You’ve heard that adage about wine in the kitchen — "I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food" — but the same is true with beer.
After getting frustrated when a recipe merely called for "beer" in the ingredient list, U.K. food writer Melissa Cole spent the next decade digging into the hows and whys of cooking with beer, not just any beer, but the nuanced craft beers that so many Brits and Americans are drinking these days.
Cole set out to find new ways to use beer in food where the extra ingredient made the dish better than the original and to learn the science behind it. A pale ale adds a totally different flavor than a milk stout, for instance, and Cole argues that neither of them should be used to deglaze a pan because the bitter compounds become too bitter and the aromatic ones burn off too quickly.
Her new book, "The Beer Kitchen: The Art and Science of Cooking, & Pairing, With Beer" by Melissa Cole (Hardie Grant, $29.99), is a gem of culinary knowledge, especially if you’re the kind of cook who loves taking a long detour through the beer aisle at the grocery store.
"Think about how (beer) will enhance the flavors. ’What does it actually add to the dish?’ should always be your first question. If it’s basically nothing, then save it for your mouth, not the pot," she writes.
Her recipe for falafel is a good example of how she uses beer — in this case, a Belgian wheat, such as Avery’s White Rascal, with citrus and coriander notes — to supplement the other flavors in the recipe. If you’re not so keen on cooking with beer, skip this cookbook, but you could still use this falafel technique, simply covering the chickpeas with water instead of beer and water.
There’s no doubt that falafel has a bad name. Poorly done, it has a roof-of-the-mouth stickability that is second only to peanut butter, but done well it’s a crispy, fluffy ball of joy. I experimented with five types of beer versus water, and the Belgian came out on top with everyone, offering bright citrus notes from its coriander seed and orange peel.
This recipe is a combination of J. Kenji López-Alt’s recipe and that of a chef from my local Lebanese restaurant, plus my own beer twist. You can even pop them into a tagine right at the end if you like. You can freeze the cooked falafel for up to 3 months; heat them for 15 to 20 minutes in a 35-degree oven.
— Melissa Cole
1 1/3 cups dried chickpeas (garbanzos), rinsed
1 1/3 cups Belgian wheat beer (almost 12 ounces, but minus a sip or two for the cook)
1 ounce each of fresh mint, parsley and cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
5 good-size spring onions (scallions), white and pale green parts only, roughly chopped (reserve the dark green parts to garnish)
4 large garlic cloves, pounded to a paste with a bit of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon harissa
Enough peanut, grapeseed or other neutral oil to fill 3/4 inch in the base of a large skillet
Lemon wedges (optional)
Good-quality extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
Toasted sesame seeds
At least 12 hours before you want to cook the falafel, put the rinsed chickpeas in a bowl that is big enough to allow them to swell to 3 times their original size. Pour the wheat beer over the chickpeas and then add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 6 hours.
Drain the chickpeas and shake off as much liquid as possible, blot with paper towels and leave to air dry, spread on a baking sheet, for around 10 minutes.
Put the dried chickpeas in a food processor and add all the other ingredients except the oil. Pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs and the mix just about holds together with a gentle squeeze. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Form the falafel mixture into golf ball-size balls and place on a lightly oiled plate.
Warm the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When ready to cook, gently lower the first falafel into the hot oil with a fork. Check that it’s lightly fizzing, not spattering, and that the oil reaches about 1/3 of the way up (this should rise to halfway when more falafel are added to the pan).
Continue to add as many falafel as will fit in pan a few inches apart, turn the heat to high for 15 seconds and lower back to medium-high again. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Repeat, if necessary, keeping the first batch covered in a warm oven.
When cooked, drain the falafel on paper towel, sprinkle with some lemon juice, if you like, a splash of good-quality olive oil, if using, and some salt. Garnish with green onion tops and sesame seeds and enjoy warm (not hot). Serves 4.
— From "The Beer Kitchen: The Art and Science of Cooking, & Pairing, with Beer" by Melissa Cole (Hardie Grant, $29.99)