I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch lately, romantically-speaking (Okay, who am I kidding? It’s been more of an extended rough patchwork quilt.), so I tried be kind to myself this Valentine’s Day. I passed no judgment on the three brownies I ate over the course of the afternoon; I posted a photo in which I looked really good, along with a funny caption; and I tried to make myself a nice dinner. But as in life and love, cooking does not always go as I intend it to.
I was so excited when a dear friend sent me a delicious-looking falafel recipe a few weeks back. Crispy, light, flavorful; exactly what I wanted to fight the mid-winter doldrums and the Hallmark holiday-induced blues. This recipe appeared to be a match made in gastrointestinal heaven.
Despite my initial excitement, life got in the way and a couple of weeks passed before I could actually make the meal of my dreams. Over the course of those weeks, I pulled up the recipe from time to time, admiring the well-lit photos and re-reading the ingredient list with building anticipation for what this falafel could be. However, as is often the case with a chronically delayed date, the longer I waited, the less in love with the idea of this falafel I became. Yet, the little voice in the back of my head prodded me to give this recipe a chance, because, you never know, it might be The One.
Now, I’ve tried falafel recipes before, and I’ve been burned, both literally and figuratively. I’d get excited about the prospect of crisp, nutty goodness, but usually ended up with a mushy, oily, burnt, inedible mess. A lot of effort and emotional investment on my part with approximately zero reward. Still, I was willing to give it a chance, because maybe this time it’d be a recipe I could commit to.
This foray into falafel-making started off on the wrong foot. I had canned garbanzo beans, rather than the dried beans specified by the recipe and had the wrong oil for frying it in. Despite the fundamental shortcomings in temperament and character of my substitutions, I decided I was just having a little rom-com meet-cute and that it would be best to forge on. Classic let’s-force-this-square-peg-into-a-round-hole stuff that always works out well for all involved because, yes, we can change other people’s personalities and habits. And also make canned beans behave like dried beans.
I also messed up all of the spices, due to my own neglect. Fearing that I would end up alone and meal-less, I zealously overcorrected. Would my falafel mixture understand that my adding far too much coriander and salt was my way of showing that I just wanted things to work out? Would it get that smothering everything in cumin was just a clumsy attempt at affection?
That burst of attention seemed to do the trick for a little while, at least. I felt like I was really getting into the groove and things were beginning to click as I processed all the ingredients. But just as I was shaping perfect, golf ball-sized chickpea rounds, self-doubt struck. Was I really doing this? Is this what pre-cooked falafel is supposed to look like? After so many failures, would love finally work out for me? Do I really deserve such a tasty meal?
But, as with all my relationships, just when I thought it was going great, that’s when it all fell apart. I dropped the falafel balls into the hot oil simmering in the cast iron skillet, and rather than the jazzy sizzle I was hoping for, they made a rather half-hearted hiss. The oil was heating up, but my meal was losing steam.
I grew impatient and was fearful that if I wasn’t attentive enough, the falafel would burn. Overeager, I flipped them too early. What were once perfectly shaped patties now became amorphous, disintegrating piles of mush. I worked quickly to try to reshape them, leaning in to my tendency of believing that if I cling to something strongly enough, the outcome might change. (Pro tip from the perpetually single and hungry: This does not work.)
The situation became more hopeless by the minute. In a last ditch effort to save both my meal and my love life, I changed tactics and threw the whole mess into the oven. At this point, I was in a culinary free-fall; I have no idea how to care for these sad, little excuses for a Middle Eastern staple. They came out somehow both simultaneously over- and undercooked. The only option I had was to throw it all out.
Much like the end of every relationship, I ended up hungry and unfulfilled. All I had to show for my time and painstaking hard work was a smoky kitchen that stinks of burnt garlic and a sink full of dirty dishes. And much like the fallout from every relationship, I spent an excessive amount of time overanalyzing my actions, trying to pinpoint exactly where I went wrong and lamenting all of the ways I could have fixed everything. (Never mind all of the things that were out of my control, like the sloping floors in my apartment or the old oven with questionable temperature controls. I was the only one at fault here.) And though I was disappointed and frustrated, I knew I couldn’t stay this way for long; I’d starve to death.
So, I picked myself up off my kitchen floor, dusted off the crumbs, dried my tears, and threw the whole, crusty mess into the trash. I washed all my dishes and found a snack to curb some of my hunger. Yes, I was bummed, sad even, about the disastrous falafel incident. But, in time, this memory will fade. Before I know it, I’ll come across a new falafel recipe that will intrigue me. I’ll pull down my food processor and open up another can of chickpeas. Maybe, just maybe, next time it’ll be love.
[Editor’s Note: Classic Vegan Falafel recipe]