low, you steam the food.
  • Circulation. Using a convection oven and allowing sufficient space surrounding the food will allow better heat penetration. Crowding the pan will steam again.
  • Heavy pan. Dark, heavy pans or oiled, preheated pans can allow some better browning. You’re essentially frying or sautéing one side of the food on the pan in the oven.

Of course keep in mind that by adding oil to baked (roasted) falafel to mimic frying, you may not be reducing the overall fat content much.

I tried a few versions and like this one, though I use a meat grinder rather than a food processor.

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