Not Falafel…

For the record this was a crazy menu to attempt on crazy Thursday. Again. But it didn’t have to be…

Why did I decide to make pita bread from scratch on a Thursday? You have to stand there in front of a 500F oven whipping willfully floppy pieces of dough into the oven on a peel. When I read the recipe, it seemed that I thought that 3 minutes per pita “was all the time it would take”. Three minutes does sound really fast but you have to take into account all the dancing around in front of a hot oven x 10! And all the baking occurred at the last possible minute. Oops. It was my first time really working a peel and I probably shouldn’t have tried pita my first time out. The dough was all over the place. I was all over the place.

But pita was not even the real goal for dinner tonight. I have been craving falafel. Good ones, not the tooth breaking rocks that masquerade as falafel at most places in Seattle (beware the Whole Foods take-out counter). Also, even though I know that real falafel are made with ground soaked dried chickpeas that haven’t been cooked (at least not until they meet their maker in the deep fat fryer) I wanted to make some kind of falafel with cooked canned chickpeas because that would be so fast, so perfect for crazy Thursday. Something you could make even if you forgot to soak the beans. Something that didn’t have to be deep fried. Without the homemade pita bread and the sauce (I didn’t tell you about the sauce yet) this would have been an easy night actually. Those chickpea patties, even though they were nothing at all like real falafel (what were they thinking, calling them “falafel” over there at Fine Cooking?), were still really good.

The kitchen looked like hell (and felt like it too because of the very hot oven) afterwards and I was a little worse for wear but this was a great meal. If falafel made with canned chickpeas are nothing like a real falafel and are more like the ladies-who-lunch item from the fifties – the croquette – who cares? Since we’ve been trying to eat fewer meat dishes and the kids liked them even though they’ve never had them before – that’s success in my book. So what if only one of the pita breads (the one I photographed) puffed up. Dinner was delicious.

Here’s what I would do, in retrospect:

  1. Even though fresh pita is impressive and fun (did I mention that also it is completely delicious?!) – just buy some and warm them up in a low oven, well-wrapped in foil.
  2. Buy tahini sauce. I will tell you how I made it in case it isn’t available in a store nearby, but I am still looking for the perfect recipe and this one was NOT it. I would have it creamier – the flavor was still very very good though.
  3. If you haven’t replaced your spices in the last six months, do buy fresh ground coriander and cumin. Compared to the grubby old coriander I had been using for years (confession!) the new bottle of ground coriander was a revelation! – all lemon-y and herbaceous. Yum.

Here is a photograph of the finished “falafel” which, as I have mentioned, look and taste nothing like real falafel but are still pretty good anyway:

Falafel Sandwich

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 tbsp olive oil + more for saute
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 c. cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 c. flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 red onion cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • Sesame seeds (optional)
  • 4 (6″) pita breads, warmed

The Salad

  • 1-2 romaine hearts, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups small cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 of a large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • a handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 4 oz feta, crumbled (optional)
  • 10 pitted kalamata olives, quartered (optional)

The Dressing

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Pulse chickpeas, olive oil, cumin, coriander, cilantro, flat leaf parsley, salt and pepper, onion and breadcrumbs until it becomes a chunky mass. Try forming a 2 inch ball into a small patty. If the mixture is still too crumbly, add a tablespoon or two more of the breadcrumbs. Form about a dozen 2 1/2″ patties. If you like, spray lightly with olive oil and lightly sprinkle the top and bottom with sesame seeds. Set aside.
  3. Make the salad dressing by combining the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Whisk.
  4. Place all other salad ingredients in a large salad bowl or on a large platter.
  5. In a large non-stick pan, heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat.
  6. Place medium sized heat proof platter or plate in the oven.
  7. Without crowding, place as many patties into the oil as you can. Brown 2-3 minutes per side to get a nice brown crust.
  8. As you complete the browning, place the patties on the platter in the oven.
  9. When all the patties are done, toss the salad.
  10. Take the patties, the pitas and the salad to the table.
  11. Everyone can assemble their own food as it pleases them.

Here is the recipe for the imperfect but still acceptable sauce:

Tahini Sauce

1/3 c. tahini (I like the Joyva brand and I hate the Maranatha brand – although to be fair their peanut butter butter is my favorite!)

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • (full fat Greek yogurt)
  1. Blend all ingredients in a liquid measuring cup with a fork.

This makes a very runny dressing which I thickened only moderately successfully with a large dollop of full fat Greek yogurt. I will work on this and get back to you.

Here is the photo of the one successful pita. I believe the trick to getting them to puff is to roll them out very thinly before the second rise – a scant 1/4 ” and no more.

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