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Carb Solutions: A Healthier Falafel

Image of Immunity Boosting Celeriac Falafel
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
  • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Five pieces of traditionally prepared, deep-fried falafel contain about 540 calories and 26 grams of fat! A ‘net search on the healthiness of this traditional Middle Eastern hand food produced several counter defenses stating that the high protein and fiber content of these delicious little morsels offset these dietary negatives. I fail to see the logic of consuming fat for protein or fiber! Instead, a few simple ingredient switches and simply changing the method of cooking will make for a much healthier falafel that is low in carbs and calories, though as tasty as the original. Plus, including Melissa’s Ginger & Turmeric Immunity Boosting Pack in those upgraded ingredients adds a bonus in health benefits.

Falafel is eaten throughout the Middle East as a popular street food. It is usually made with fava beans in Egypt, where it most likely originated, or with chickpeas in Iraq – both are combined with fresh herbs and spices, then deep-fried. In North America, before the 1970s, falafel was found only in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Jewish neighborhoods and the restaurants that supported these neighborhoods. Today, the dish is readily available in many cities throughout North America, and it is also popular with vegetarians.

While chickpeas are also low in carbs, celeriac pairs much better with the rest of the changes in seasonings from a traditional recipe, especially the turmeric and ginger components. The lemon, parsley and garlic are standard falafel ingredients and key to maintaining the essence of the original’s flavor. The big nutritional improvement in this recipe is incorporating turmeric and ginger in the mix from Melissa’s convenient Immunity Booster Pack. Although turmeric is a spice with 4,000-year-old roots in India, and ginger is a thousand years older from the same region, South Asia is close enough to what is considered the Middle East when constructing a healthy and tasty falafel! Besides, fresh turmeric, with its unique taste and dazzling color, is a favorite ingredient that I use at every opportunity – this is one of them!

For centuries ginger has been used to help alleviate all sorts of nausea, from motion sickness to morning sickness during pregnancy and, more recently, nausea following chemotherapy. Ginger is thought by many to be one of nature’s greatest antidotes for general digestive distress by increasing saliva and other digestive fluids that help to alleviate indigestion. The health benefits of turmeric would take a second blog to list comprehensively. Briefly, the spice helps relieve indigestion and heartburn, controls blood sugar spikes, and is an anti-inflammatory used for Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and eye infections. Raw turmeric is one of the oldest ways to cure a variety of skin ailments; more recently, it is also known to aid skin problems caused due to air pollution! One cautionary note when using turmeric – it will stain anything and everything. Wear an apron, lay wax paper over a cutting board to protect it when grating, and use a glass mixing bowl as the spice will stain Tupperware and some ceramics.

The other major nutritional upgrade in this recipe over the traditional is a simple one – baked, NOT deep-fried. Oil is saturated fat and is, therefore, high in calories. The addition of oil in deep-frying adds almost 150 calories to each falafel! Heating oil at high temperatures and deep frying it with starchy foods can lead to the oxidation of oils. Oxidized oils can cause many possible health problems, including damage to the heart, kidneys and lungs. Oxidized oils can also increase the risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Baking, with a brush of olive oil on each falafel makes a lot more nutritional sense.

Coconut cream? This was a new one for me too, but very easy to make and the process of making it yields a bonus ingredient that one can enjoy long after devouring that plate of falafels. Chill a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight; this will make the milk fat separate and solidify on top. Use a spoon to skim the solidified coconut cream from the top of the can and put it in a small mixing bowl; whisk in a circular motion until it develops a cream-like consistency; that's it! Tip: Pour the leftover coconut water from the can evenly into an ice tray and freeze. Add coconut ice cubes to smoothies or even soups for a hint of sweetness. Happy healthy falafels!

Immunity Boosting Celeriac Falafel
Yield: approx. a baker’s dozen
Image of Ingredients
1-quart water
½ Melissa’s Lemon Juice bulb, 2 oz.
1 teaspoon salt
4-ounces almond flour, divided
1½-pounds celeriac, peeled and quartered
1 handful Italian parsley, roughly chopped
3-ounces Feta cheese (block), cut into small cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh turmeric, finely grated
3-ounces sesame seeds
Olive oil, for baking
½ cup coconut cream, for serving
1 lime, quartered, for serving

Image of Celeriac
Bring the water, contents of the lemon bulb, salt and half the flour to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the celeriac, turn the flame to low and simmer for 25 minutes, or until tender. Drain and cool, then grate the celeriac into a mixing bowl.
Image of blending ingredients in food processor
To the grated celeriac, blend in the remaining flour, parsley, cheese, egg, garlic, ginger and turmeric and mix until thoroughly combined.
Image of forming Falafel
Roll into balls and dust with sesame seeds. Place on a tray lined with baking paper and chill for 30 minutes.
Image of cooked falafel
Baste each ball with olive oil, Bake @ 350° for 35-40 minutes, flipping them over halfway through the process, also basting again. Serve with a side of coconut cream, lime wedges (and a chilled pale ale).
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