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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

The Adventures of Falafel Phil: A Garbanzo Bean Sensitivity, Gougères, and Gnudi #CooktheBooks

For our December 2023-January 2024 Cook the Books selection, Debra of Eliot's Eats picked Undercooked: How I Let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That's a Dumb Way to Live by Dan Ahdoot . Read her announcement post.



Dan Ahdoot is a stand-up comic, writer, and ardent foodie. And, before Debra picked this book for us, I had never heard of him. But now that I know...I am listening to his podcast - Green Eggs and Dan. Ahdoot is a hoot! And though I reference his first role on the Disney Channel in my post title, I am not sure I will ever watch his stint as Falafel Phil in Kickin It. Falafel Phil seems to perpetuate gross stereotypes of Arabs. Yeah. No.


But I devoured Undercooked in, pretty much, one sitting. I started it when I went to bed; then I woke up and finished it. And I talked about it all through breakfast. This memoir was hilarious, self-deprecating, and wonderfully written. I loved this book and I laughed out loud more than a few times.


There were some standout moments, but I just urge you to read this for yourself. It's so entertaining.


Here's to set the stage... "I LIKE FOOD. A LOT. It’s an obsession. And I’m not just talking about how eating a good meal makes me happy. Which, don’t get me wrong, it does. A good meal gives me more happiness than almost anything else in life, including sex, money, and sex. Food has had an outsize impact on my life―far more than it should in some cases. When you peel back all the layers of the Vidalia onion that is my life, many of the biggest moments reveal some sort of relationship to food. Food has made me a better brother and a worse son; it has given me the best of friends and the worst of enemies. It’s made me stay in bad relationships longer than I should have, and it’s made me exit great relationships because of dietary restrictions. Food has taken me all over the world and helped make my dining room a destination. It has turned me into a gun owner, an animal rights activist, an arsonist... and a restaurateur."


Then he shares details in delightful vignettes - how he broke up with (possibly) the love of his life because she has celiac disease and, despite months of therapy and other coping mechanisms, he just couldn't get beyond all of her food limitations. Once she asked the bartender to confirm that there was no gluten in the oysters; the bartender answered her rudely and Ahdoot chimed in, "'Was that necessary?' I scolded. 'Gluten in the fucking oysters?'"


How he was an inadvertent arsonist on a elk hunt in New Mexico. How he and his then-fiancée ended up at Osteria Francescana the evening that Chef Massimo Bottura earned his third Michelin star and sent the Risotto Levant back for being undercooked. And how he reconciled, culinary-wise, as a forty-year-old man living with his parents during the pandemic.


A Garbanzo Bean Sensitivity

In addition to not wanting to watch Kickin It, for its racist portrayals that haven't aged well, we also don't eat falafel in our house. Well, I do eat falafel out, but I don't make it at home because my younger son developed a sensitivity to garbanzo beans when he was nine-years-old. Did you even know that was a possibility? I didn't. Flashforward a decade, his sensitivity is worse.


I had purchased fresh garbanzo beans (the photograph at the top), did a quick sauté with olive oil and salt, and served them as a side dish. On the same day, we had chana masala (garbanzo bean curry) for lunch and hummus as an appetizer before dinner. That evening, D broke out him hives from head to toe and had terrible stomach cramps. I have a similar reaction to fava beans, so I guessed what it might have been. But my falafel and hummus-loving kid was distraught. I have tried to make falafel with white beans and hummus with every other bean imaginable. He always deems them, 'okay, but not that great'. On occasion I have seen him throw caution to the wind and just eat the hummus, knowing that he'll have to deal with an unhappy tummy.


Gougères

Dan spent weeks perfecting a gluten-free Gougères for Katie's birthday morning before they split. Then later, during a date at Chez Georges with Carole, the Gougères launched him into a melancholy mood and, essentially, curtails what might have been a distracting rebound romance.

"The gougères were perfect little savory cream puffs oozing with cheese instead of cream. Warm pillows of melted gooeyness that enveloped your mouth in a textural and sensual dance of dairy and yeastiness."


After the meal, Carole announces that she is leaving...on his last night in Paris because 'Tu n'as toujours pas tourner la page.' He hadn't turned the page on his failed engagement. He and Carole remain friends and she jokes, "We had fun, but you were fucked up. ...That was the craziest week of eating and drinking in my life. Don't come back; I'm still full'."



Ingredients makes approximately 30

  • 12 Tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1-1/2 cups water

  • 2 cups flour

  • 9 eggs

  • 1-1/2 cups grated cheese plus more for sprinkling on top


Procedure

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.


Bring butter and water to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove pan from heat and add flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a thick dough and pulls away from sides of pan, approximately 3 minutes. Return pan to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until dough is lightly dried, about 2 minutes more.



Transfer dough to a bowl, and let cool for 5 minutes; using a wooden spoon, beat in 9 eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next. After the 8th egg addition, fold in the grated cheese. Add in the final egg and beat until the dough comes together; it will be thick, shiny, and smooth.


Scoop the dough onto a baking sheet. You can use two spoons or, as I did when I was in a rush for this second batch, I used a scoop. Place the balls at least 1-inch apart. Sprinkle more grated cheese over the top.


Place baking sheets in the oven. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until puffed and light brown, approximately 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit , and continue to bake until well browned, approximately 15 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.


Gnudi

I was also inspired into the kitchen to make gnudi, ricotta dumplings. I have always called these malfatti. But they are essentially the same thing: the delicious innards of ravioli without having to make the pasta dough!



"gnudi—an ethereal dish that is somehow both light and heavy at the same time. Ricotta dumplings bathing in a brown butter sauce with crispy sage."

Okay, I didn't serve them with a brown butter sauce. I wanted to take advantage of my mushroom-averse child being out of the house. I made a ragù with lamb and mushrooms. Lots of mushrooms.



Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta

  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

  • 1 large egg

  • salt and pepper

  • 1 Tablespoons fresh herbs (I used thyme and oregano) plus more for garnish

  • 1 cup flour plus more as needed

  • Also needed: whatever sauce you want to accompany your gnudi I made a ragù with lamb and mushrooms, olive oil


Procedure


Place all of the ingredients - up to the flour - in a large mixing bowl. Place the flour in a shallow bowl.


Mix the gnudi ingredients together until smooth. Using a scoop, form the filling into dumplings. Roll them in flour and place them on a plate. Refrigerate while the cooking water comes to a boil.



Once the water comes to a boil, drop the gnudi into the water. Boil until the gnudi float and are firm to the touch, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon to carefully transfer the cooked gnudi on top of your chosen sauce. Serve hot.


And that is not all. I will definitely be circling back to Ahdoot's book and into the kitchen to make heart with chimichurri. Okay, his was elk heart from an animal he had just killed; mine will be beef heart from the freezer section of Whole Foods. And I can't wait to replicate this - "Dessert was a magical saffron panna cotta that coated and comforted my tongue like a dairy cashmere sweater, leaving wisps of the Orient in its wake." Plus there is all the Persian food his grandmother, Mumun Helen, made. My stomach actually grumbled as he described her cooking.


I am not sure that I will make "fried baby shrimp in their shells, dusted with raspberry powder. The dish was creative and bold, with the look and consistency of raspberry Cap’n Crunch. You’d pop them in whole and they’d crunch loudly, filling your mouth with flavors that would never meet in nature. Shrimpy raspberry Pop Rocks. Mind blown." I love his description, but that might be too much even for me. I am not a fan of Pop Rocks.


So, that's a wrap for my #CooktheBooks post. But I will be making more dishes inspired by Undercooked in the future. I am also adding this to the December #FoodieReads link-up.

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