Sunday, September 11, 2011

Are you up to the challenge? $5 says you are

Slow down. You move to fast. And you spend too much money; on food, that is.

Slow Food USA is making a big impact this month trying to convince Americans that delicious and nutritious meals -- not to mention ones that are simple to prepare and make creative use of pantry staples -- can be put on the tables for $5 or less. Talk about a happy meal.

Think it can be't be done? There are a lot of major media outlets and food bloggers who would beg to disagree. Time magazine launched its health-minded coverage on Sept. 9, though some commenters grumbled that canned chickpeas really aren't a "slow food" while others described the suggested sandwich recipe as appealing as "cardboard."

Cooks have been more supportive on Food52, the online food community run by the New York Times' Amanda Hesser and her culinary partner, Merrill Stubbs. Its recent post features popular recipes submitted by some of its most popular bloggers, who share recipes and tips on every imaginable food topic. It even features Foodpickle, which offers timely assistance from knowledgeable cooks decicated to getting like-minded (but not necessarily experienced) home cooks out of a, well, pickle.

I found the recipe I wanted to try there. Temptingly titled "World's Easiest Falafel and Tzatiki," it includes just one tricky step. The technique is called Pre-Planning, a challenge for even those who enjoy daily cooking. The requisite dried gazbanzo beans require an overnight (or at least eight hour) soak to plump with absorbed liquid.

Since part of the goal is to keep costs down and use what's on hand, I made a few minor tweaks to the recipe. I substituted fragrant Middle Eastern za'atar seasoning for the cumin and parsley for the cilantro, and added a few tablespoons of bean water to puree the mix to a smooth paste. I also added some extra cucumber and tomato, which I served in thin, sandwich friendly slices.

Graham was initially excited about lunch because the cooking method is reminiscent of making latkes. He gamely tried one but soon remembered that he simply does not like falafel. Fine with me; there's enough left over for Tim and I to enjoy leftovers for work lunches.

Whether you make this or something else, consider taking the Slow Food USA challenge and make a delicious home-cooked meal on Sept. 17. For just $5, what have you got to lose?

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