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Baked Falafel with Lemon Tahini Sauce

Because we move so often, I’m forced to recreate some of my favorite dishes from restaurants and places we’ve lived and traveled when a craving hits.  Since none of our recent cities of residence are exactly what I’d call cultural hotbeds, the presence of international cuisine is usually pretty scarce.  I adore falafel, but since I’ve yet to find a good place here that serves it (suggestions are welcome!), I set about to make some at home from scratch.

I served them two ways at dinner for us to sample – first atop a Greek style salad with kalamata olives and feta, and then stuffed into my soft homemade pita bread.  Both were excellent, but the homemade pita bread and all of the layers of flavor from the lemon tahini sauce and veggies made eating them as stuffed pita sandwiches even better.   They were a huge success, and the Mini and Hubs devoured their helpings at dinner.  It was both of their first times trying falafel, and they are enthusiastic about eating it again soon.  The falafel was perfectly crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

Traditionally falafel are deep fried, but I chose to start my falafel in an ovenproof skillet, browning them on the stove before finishing them in the oven.  If you don’t own an ovenproof skillet, just coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil, increase the cooking time to 15 minutes, and flip them once halfway through cooking.  I dislike deep frying foods at home because of the mess and the high calorie and fat content.  I also refuse to buy one of those mess-free mini deep fryers for my house because that just sounds like trouble – I can only imagine the foods I will try to deep fry if its suddenly made easy!

Lately I’ve been trying to be even more careful about using healthier ingredients in my cooking and baking.  When I learned that the canning process decreases the nutritional content of beans such as the chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) used in falafel, I chose to use dried chickpeas instead.  Canned chickpeas also are usually pretty high in sodium, and they have less iron, niacin, potassium, folate, calcium, amino acids, and Omega-3 fatty acids than their dried counterparts, among other vitamins and nutrients.  It takes minimally more effort and a little bit more planning to use dried beans in recipes, but it’s absolutely worth it!  For this recipe, just rinse and soak your chickpeas in water overnight the day before you plan to make the falafel.  I will definitely do this in the future when I make homemade hummus as well!  So easy!

Baked Falafel with Greek Salad (makes 12 falafel patties, 30 minutes)

  • 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas; rinsed, soaked in water overnight and drained
  • 1/2 chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 1/4 chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

for the salad:

  • 2 cups mixed greens
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup sliced red onion
  • 1/2 a large cucumber, sliced
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, halved

Lemon Tahini Dressing (see recipe below)

Soft & Fluffy Whole Wheat Pita

Combine all of the falafel ingredients except for 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large food processor.  Process in 15 second increments, scraping down the sides of the bowl each time, until the mixture is finely processed and no large chunks remain.  Scrape falafel mixture into a large mixing bowl to make scooping easier. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a large ovenproof, nonstick or cast iron skillet add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, swirling to distribute evenly.  With your hands, scoop out approximately 2 tablespoons of falafel mixture at  a time and form even patties.  Place patties in skillet and heat over medium high heat on the stovetop to brown them for approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side, flipping once during cooking.  Move the skillet to the center rack of the oven and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Allow falafel to cool in pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack until ready to use, or serve immediately with salad, lemon tahini dressing and fresh pita bread.

Lemon Tahini Sauce & Dressing

(makes 1 cup, 10 minutes)

  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup water

Combine the Tahini, garlic, lemon juice and zest in a mixing bowl. Whisk vigorously to combine, adding water in little by little until desired consistency is achieved.  (For use as a dipping sauce, I use less water.  As a dressing, it will probably need the full 1/3 cup or even a tablespoon or two more.)  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Keep refrigerated in an air tight container until ready to use.  Whisk or shake to recombine ingredients that may have separated before serving.

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