Dried peas and beans are some of the most durable foods in existence, but that doesn't extend to the same beans -- or dishes made from them -- once they're soaked or cooked. While dried beans remain safe for years if stored properly, bean-based dishes such as falafel are as perishable as any other cooked food. If kept too long or stored improperly, they can go bad and pose a risk of food-borne illness.
A Classic Street Food
Falafel is identified with the Middle East as a region, though its origins are uncertain. They're made by grinding cooked fava beans or soaked and uncooked chickpeas to a paste, along with herbs and seasonings such as parsley, green onions, cumin and garlic. Balls or patties of the paste are fried, or sometimes baked, and usually served in a folded pita bread with a yogurt-based sauce and toppings such as tomatoes and lettuce. Soaking or cooking the legumes and mixing them with perishable ingredients means they're no longer food-safe as they were when dried.
Drying and Food Safety
Legumes such as chickpeas and fava beans contain lots of protein and carbohydrates and some sugars. This makes them a fine source of nutrition for bacteria and other microorganisms, unless they're dried. Molds and bacteria require a minimal quantity of moisture to survive and reproduce, and they can't find enough in beans that are well-dried and properly stored. If the same beans are rehydrated or cooked, that process makes them perishable again.
For casual cooks, dry falafel mix is the easiest way to satisfy a craving. Dry mixes remain food-safe well past the freshness date on the box, though their flavor begins to deteriorate. Once mixed, the bean paste must be kept in the refrigerator at a temperature lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit until it's used. Once you've made up the paste into individual falafel, either cook them immediately or return them to your refrigerator until mealtime. Use them within three to four days or freeze them for longer storage. After four days discard any uneaten falafel, since it's difficult to detect spoilage by appearance or odor.
If you have leftover cooked falafel after your meal -- not always an easy thing to manage -- they can be stored for a few days, as well. As soon as they've cooled to room temperature, place them in an airtight bag or container and put them in your refrigerator. If they spend more than two hours at room temperature, the falafel should be discarded. Like uncooked falafel, they'll last for three to four days in the refrigerator, or can be frozen for longer storage.
- A New Book of Middle Eastern Food; Claudia Roden
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service: Refrigeration and Food Safety
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.
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