24 January, 2008

The Okara Chronicles

The heroine fought her way out of her futon on the tatami, shuffling through the frosty cold to her unheated Japanese kitchen, where she warmed her hands by putting on the kettle for hot water to wash out the big soup pot, stored up on the highest wooden shelf. Next she rinsed out the small hemp cloth that she had found and carried with her across the world for its use in straining potions, liquids and juices for her daily sustenance.

She stood in her extra thick socks and indoor shoes on the darkened plank floor while she swirled and minced the soy beans she had soaked overnight in hand-filtered water until they glowed with a pale golden light. Pouring the ground beans and water into the big pot, she stirred them and waited for the paint smell of the raw beans to mellow. The top was foamy and frothy as the seafoam she remembered from her days of beach combing. As she worked she brewed some hot coffee and topped it with the cooked foam as she skimmed it off the soy milk. Finally the cooking and stirring was done and she stretched her hemp cloth over a small bucket and fixed it in place with four clothes pins. Raising the pot she poured the mixture through the cloth and then removed the pins and squeezed the milk out.

When she opened the cloth she saw the cooked bean husks, called okara. It was this that she had been especially wanting because it could be mixed with a few spices and herbs to make delicious felafel, enough for dinner and the next day's lunch besides, and a treat to warm the body and bones in the midst of a cold winter.

Preparing a noon meal of brown rice, cooked vegetables and the felafel with a lemony sesame sauce, our heroine sat down to a well-earned meal, all the more satisfying for having made most of it herself from the top to the tip, bean to bowl, pan to table.

"Enough", she said, rubbing her now warm hands, and thinking once again of her grandmother's kitchen. "It is enough." And it was.

{{\ *_/}}............/

Yesterday I made my second batch of soy milk, okara, and felafel with what I think are some nice improvements on the taste and texture that I wanted to tell you about before you try it, as I know you are dying to do.

Here's what I found. The felafel take too long to cook unless you deep fry them, as I didn't want to do, both to try to save on the oil and calories. After all, it's cold and it's winter, and all animals adapt to the cold with a bit of extra fat. No exceptions here.

When the felafel aren't cooked through they taste pasty in the middle and the texture is not good. I also found the recipe a little bland. I added a bit more garlic (2-3 cloves) and salt (1 tsp) and think that even more flavour would be none too much for these. I also did some research and found that traditional felafel is eaten all over the middle east and that there are a few variations. They either contain fava beans or they don't. They usually contain chickpeas. They are often eaten inside pita bread with a sauce made from sesame butter and lemon, and are usually garnished with tomatoes, cucumber or lettuce, or other vegetables and sometimes even sauerkraut.

I made a simple sesame sauce with equal parts of tahini (1/4 cup), which I had poured almost all the oil off, and fresh lemon juice (half a juicy lemon), a few spoons of yoghurt, a bit of chopped parsley and a clove of garlic mashed into a paste with salt. The sauce improved the felafel a lot. It was delicious, a bit like a fluffy sesame and garlic aioli. For the vegans and milk-allergic, which I am but sometimes I can have a little, I'm sure that soy yoghurt or even soy milk could be substituted for the milk. I found chopsticks the perfect instrument to whip up this sauce, especially since I made it with the last of the tahini right in the jar.

To make a better texture, I flattened the balls before frying into small thin patties. This allowed the felafel patties to cook through in a short time (about 2 minutes), and made it possible to cook them in less oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the frying pan. I also placed the finished patties on paper to drain as they came out of the pan.

Though I ate them with brown rice, I can see them being delicious with a gluten-free pita, or perhaps inside a toasted soft tortilla, with the sauce and whatever fresh veggies are available now. Or maybe some sauerkraut. I"ll be sure to try that when I make my next batch.

I'm hoping that I will be joined in this adventure to perfect the okara felafel by some other intrepid food bloggers. Or that some of you may develop other tasty okara recipes. If you do, I'd sure appreciate you leaving a link here. Maybe we can really turn this into a chronicle as we bravely set out to feed ourselves and our families. May the force be with us, and for good measure, Roooooarrrr!


Allison Currie said...

Hi there!

I'm also experimenting with Okara from the same recipe for my own blog, though I haven't perfected it.

