A few weeks ago I was out with some new acquaintances and the topic of food and diet came up. It turned out that each of us was making efforts to reduce our meat consumption in our own way. One of my new friends confessed he was running out of ideas for meat-free meals. He wanted to eat less meat, but he had been trained since childhood that there should always be some kind of animal protein at the center of the plate. Thus he found himself stumped about what to cook.
When eliminating (or reducing) animal products, the first step is often to reach for a ‘meat substitute.’ It’s easy to understand why. There are so many products on the market that closely emulate the proteins we’re accustomed to like chicken breast and ground beef. They also don’t require much thought to cook, often simply being substituted in a recipe for our more familiar protein of choice. (Or in the case of things like my beloved faux chicken nuggets, simply heated and slapped on a plate with your favorite condiments.)
Items like tofu, tempeh and sometimes even seitan may come to mind second. They require a little more planning and thought, but they tend to absorb flavor well and still provide in some sense a textural stand-in for meat.
Though I love soy and gluten-based options, I often turn to beans and legumes as the center of my veggie meals, and with good reason. It seems that everyone, regardless of income or economic status, has become more cost-conscious these days and beans and legumes definitely fit the bill. I love to stock up on dry beans in the bulk section of my grocery store and cook them off in my slow cooker when I have a little free time. Not only does this make beans extra cheap, it also means I can control flavor and nutritional content. I generally don’t add any salt to my beans which also makes it MUCH easier to control my sodium intake. It also allows me to play with seasonings more in the final dish. Best of all, cooked beans are easy to store. I freeze them flat in labeled Ziploc bags so I always have some on hand when I want to whip up a recipe like a bean-based burger or spread.
This week I turned some cooked chickpeas into Mexican-Spiced Chickpea Balls with Avocado Cream. These bite-sized nibbles are great as an appetizer or at the center of a meal. Thanks to fresh cilantro, chiles in adobo, and dried cumin they are quite flavorful on their own. However, they really shine with the Avocado Cream. This luscious sauce is extra smooth and rich, the perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty, and fatty. It’s definitely on the dense side in terms of calories and fat, but the good news is a little goes a long way. That is, if you’re able to exercise moderation when eating it. I’ll admit that the Avocado Cream and I are having a bit of a love affair so it’s hard not want to dunk everything in sight into it. It’s also infinitely customizable. You could easily swap the sour cream for Greek yogurt or even fold in some whipped cream to make it extra indulgent. I could also imagine it being fantastic as the base for lobster, crab, shrimp, or chicken salad instead of plain mayo, especially with some extra diced onion, celery, jalapenos, and chopped cilantro thrown into the mix.
To freeze the Chickpea Balls for later, place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and freeze for 6-10 hours (or until frozen solid). If you’re worried about freezer burn, you can cover them with tinfoil, but I haven’t had an issue. Once they are frozen solid transfer to a freezer bag.
Yields 4 servings.
Adapted from Eating Well
-19 ounces cooked chickpeas (rinsed if canned)
-4 scallions, trimmed and sliced
-2 tablespoons all purpose flour
-1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro
-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
-2 chiles in adobo, chopped plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-Generous pinch each salt and black pepper
-1 avocado, peeled and seeded jalapeno
-1/3 cup low fat mayonnaise
-1/3 cup low fat sour cream
-1, seeded and chopped
-2 scallions, trimmed and sliced
-1 lime, juiced
-Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To make the chickpea balls place the chickpeas, scallions, egg, flour, cilantro, cumin, chiles in adobo (plus the extra adobo sauce), olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Pulse, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides, until a coarse mixture forms that holds together when pressed. (The mixture will be moist.) Form into 1-inch balls.
Place the balls on a baking sheet that has been covered with parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom, then flip them and bake for another 10 minutes.
To make the cream, place the avocado, mayonnaise, sour cream, jalapeno, scallions, and lime juice into a blender or small food processor. Blend for 1 minute or until you have a smooth cream. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve along side Chickpea Balls.