June 5, 2012

Lebanese Dreams

I'll be honest.  I really just made these falafels as an excuse to showcase and devour more of a big batch of pickled turnips I made.  Bright magenta and oh-so-snappy, I love Lebanese pickled turnips.

Dont even turn your nose up at the idea of pickled turnips, they are crazy good and resemble their cooked and/or raw counterparts in almost no way.  I know, because after this past winter, me and turnips are no longer on speaking terms.  It started out nice, I would roast them with our dinner and D and I would happily munch away, proclaiming not to understand people's strong distaste for the vegetable.  But week after week, a giant bag of them tucked into every single veggie box, I've come to understand.  Turnips, I am so over you.

Still, I am not one to just waste food and there was one last bag of snowy white orbs lingering in my crisper drawer.  And then I saw the big bunch of beets next to them.  Inspiration struck; I would make pickles.  Their zippy crunch is the perfect counterpart to a falafel sandwich slathered in a garlicy yogurt-tahini sauce and tucked into plenty of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber.

Did you know that falafels are made from chickpeas that have only been soaked and not cooked? Me neither. I was even a bit skeptical of the whole idea, but decided to push forward after recipe upon recipe yielded the same instructions - to soak the beans for 24 hours and not cook them before frying. After their day long soak, the beans are just soft enough to process into a crumbly puree along with an onion, a big handful of fresh parsley leaves and some other spices, without becoming a soggy mush. A little hot oil in a heavy skillet and a few minutes to cook on each side and you've got some mighty fine falafels.

Since the only cooking time the beans ever see in a quick fry in oil, you can expect a whole different flavor and texture experience.  The insides are moist but crumble just enough and you get a more pronounced starchy bean flavor rather than fully cooked chickpea's typical sweet and creamy taste.  There's a great supporting cast of spices and a bit of heat from cayenne pepper that recall memories of the falafels served at a Lebanese deli just down the street from where I grew up.  Mark Bittman, who this recipe is from, cautions that you'll need a food processor or a heavy duty blender to get the job done, but my wimpy blender prevailed once again and turned out excellent falafel mix in two batches.

I'm only sorry I didn't double the recipe so I could freeze them and have more on hand for when my next pickled turnip craving hits.

Falafel Sandwiches
Adapted from Mark Bittman

As comfortable as I am in the kitchen, I'm still not comfortable with the idea of deep frying, so I more or less pan fried these falafels after shaping them into little patties.  They still got a nice crispy crust on them and held their shape well, so I'd call it successful tweak to the original recipe.  I didn't change much else, but might suggest one more clove of garlic and a bit more salt.

6 to 8 servings

1 3/4 cup dried chickpeas
2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 scant teaspoon cayenne
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for frying

whole wheat pita or flatbread
pickled turnips
tahini sauce (equal parts plain yogurt and tahini, seasoned with pressed/grated/minced garlic, salt, and lemon juice, thin with water to reach desired consistency.)

Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches; they will triple in volume. Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep beans submerged.

Drain beans well (reserving a bit of the soaking water) and transfer to a food processor. Add remaining ingredients except oil; pulse until finely minced, just shy of puréed, scraping sides of bowl down; add soaking water if necessary to allow machine to do its work, but no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons. Keep pulsing until mixture comes together. Taste, adding salt, pepper, cayenne or lemon juice to taste.

Put oil in a heavy skillet, like cast iron, to a depth of about 1/4 inch.  The narrower the saucepan the less oil you need, but the more oil you use the more patties you can cook at a time. Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil to about 350 degrees (a pinch of batter will sizzle immediately). Scoop a heaping tablespoon of batter into your hands and shape into a small patty about 2-3 inches in diameter. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, about 4 minutes per side.

Assemble each sandwich with two patties and your choice of toppings.

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