Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Baked Falafel and Soy Protein Isolate?

Falafel is a staple food at our house. I always have them in the freezer to toss on our salad for a fast bean component to a meal. It wasn’t until I had a friend from the Middle East that I learned that falafel are traditionally made with uncooked beans. I still remember when I heard this thinking the idea was nuts to use only soaked beans but it works and results in a lovely light textured falafel. My friend is a bit of a falafel snob so I have picked up a few pointers just by going to dinner with him often. According to him falafel should have a green tint or they aren’t authentic. You can use all cilantro or a combination of cilantro, parsley and mint. I love cilantro so I use it exclusively.

Some of the other things I have added to the falafel are not traditional. Specifically I am referring to the raw sesame seeds, lemon zest and hot crushed peppers (wet hots). These are how I make the falafel my own. Here is what I did:

Baked Falafel
Makes 36 balls that are approximately 2 small bites each


1 cup garbanzo beans, soaked at least 24 hours
1 cup mini fava beans, soaked at least 24 hours (or substitute garbanzo beans)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ large yellow onion, peeled (about ½ cup)
1 lemon, zested and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup raw sesame seeds
1 - 2 cups fresh cilantro (depending on how much you like cilantro) the “dough” should be green
2 teaspoons coriander, ground
2 teaspoons cumin, ground
1 tablespoons hot crushed peppers (wet hots) – optional but adds nice flavor
1 teaspoon baking soda
black pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (convection) and line a half sheet pan with silpat or parchment paper. If you don’t have a parchment or silpat you can lightly mist the sheet pan with oil to make certain the falafel don’t stick. I have not tried to bake them without lining the pan first or using oil however it may work fine like baking tofu, but I am not certain.

Drain the beans well and grind them thoroughly in your food processor. I have a 14 cup Cuisinart food processor which allowed me to grind all the beans at once but you may want to divide them into two batches if you are using a smaller machine. When the beans are thoroughly ground move them to a mixing bowl. Make certain the beans are completely ground. If you have any big pieces of bean in the mixture it will be unpleasant to eat.

Place the remaining ingredients (using the smaller amount of cilantro) except the baking soda and pepper, into you blender. Process until you have a smooth mixture. I had to use the plunger on my Vitamix to get the items to blender thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the beans and mix well. Taste the mixture for seasoning and add more pureed cilantro is desired. To the falafel mixture add the baking soda and mix very well. Next add black pepper, to taste. It is important to thoroughly mix the baking soda into the dish so you don’t end up with any particularly salty individual falafel.

Use a cookie disher (one that is 1 ½ tablespoon size) to form the balls. Form a round ball in your hands then flatten slightly so that they don’t roll on the sheet pan. Refrigerate the formed balls on the sheet tray until the oven comes to temperature. This will help the balls to stay together. In the past I have sprayed the balls with olive oil in a mister but I now omit that step and they are still brown and crispy. Go figure. ;-)

Bake the balls for 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow them to cool a few minutes so they are easier to flip then gently flip and bake until the bottom is lightly browned. The second baking takes less time maybe 10-15 minutes. You don’t want to overcook them or they can get dry.

If you are going to freeze them (like I do) place them on baking sheet in a single layer and freeze until solid. Then place them in a zipper bag of vacuum bag and freeze in your typical portion size (one serving, two servings, etc.).

Nutrition information per ball:

Amount Per Serving
Calories - 49.86
Calories From Fat (25%) - 12.53

Total Fat - 1.5g
Saturated Fat - 0.19g
Cholesterol - 0mg
Sodium - 38.56mg
Potassium - 123.13mg
Total Carbohydrates - 7.03g
Fiber - 2.43g
Sugar - 0.97g
Protein - 2.69g


I posted this recipe more for the method and general ingredients so that you can make the recipe your own. The flavor of this version is my favorite but I do vary it also. If you like a lighter flavor falafel you may want to eliminate the hot crushed peppers, reduce the onion and garlic and add a grated zucchini instead for moisture. Also you can add a little mint in place of some of the cilantro if you are a fan of mint. There are many ways to change this dish.

What’s the Matter with: Soy Protein Isolates?

I mentioned a few weeks ago that after talking to a few of my friends about the health concerns with specific foods I decided that I should work on a series of posts about some of these foods. I decided to start with soy protein isolates because these seem to show up on other blogs daily which I find very disturbing from a health perspective which is my primary focus when it comes to food.

What is Soy Protein Isolate?

