Restaurant meals were just not an option for us at all. And that included any kind of meal out for lunch at work. Our household of two at the time simply could not afford the hit to our bottom line of daily take-out or cafeteria meals.
Even for a single person that would have meant hundreds of dollars less every year that could go toward savings or long-term financial goals. And for the two of us, it would have amounted to a couple of thousand dollars a year. That’s tens of thousands over the course of a lifetime.
And let’s bear in mind that this is money spent on completely forgettable food.
So we brownbagged our lunches then, both for school and for work. And we continue to do so now, either by taking leftovers, or making ourselves sandwiches.
Our financial situation taught us early that there’s simply no reason that lunch should cost more than $1-$2 per person.
I’d be enjoying my lovely home-cooked lunch that cost way under $2, while they’d be holding a sandwich and drink that they’d just spent $10 on.
The only time I ever ate lunch out was when we celebrated a colleague’s birthday – and even then I’d order something from the appetizer menu or a simple side dish – or when I had errands to run during my break.
When that happened, I would sometimes stop and order falafel from one of the food carts near my office in midtown Manhattan. It was a delicious treat, and a reasonably priced one, too. In fact, it was a true bargain in those days, compared to what you’d have to pay at any deli or restaurant.
It was a wonderful, satisfying meal, and solid value for what you paid and got.
But falafel is actually extremely easy to make at home, too, and the ingredients can be mixed and put together in a food processor blender in about 10 minutes.
The only thing that takes any time at all is the overnight pre-soaking of the dry chick peas, but that’s just a bit of pre-planning, not actual labor.
Even the cooking takes only about 15-20 minutes total. Which is about the time it takes to make a nice salad, some yogurt tzatziki, and to cook a side of French fries in the oven.
So it’s a quick, easy meal.
It’s also a very economical meal, even with store-bought French fries and the yogurt topping.
In other words, this falafel meal hits all the buttons.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes approximately 15 1½-inch patties (4-6 servings)
Prep Time – about 10 minutes (after overnight soaking of chick peas)
Cook Time –approximately 20 minutes
Start to finish time – approximately 30 minutes
Total Recipe Cost – approximately $3.
Total per person meal cost with yogurt topping, salad, and French fries – Approximately $1.25
1.5 cups dried garbanzo beans (soak in 6-7 cups of water for 12-24 hours to make about 4 cups )
1 bunch parsley and/or 1 bunch cilantro – to make about 2 tablespoons, chopped
(or 1 tablespoon of dried parsley or cilantro)
1 medium onion
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 ½ teaspoons coriander powder
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
½-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4-6 tablespoons all purpose flour
About ½ cup of oil, for frying
Mixed greens and vegetable salad
Whole milk yogurt
Pita bread (optional)
French Fries (optional)
Recipe continues after photos.
- Cover the garbanzo beans with about 4-6 cups of water and leave them to soak overnight.
- When you’re ready to make the falafel, drain the garbanzo beans in a colander and put them in the blender or food processor bowl.
- Wash the parsley and/or cilantro by holding the bunch by the stems and immersing and swishing it in a bowl of water. Change the water and repeat the washing.
- Cut off the stems, and put a handful of the leaves in the blender or food processor bowl along with the chick peas.
- Cut the ends off the onion, peel it, and cut it into quarters if you’re using a food processor. For a blender, you might need to cut it into smaller pieces. Add the onions to the chick peas.
- If you’re using fresh lemon, wash it and roll it firmly on a hard surface. Cut it in half crosswise and squeeze 4 tablespoons if juice on a hand juicer and add it to the chick peas. Or if you are using jarred or reconstituted juice, measure it out and pour it into the chick peas.
- Add all the remaining ingredients, except the flour to the blender or food processor containing the chick peas (1 ½ teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1½ teaspoons coriander powder, 1½ teaspoons black pepper, ½-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon baking powder).
- Pulse the mixture until it breaks down to form a coarse, moist meal. You don’t want it to too smooth or paste-like.
- Transfer the falafel mixture to a bowl, and start by adding 1 tablespoon of flour. Stir to combine. Try to form patties (or balls) with the mixture. If the mixture doesn’t hold its shape, add another tablespoon of flour and stir to combine.
- When the patties are made, heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, place the patties in the pan. Do them in smaller batches so that they’re easier to turn.
- Let the falafel cook for 3-4 minutes per side or until nicely browned and a bit crispy.
- Remove the cooked falafel patties to a plate, and continue cooking the remaining patties until they’re all done.
- Serve the patties with a salad of mixed greens and cut-up vegetables, along with a topping of yogurt sauce garnish(tzatziki is a delicious option), and pita bread or French fries.