kitchen firsts: baked falafel with cucumber salad
This week we’ve gone middle eastern (well, westernized middle eastern perhaps) for kitchen firsts to fill in a real gap in my culinary repertoire. That’s right everybody, I have never made falafels before (let alone awesome baked ones). Some of you may consider this a sin, but I was slow to discover the need for a good falafel recipe because I used to think they tasted like sawdust balls. But after eating some really good ones as street food in France and then discovering some even tastier versions of them around here, I’ve finally warmed to the crispy savory deliciousness and come to appreciate the opportunity they provide to eat a really satisfying meatless (nay, vegan!) meal.
Even after I discovered that eating falafels was not so bad, they remained on my no-cook list for quite awhile because I was skeptical about making them myself, what with the trouble and questionable healthfulness of frying the little guys up. Then about a year ago I came across this recipe for baked falafels, and I stored the smart-sounding idea in the back recesses of my mental recipe-log, until this week when we finally made them! And now that I’ve tried them, I can’t believe I waited so long.
Baking the falafels was amazing. We squished ours down a little bit to maximize contact with the cookie sheet (note: DON’T use a silpat as pictured above or they will not brown!) and then popped them in the oven, and man do they crisp up! All the crunchiness of frying without the oily mess or fattiness or trouble of doing them a few at a time. And I loved the little “falafel cookie” shape because as a person who isn’t 100% in love with the texture of chickpea paste, I was able to get all the flavor of the falafels without that moment where you’ve bitten off the crispy outside and all that’s left is a pasty goo.
And there’s also the other thing, the main reason why I feel so dumb for not making this recipe for a whole year. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how friggin easy it is to make these! Especially if you have a food processor (but even if you don’t), the recipe essentially reads “dump stuff together, mix until smooth, spoon onto a cookie sheet and bake.” Oh, and then “throw in a pita pocket with some other crap.” It is extremely low maintenance and fast! While the falafel are baking you can warm your pitas, mix up some sauces and chop up some garnishes, and you’ll be ready to go when they come out. Meal done, within the hour. And very healthy!
Now, let’s not forget to talk about our falafel condiments– traditionally, a tzatziki sauce, and if you like, a spicy red sauce. I happened to have been eyeing a recipe from a recent edition of Sunset magazine for a yogurt and cucumber salad, and we realized it would be very similar in flavor to a tzatziki, so we whipped one up and spooned it in the pita along with everything else. It was dead easy to make, managed to be spiced and herbed but still cucumber yogurty cool, and gave a fabulous crunch to the whole meal. You could definitely eat it alone, as more of a salad, which is what Sunset magazine originally intended for it, but we thought it went beautifully in the falafel and I’d pick it over tzatziki any day. As for the red sauce, I’ve never cared much about it either way, but Stephen informed me after our falafel feed that he considers it a critical part of the mix, so I think next time we enjoy falafels I’ll have to whip one up. I’ve done a little pre-scouting for a recipe for the stuff, and I’ve included one here that seems representative of the things I’ve seen around the webz and likely to complement the flavors of the falafel, but I haven’t tried it yet! If you have a recipe you know and love, or if you try this one before I do (will update when I do), let us know! In the meantime, happy falafeling!
Adapted from Chow Vegan
Serves 4 (makes 20-24 falafels)
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (or if you’re more on top of things, make them yourself from dried beans!)
1 small sweet onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2-3 T roughly chopped parsley
2 tsp lemon juice
1-2 tsp olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet
2 T flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper
For serving: pita pockets, sliced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and cucumber salad (see recipe below) or tzatziki. You can also add hummus or tahini, or a tahini sauce if you like, and/or the spicy red sauce (see recipe below). Also some fresh cilantro if you roll that way.
Drain and rinse garbanzo beans. Place in the bowl of a food processor and add all other ingredients (start with 1 tsp of olive oil, then stream in more later if you need it). You can adjust the spices and herbs to taste. Process until smooth. If you don’t have a food processor, you can just mash the garbanzos with a potato masher or a fork, and then make sure you chop your garlic, onion and parsley more finely to start with before mixing it all together by hand.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Plop mixture by rough tablespoons onto a well oiled baking sheet (or two– and don’t use a silpat! oil on hot metal is a must for crisp browning), then flatten a bit with your finger or the measuring spoon. Place in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes per side, flipping when the first side browns to your liking. When both sides are golden and crisp, remove from the oven and stuff in a pocket, garnished with tzatziki-esque cucumber salad (below), spicy red sauce (below), lettuce, tomato, and whatever else you like!
Tzatziki-Inspired Cucumber Salad
Adapted from Sunset magazine, April 2010
Serves 4 as an accompaniment to falafels; double it if you’re serving as a salad
1/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt
1/2 tsp lemon juice
dash red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1 T chopped dill
1 T chopped mint
1 cucumber, diced
1 small shallot, minced
Mix yogurt, lemon juice and spices in a medium bowl until well combined. Then chop your cucumber, shallot and herbs, add them to the yogurt bowl and stir to combine. Enjoy!
Spicy Red Falafel Sauce
Adapted from about.com
3/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp sriracha (or other hot sauce)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp lemon juice
1 T parsley, chopped
Combine ingredients in a saucepan over high heat. Boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. You can dip your pita in it, or drizzle over the top of the falafelwich. It is generally eaten cold but you can eat it warm too. Store leftovers in the fridge.