I should start with what is soy protein isolate. Soy beans are mashed into slurry which is mixed with an alkaline solution to remove the fiber. The fiber is separated using an acid wash which is neutralized in an alkaline solution. Worse yet the acid washing typically happens in aluminum tanks leaching aluminum into the resulting “high protein” soy product. This was not easy to find and harder to confirm. Apparently no one wants to actually discuss the process of making soy protein isolate.  I wonder why! What does soy protein isolate become? It turns up in fast fast food hamburgers, veggie burgers, soy protein powder, textured vegetable protein, soy dairy substitutes, and it is also added to some brands of tofu.

The first thing I noticed when I was reading about how soy protein isolate is made is that it isn’t something that I can make at home. I am not a fan of processed food but this one sounded particularly bad to me. About a year ago I read in “Life Over Cancer” that TVP should be on the rarely consumed list. The doctor didn’t discuss any specifics but it made me wary of TVP. I did a little more research and discovered that soy protein isolates (found in TVP) increase IGF-1 (just like dairy). If you know anything about IGF-1 you know that it is not something you want to elevate since it is linked to an increase in the incidence of cancer.

What is IGF-1?

IGF-1 stands for insulin-like growth factor 1 and stimulates the growth of both normal cells and malignant ones (cancer). It is particularly dangerous for people with hormonally sensitive cancers but also promotes lung cancer, colon and pancreatic cancers. Exercise can reduce the levels of IGF-1 by lowering the production and increasing blood proteins that bind to it so it is less available to promote tumor growth. It has also been suggested that some carotenoids (those antioxidants found in red, yellow and orange vegetables) inhibit IGF-1. Increased levels of IGF-1 are associated consumption of meat, dairy, and soy protein isolates.

Where is Soy Protein Isolate in the food supply?

What are some typical foods that contain soy protein isolates? Generally anything vegan and processed is probably suspect. I have seen it listed in many veggie burgers and even in organic silken tofu. If you buy vegan dairy substitutes they contain not only soy protein isolates but frequently trans fat. This is another reason to avoid processed foods in my opinion.

I was going to list products which contain these items but decided that it would be best to avoid any unnecessary contact with lawyers. I have also seen soy protein isolated listed on labels as “soy protein”, “processed soy flour”, “textured vegetable protein” and even just “soy flour”. The problem is that soy flour or soy beans are used at the front end of the process so it I not always listed as soy protein isolate. My approach is to avoid any food that contains some form of soy and has been processed into an unnatural form. This avoid list includes the following commercial processed food: veggie burgers, vegan meat substitutes, vegan hot dogs, vegan dairy substitutes, TVP, tofu with soy protein isolates (including one popular organic brand). There are a few brands that don’t include soy protein isolates but they are the exception and still contain other nasty chemicals so I don’t buy those for other reasons.

What can you use in place of food with soy protein isolate?

I use beans or organic soy protein free tofu, and tempeh when I need an easy source of protein. Frozen edamame is something I also keep in the freezer to add to salads and soups. If I have more time I will make seitan sausages or seitan cutlets but those we eat more rarely because I prefer food that is less processed even when homemade. Most of the time I rely on beans for protein for a few reasons: beans a cheap even when they are organic, I can make a bunch and freeze them, beans have a mild flavor and can be seasoned in many different ways.


It is not difficult to avoid soy protein isolates but it does require you to cook. If you are consuming commercial processed food you are most likely ingesting soy protein isolates. Now that I have learned about them you couldn’t force me to eat anything that contains them. Additionally most ingredients that contain them are not organic which means you have gotten a nice dose of pesticides along with your food. *shivers*

I hope this helps some of you to understand the problems with soy protein isolates. I am not a nutritionist so I encourage you to do your own research. But I can assure you this product is not something that anyone or anything should eat. Yes I did check our cat food and it isn’t in there, but I would suggest your check your animal food too.

If new science comes out to suggest soy protein isolate isn’t as dangerous as I now think it is I will let you know. For now it is on my “do not consume” list and I expect it will stay there.

My Food Today:

Breakfast this morning was a simple salad of ½ head of shredded romaine, ½ heirloom tomato, ¼ cup cucumber, ½ cup of stove top baked beans, a tiny bit of cashew crème fraiche and dehydrated leeks. I added beans for protein and flavor they are serving as the “dressing” for the salad. The cashew crème fraiche was added to provide a little fat to help me absorb the fat soluble vitamins. Dehydrated leeks were included for crunch and there antiproliferative effects.

