Sunday, October 5, 2014

Welcome Back - Easy Falafel and My Favorite Tzatziki Sauce

My house smells awesome, as I am trying a new chili recipe.  Because you can never have enough chili recipes, ha ha.  These past few weeks I have tried a bunch of recipes, for no other reasons than my family has to eat, and perhaps more importantly, I find cooking to be extraordinarily therapeutic.  It is my meditation.

There were some successes but also a couple of epic fails.  The whole wheat bread pudding was just feh.  The kale and smoked turkey wing was so awful, I got up in the middle of the night, while it was simmering in the crock pot, and threw it out.  One of the successes, perhaps the best of the best, was my version of falafel, prepared from canned chick peas.

I love falafel.  Really love it, especially in a warm pita with chopped salad and garlicky yogurt sauce. Having moved to Central Florida in the early nineties, I was resigned to never experience the joys of real New York food, like a real falafel sandwich, bagels, and pizza, ever again.  After 23 years, I can safely report that you cannot get a decent bagel, nor a proper slice of pizza, in the entire state of Florida.  Good falafel can be had in, of all places, downtown Kissimmee.  Nadia's Cafe' on Broadway Avenue, right across from my office and a stone's throw from my house, serves excellent Mediterranean food, including an authentic falafel, which I get as part of a salad.  But Nadia's is not open at all those times I might experience a Mediterranean food craving, so I was going to have to come up with a homemade version that did not involve a mix, did not require me to soak beans overnight, and would not fall apart in the hot oil.

Voila!  By the way, that is an ebelskiver pan.  While it is not crucial to the success of the dish, I really think it made the frying part a lot easier.  Less mess, less oil absorbed, and more even cooking.

This recipe makes 18 falafel, which I portion out using the same size scoop I would use for meatballs.    These are best when served hot out of the oil, but they are also good cold.  I like them with tzatziki sauce, and I am posting my recipe below.  There are other Mediterranean sauces that probably work as well, but I'm a tzatziki sauce nut, and that's that.  

If I was going to serve this to a group, I would include pita and lightly toasted naan bread on the table, along with hummus, tabbouleh, and an Israeli salad, and let folks create their own version of Mediterranean goodness.  Cheaper than a flight to Morocco, safer than a trip to Israel.

Easy Falafel

1-15 oz. can chick peas (garbanzos), drained, rinsed with cold water, patted dry.  I use Goya.
1/2 cup finely minced onion
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 extra large egg, lightly beaten with a fork
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
white pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup matzo meal, more if needed
canola oil for frying

In a large bowl or an aluminum pan (always my preference) mash the chick peas with an old-fashioned potato masher until thick and pasty.  There should be some recognizable bits of chick pea in the mixture.  Add the onion, garlic, and parsley, and use a fork to combine them.

Add the spices, lemon juice and baking powder to the egg, beating lightly with a fork to combine them.  Pour the egg mixture over the chick pea mixture, and then add the olive oil.  Use your trusty fork one more time to evenly distribute the ingredients.

Now add 1/2 cup of the matzo meal and use your hand to work into the chick pea mixture.  Do not overwork.  Add a little more matzo meal as needed, until mixture is no longer sticky nor too stiff.  This is similar to adding bread crumbs to a meatloaf, and you must rely on touch to know when enough matzo meal has been added.

Use a meatball scoop to portion out about 18 balls.  Roll lightly in your hands, then press gently to flatten slightly.  Heat the ebelskiver over medium high heat, and add enough oil to fill each well not more than halfway.  You can also use a regular skillet with an inch of oil.  Carefully place a falafel into each well, and fry until golden brown on each side.  Repeat until all the falafel is fried, and serve hot with your favorite Mediterranean accompaniments.

My original tzatziki recipe called for plain Dannon yogurt and a Kirby cucumber.  It's hard to buy just one Kirby, and I finally found a way to make an everyday cheap cuke work.


1 - 6 oz. container Chobani plain non-fat yogurt
equal amount of sour cream
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 clove fresh garlic
kosher salt and white pepper to taste
1 or 2 drops Tabasco sauce

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and sour cream and set aside.

Shred the cucumber on the medium holes of a box grater.  Place the shredded cucumber between two sheets of paper towel, roll up and squeeze out the excess liquid.  Add the cucumber to the yogurt.  Mince the garlic very finely, or use a microplane to grate it, and add to the yogurt.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, add the Tabasco if using it, and mix everything together.  Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for an hour before using.  Serve with the falafel.  Also nice with certain lamb dishes, and I love to eat it as a dip with toasted naan.

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