Two Years Ago: Chile Rellenos (Baked Not Fried)
Since falafel is not only vegetarian but made with chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), and according to The Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner beans are one of the superfoods we should eat every day, you would think falafel is pretty much perfect except for the fact that it's fried. Frying makes it deliciously crunchy on the outside, but it's frying none the less. So when I found this recipe for baked falafel on the New York Times cooking site, I definitely wanted to try it although I'm always skeptical that baking can duplicate the crunchiness of frying.
I only became more skeptical as I processed the raw-but-soaked beans in the food processor with seasonings, onion, and a bit of lemon juice. Where's the binder? I figured there was just no way the mixture would hold together to make patties. Well, the patties were a bit fragile but they did hold together on the baking sheet. Flipping them was the test, but was accomplished successfully by being careful and using two small spatulas (one for each side) when flipping. But the patties were still soft and not crunchy the way they should be.
After baking for the specified time on the second side, the patties were firm but still weren't all that golden so I turned on the broiler for a minute or two. That was the magic - not only did they brown nicely, the top also became crunchy. So, I modified the recipe to include a minute or so of broiling time on each side. During the broiling process, watch them like a hawk - they brown very quickly and can go from perfect to burned in a matter of seconds.
So now I have my perfect falafel. It's often served as a sandwich in pita bread with the traditional accompaniments of cucumber, feta, tomato, lettuce, red onion and sauce, but I chose to make it more of a salad so I could bump up the veggies and served some grilled pita wedges on the side. Brushing the pita with a little olive oil and grilling them until nicely grill-marked results in a very crispy pita, much like pita chips. It's delicious with the falafel, salad and sauce. And very healthy. And by the way, the falafel freeze and re-heat just great.
Makes 20 patties, approximately 10 servings
Note that the chickpeas need to soak for 12-24 hours so plan ahead.
1 ¾ cup dried chickpeas
½ cup tahini
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, quartered
1 tablespoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Crumbled feta cheese
Thinly sliced red onion
Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers
Black or green olives
Pita bread – grilled if serving on the side, or soft if using for sandwiches
Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches – the beans will triple in volume as they soak. Soak for 12 to 24 hours, checking occasionally to see if you need to add more water to keep the beans submerged.
Whisk the tahini and ½ teaspoon salt with ½ cup water in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor with the garlic, onion, cumin, cayenne, parsley or cilantro, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper, baking soda, and lemon juice. Pulse until everything is minced but not pureed, stopping the machine and scraping down the sides if necessary. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if needed to allow the machine to do its work, but keep the mixture as dry as possible. Taste and adjust salt, pepper or cayenne as desired.
Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons of oil. Roll the bean mixture into 20 balls (about 1 ½ inches in diameter) and place on the baking sheet, then flatten very gently into thick patties. Bake on the first side for 15 minutes, then turn the oven to broil for one minute, watching closely so the patties brown but don’t burn.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and turn the temperature back to 375d. Carefully flip the patties over (this works best using two small spatulas) and place the baking sheet back in the oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes, then turn the oven to broil and broil for an additional minute or so until the patties are nicely browned. Watch closely!
Serve immediately with accompaniments and tahini sauce.
Note: the baked falafel may be frozen and reheated in the microwave or oven.