To accompany this salad I made myself a small bowl of peaches with a few blackberries and white chia seeds. I like to add blue foods to our diet whenever I can. I try to always eat the rainbow everyday because different antioxidant families are concentrated in similarly colored foods. The blue food group is the toughest for most of us to consume. In order to consume blue foods every day I try to keep the following on hand: frozen wild blueberries, frozen black raspberries, red cabbage and dried wild blueberries. By having those items available I can add blue foods to our oatmeal, smoothies, fruit salad, green salads or trail mix.

At the moment I have no idea what I am making for dinner. But I will try to come back tonight and let you know what I end up making.  I hope everyone is having a good Wednesday. Talk to you all later.


  1. in the recipe you say to add the baking soda to taste? an you tell me about that? are you using it instead of salt?

  2. Michelle,

    It should have read add the baking sode and ...... black pepper to taste. I was worried that wasn't clear. Thanks for letting me know I will try to reword it. ;-)


  3. Michelle,

    The baking soda is there to add a little lift/lightness to the falafel. It is traditional in the fried version so I never took it out. Sorry I missed the second part of your question. BTW I reworded the post, so I hope it makes more sense. ;-)

    thanks again,

  4. Thanks for this recipe. I've never made falafels from scratch, always just gotten the box mix that you just add water too. Lazy....

  5. Heather,

    That really surprises me. I would have thought for sure you had made them from scratch. They are very easy but do require planning since you need to soak the beans so long.

    I have never used the boxed version so I can't tell you how they compare from a flavor and texture perspective.


  6. I'm enjoying the direction of your blog. Great recipe, great information to think about and great pics of what you eat. This is exactly why I read vegan food blogs. It helps me on my vegan journey. Thank you!

  7. JL,

    Thanks I am glad you like what I wrote yesterday. This post may be the most "me" of any I have written recently. I am passionate about nutrition as you probably guessed from this post. It is probably more obvious now why all my friends and family want me to go back to school to get a Masters in Nutrition. ;-)

    I realize that most people don't want to think about the health consequences of what they eat but I wrote this for the few that do want to know. These are things that I find fascinating but weren't easy to find.

    If you ever have any questions about specific items please ask. I enjoy research. ;-)


  8. I've also read some information about the problems with soy protein isolate. I found it in the context of scaring people who think veggie burgers are healthy, though. I agree that it's best to limit processed foods, although I'm not nearly as good at that as you are.

    I love falafel and have seen people taking the falafel idea and making variations on it. I will have to try your recipe, I have never made it from whole ingredients yet. I also rarely make it at home because of the trouble of frying. Baking sounds like a great alternative.

  9. Hooray! I'm excited that you finally posted your falafel method. I am happy to know the authentic secret of working with uncooked beans. Since I am sans blender, I assume to substitute tahini for the sesame seeds, how much tahini do you think 1/2 cup sesame seeds translates to?

  10. Jessica,

    It is scary how many processed foods contain soy protein isolates not just veggie burgers. I was shocked to see it in organic silken tofu as well as vegan dairy substitutes.

    I think we all start out by eating processed foods thinking they are better for us than the original, at least that is what I thought. However the more I learn the more I realize that processed food is generally not healthy be it omni or vegan. *sigh* It is all very disturbing to me.

    Baking falafel works fine you need to try it. I think the addition of sesame seeds makes for better texture and may be why my falafel get so brown and crispy when baked. I hope you enjoy the recipe. :-)


  11. Sarah,

    I actually thought of you when I was writing this post because I knew you wanted to know how I make falafel. It is very simple as you can see. BTW I was surprised to find out they use soaked but uncooked beans but the texture is so much lighter this way. You will see what I mean when you try them.

    For the tahini I would say 6 1/2 or 7 tablespoons (a little less than 1/2 cup) because the seeds take up less room when ground into a paste.

    I hope you enjoy the falafel. :-)


  12. Those falafel look great...I've never baked them before...must try it.

  13. I made falafel last night myself, but it was nothing like yours. I also cheated and used canned beans. I can't wait to try your version out. Sounds great! I'll be doing my post a little later today. :o)

  14. Rose,

    I have been baking falafel for a while now and it works fine for me. They get crunchy and we find them very satisfying. I hope you enjoy them this way too. ;-)


  15. Michelle,

    The texture of falafel made with soaked but uncooked beans is lighter than using the cooked beans. The interior is less dense, if that makes sense. I used to make mine with cooked beans too and I prefer this version with soaked beans now. I hope you enjoy the method as much as I do. :-)


  16. I made your baked falafel recipe, and it turned out wonderfully! I am posting my results on my own blog tonight.

  17. Jessica,

    Yay! I am so happy it worked for you. Thank you so much for letting me know! :-)



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