So far, I've found that with the high level of moisture in the okara, its prime for baking. I tried this already with larger patties, and I've decided small is the key, as they started to come apart in flipping.

I took a hint from a normal chickpea based recipe that Weight Watchers had, where first you heat up a skillet with about 2 tsp of oil, and then fry the small patties 2 minutes on each side so you get the crispy browning. Then place it, skillet and all, into a 400*F oven for about 10 minutes or so. It worked well with my patties being thinner, shaped like hamburger patties, but they needed to be smaller. The problem was in the flip-ability. :)

With this method, when I originally made them as large patties, each of the 8 total patties were 1 point each, so it makes a very light falafel.

Good luck, am reading you! :)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
I found your blog through pohanginapete. I am relatively new to the blogging scene but I have loved finding and discovering new ways to improve my life. My wife and I have undertaken recently trying to eat healthier and better food, as well as enjoying the whole process of cooking. Your recipes all look wonderful and I will be giving them my best efforts. Have a great day.
Ka kite,

vegetablej said...

Hi Allison:

I just left a long answer on your blog. Thanks for your comments and suggestions, which I'm going to try.

I made the patties by forming balls the size of large walnuts (in the shell) and then flattening them pretty thin. Maybe they were a few inches across, probably about 3-4. At that size I had no trouble with them falling apart. I also used gluten-free flour, this time a half and half mix of brown rice and white rice flours with 2 Tb of Tapioca flour substituting for 2 Tb of the white. Not sure if that made them stick together better or not.

Since you're the first to join the recipe challenge I'm dubbing you "Ichiban Challenger ( NO. 1, all the way!)


vegetablej said...

Hi Robb:

Welcome! Any friend of Pete's...

You know, I've seen your comments often on Pete's blog, but today after reading your comment here I rushed right over to your blog to take a look. Glad I did! The pictures of the countryside 'round there are spectacular. You look like you have found a wonderful spot for walking/being.

Please keep blogging; I'm looking forward to reading more now that I've found your site.

And please(I know I'm begging) if you try any recipes, give me your comments. I'm open to any feedback, even if it's a three spoons down.

Can't improve without a little help from our friends, eh?

Autumn Moon said...

Thanks for your great blog, for shedding light on life in Japan and for your excellent recipies

Martin J Frid said...

Whenever I make falafel from chickpeas, after soaking the key is to dry them well, before grinding them. If they are too wet, the falafel will fall apart. That never fails!

If you can let the soaked chickpeas dry in the sun for a couple of hours, then you will get a better result.

Your sauce sounds much yummier than mine, though!

vegetablej said...

autumn moon:

Thanks for your nice comment and you're most welcome. Let me know if your try any of the recipes. I'm canvassing for feedback. :)

vegetablej said...


Always happy to have your comments and in this case very happy to get some input on the felafel. I haven't tried the chickpea version yet, but sounds like I might have to, and I'll remember your tips.

Try the sauce. It's so easy and good, though I adapted it from a classic recipe, so can't take the credit. Let me know if you like it or if you have any tweaks. :)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora VegetableJ,
Tonite I made your recipe for the Bollywood curry, spinach with onions and broccoli, and rice. My two sons, 14 and 5 chowed it down, and so did I. I thought my older son might kick up a fuss about no meat but he hardly noticed, and it was a great way to get some other veges into my little one. It was quick and easy to follow and lovely. I am thinking about giving it a go on my next trip in the mountains. I think it would taste even better after a long day on the go. I am also passing your blog along to my mother in law who is gluten intolerant and would love to spice things up a bit. Thanks so much, and looking forward to trying some more recipes. Have a great day.
Ka kite,

vegetablej said...

Hi Robb:

Your comment made my day! When I was a young Mom cooking for a family I always tried hard to make healthy food that my kids liked. The idea of you feeding your family and them liking it reminds me of that, and that alone makes this year of posting recipes worthwhile!

The idea of your children not noticing the lack of meat is just great. I think that Indian food is so yummy because a lot of it was developed to be vegetarian and they have long years of practice.

Hope your mother finds something she likes too. You can tell her there are some sourdough bread recipes that are pretty good in the recipes section.

Thanks so much for letting me know and keep cooking!:) :) :)