There’s nothing like jumping on a good bandwagon. No one could be more pleased with the return of bell-bottom jeans, for instance. Just yesterday I went out and bought myself a pair, thus bringing closure to a lifelong desire – delusion really – of looking as groovy as a 1960s flower child. But pants with excess fabric are not the only fun fad going around. Take those trendy, goat-like hipster beards. These days it’s hard to find someone who isn’t either sporting one or who doesn’t know a bloke now able of hiding small birds in his face. The internet is no exception. By now most Facebook users have inevitably watched or at least noticed a proliferation of Tasty food videos. Here’s the Tasty version of this recipe. Brought to us by the social news and entertainment company Buzzfeed, they are a collection of ‘snack-sized,’ step-by-step montages that show viewers how to make self-described tasty and easy-to-make recipes. With enticing names like loaded cheesy mashed potato balls, waffle cupcakes, baked potato chip nachos, and meatball sub bake, they seem to worship primarily at the altar of cheese, bacon, canned pizza crust, and more cheese.
It’s hard not to fall under their spell. I often find myself mesmerized as those competent hands quickly assemble a handful of prepped ingredients to upbeat atmospheric music. Best of all, I never lose more than a couple of minutes of my life doing so. I’m not alone in succumbing to their magical powers. Last I checked, they had 31 million Facebook followers, though the number grows exponentially with each passing minute.
I have mixed feelings about their popularity.
On one hand, they certainly break down and demystify the preparation of very simple dishes. As someone committed to encouraging people to cook, I am heartened to know that these videos may just be what lead men and women to the stove. With a little luck, the successful execution of…say, Tasty’s pesto mozzarella cheese balls, will give folks the needed confidence or motivation to delve into making something else, and then something else that’s perhaps a little more difficult, and so on, until – before you know it – they are cooking regularly. That’s my hope and dream anyway, and that makes Tasty’s popularity a positive development.
In addition, and based on the numerous comments I’ve read on Tasty’s Facebook page, I’ve learned that many people seem to take inspiration from the simple recipes and then switch out the canned and packaged ingredients with homemade versions. That too is encouraging because doing so creates higher-quality, more healthful versions of the dishes, with fewer additives, preservatives and sodium to boot.
On the other hand, they infantilize the cooking process by encouraging people to forever stay in metaphorical cooking diapers. Let’s face it, most real-life recipes can’t compete with something as basic as adding shredded cheese, jarred tomato sauce and manufactured meatballs onto cut-up canned pizza crust and baking it for 20 minutes. At some point, something may just have to be boiled or sautéed or, good heavens, rinsed under cold running water.
So while Tasty videos focus on getting dinner on the table without a lot of fanfare, ingredients and know-how, they also lock us into a mostly cheesy, hyper-flavored and one-dimensional playpen. One that doesn’t allow our taste buds to play and revel in the moist and tender complexity of a braised chicken thigh. As such, these well-meaning but generally dumbed-down cooking videos contribute to a dynamic that is already prevalent enough in our culture: making food more about ease and entertainment than about the nourishing and connecting ritual it can be.
Hmmm…I like the sound of that…returning food to the nourishing and connecting ritual it can. Now THAT’s a bandwagon to jump on.
These chickpea fries are another bandwagon, come to think of it. I’ve ripped them off of – you know it! – a Tasty food video. They seemed just too good to not try, though I made a couple of small changes, and so here we are…
making chickpea fries & garlicky yogurt sauce
Prep 3 garlic cloves by peeling their skin, cutting them in half, removing their internal green sprout, and then finely mincing or pressing them through a garlic press. Add two-thirds of the minced garlic cloves to a small bowl along with ¾ cup plain, whole milk yogurt, ½ heaping teaspoon dried or fresh dill, and salt to taste.
Cover and chill in refrigerator. Generously grease a 7 x 11-inch baking dish (or similar size) with olive oil.
Bring 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan along with the remaining minced garlic clove. Here I started out with water and then added 1 tablespoon of Chicken Better than Bouillon. Also, I like to add the minced garlic at this point because cooking it will take the ‘bite’ out of it while still adding a nicely subdued garlicky taste to the fries.
As the broth heats up, add 2 cups of the chickpea flour (available at most well-stocked natural food supermarkets), 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves (about 4-5 small sprigs), and a pinch of salt to a medium-sized bowl.
Slowly whisk chickpea mixture into broth.
Lower the flame to medium and continue to whisk for a minute until the mixture thickens to the consistency of thick oatmeal. I always tend to get some lumps in the batter and they don’t dissolve no matter how much I beat them, so I’ve just taken to using an immersion blender to smooth everything.
Immediately transfer to greased baking dish. I stress immediately because the mixture cools and thickens very quickly and so you only have a small window of time to be able to easily pour it into the pan and smooth out the surface.
Spread evenly throughout dish with a spatula. From the height of 2 inches or so, drop the dish on your work surface a few times to release any air bubbles.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then press plastic wrap over the mixture.
Continue to gently press on the surface to ensure as flat a surface as possible. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight until firm.
Invert the baking dish on a cutting board.
If it doesn’t come out right away, don’t panic. It’s only sticking because there’s a little suction action going on. Insert one of your fingers gently into one of the corners of the pan and you will actually hear a faint ‘pop.’ That’s what happened to me, anyway. Once I did that, I was able to get the hardened batter onto the working surface no problem.
Slice into fairly large, streak fry-size. (Before you begin frying, take the yogurt dip out of the fridge so that it’s not ice cold.) Dredge them in the remaining ½ cup of chickpea flour, placed in a shallow bowl, until they are completely covered.
Cover a nonstick frying pan with enough oil to cover the bottom by a half inch. When the oil is swirling hot but not yet smoking oil, carefully add them to the hot oil.
Fry until every side is golden and crispy and place on paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Serve immediately. Do not automatically salt them, as I’ve found this batter to be plenty salty on its own. Taste them first (which is always fun, anyway!) just to be sure.
Right before serving, add a spritz of lemon and fresh cracked pepper to the yogurt mixture. Mix well and top with 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil. Serve along with the fries. Makes 4 servings.