Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Baked Falafel

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that lately, I have been extolling the virtues of freshly cooked chickpeas. Guess what? I'm not done yet! This time, it's a baked version of falafel that every single member of my family ~ even the two who typically eschew legumes (oh, it's true, every family has at least one) ~ loved. And I do mean loved. Not just choked down or even politely tolerated, as they did with this recipe, a little while back.

No, this falafel is what I'd call a "keeper," which is to say that it can now enter into the rotation of regular weeknight meals. It's simple, speedy, nutritious, and now it's baked. Slathered with the Tzatziki Sauce, it seems almost as indulgent as a Big Mac.

On second thought, it doesn't really, but never mind ~ this falafel has so many unassailable points in its favor that you will completely forget about those ridiculously expensive (in terms of coin and calorie) fast-food fat bombs. Falafel, dear readers, is where it's at.

Baked Falafel with Tzatziki Sauce

  • 2 cloves garlic, quartered

  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or mint

  • 2 cups chickpeas

  • 1/2 cup plain coarse bread crumbs

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as red or green Tabasco)

  • Coarsely ground black pepper to taste

  • Olive oil for brushing

  1. Place garlic, cilantro, parsley or mint, chickpeas, and bread crumbs in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to chop and blend ingredients.

  2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon lemon juice over chickpea mixture and pulse a few more times. Sprinkle baking powder, cumin, salt, Tabasco, and black pepper over mixture and pulse until the chickpea mixture reaches a workable paste-like consistency. Add an additional tablespoon of lemon juice if it seems very dry.

  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. While the oven is getting hot, line a baking pan with foil and brush with olive oil. Using a large tablespoon or #40 disher (ice cream scoop), scoop balls of dough into your palms and form them into patties. Set aside on work surface while you form the remaining mixture.

  4. Arrange falafel patties on oiled baking sheet and brush them with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and crispy. Turn once midway through baking.

  5. Remove from oven and let falafel cool on pan for a minute or two before removing to plates or pitas with a spatula.

  6. Serve in a whole-grain pita with leaf lettuce and plenty of Tzatziki Sauce.

Serves 4

Tzatziki Sauce

  • 1/2 cup sour cream (low fat is fine)

  • 1 large clove garlic, minced

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

  • 1 kirby cucumber, peeled and finely diced

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl; stir to incorporate. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Taste after chilling and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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Recipe Notes

  • If you have a baking stone, go ahead and use it ~ it works great here. Preheat the stone as you're preheating your oven. Brush both sides of the falafel patties with olive oil and place on the stone with a heatproof spatula. No need to turn the patties if you're using a baking stone.
  • Chickpeas are a nutritional powerhouse, but they require a whole grain to make them a complete protein. Eating the falafel in a whole-grain pita (and/or using whole-grain bread crumbs) helps achieve this.

  • You can use any small cucumber instead of the kirby, but I like this type best because the seeds are soft and unobtrusive. If you're using a garden-variety long cucumber, just scoop out the seeds before chopping.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Oysters, Chocolate, Hummus?

Hummus is easy to fall in love with, and that's actually a good thing. It's high in protein, low in fat, and a great source of fiber. It's easy to make and inexpensive. If you prepare your own chickpeas instead of using canned, you can slash the sodium content and you'll end up with a bowl of hummus that will leave you thinking about it every minute it's out of range of your dipping object of choice. Serve it as a dip or a sandwich spread, and customize it with herbs, chilies, citrus peel, black pepper . . .

Just in case you need a little extra motivation to whip this up, chickpeas have historically been considered a powerful aphrodisiac for men. Don't believe me? I don't blame you. But you can ask the ancient Romans, Greeks, Indians. They all believed it . . . so maybe?


If you cook your own chickpeas, reserve 1 cup cooking liquid for this recipe. If you use canned, reserve the liquid after draining.
  • 2 cups chickpeas (drained canned or freshly cooked)

  • 1/4 cup tahini

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (more or less to taste)

  • 1 large clove fresh garlic, quartered

  • Extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

  1. Combine chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and garlic cloves in the cannister of a blender or food processor. Pulse until smooth, adding a couple of tablespoons of liquid at a time as necessary to liquefy. Place in serving bowl and let chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

  2. If desired, drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Chickpeas, Ceci, Garbanzos!

This week, I finally made a point of cooking up a batch of dried chickpeas. I prepare a lot of different dried beans and lentils to use in various recipes, but for some reason, it never really occurred to me to cook chickpeas. Whenever I make minestrone or hummus, I always use the canned variety. But this week, the dried garbanzos caught my eye, and I picked up a bag to see for myself what I'd been missing.

First, let's take a quick look at what, exactly, chickpeas are. Called also garbanzo beans and, in Italy, ceci, chickpeas are legumes. Most common chickpeas are beige, but there are varieties that are black, green, red, and dark brown.

Consumption of chickpeas is believed to have originated in the Middle East some 7,000 years ago. Cultivation of chickpeas began in the Mediterranean Basin circa 3000 BC. Ancient Greeks liked their chickpeas every which way, including for dessert, and the Romans were known to roast chickpeas to munch on. Roman epicure Apicius had several recipes for chickpeas in his collection.

And what about the name? According to Webster's 10th, "chickpea" is an alteration of "chich pea," which is an alteration of the Middle English "chiche," which derives (somehow) from the Latin term Cicer arietinum.

This apparently means "small ram," and refers to the chickpea's shape, which someone at some point thought resembled the head of a ram. "Garbanzo"? That's supposedly derived from the Old Spanish. I wasn't able to find a reliable translation, but I think it may mean "tiny heinie." ("Heinie" coming from the Middle English "hinder," for "posterior.")I do not know what "ceci" means, literally, but I do know that it is pronounced "CHEH-chee." Now you know.

Healthwise, chickpeas ~ like most beans ~ are a good source of fiber. Coupled with a whole grain, they're a super source of complete protein. They're an excellent source of the trace mineral molybdenum, and they supply significant amounts of magnesium, manganese, iron, and folate. Low fat, high fiber, lots of nutriets: all these components combine to make chickpeas pretty heart-healthy and a great source of lean protein.

Let me just say, after having tasted the freshly cooked garbanzos, I don't think I'll ever go back to buying canned. The fresh-cooked chickpeas are a whole other animal (well, legume, technically) ~ sweet, nutty, almost buttery. The flavor is remarkable. I'm remarking on it! If you've never tried to cook your own chickpeas, I urge you to give it a shot. You'll be surprised at the difference, and I say this as someone who had no objections to the canned version.

So, what to do with a pound of dried chickpeas? Well, the night before you're planning to cook them, your routine should go something like this:

First, pour them into a colander and check for stones and other dreck. Seriously. Check. Especially for stones. The last time I cooked black beans I found two good-sized rocks in there.

Then, rinse the garbanzos under some cold running water. Dump them into a casserole dish or large bowl, cover with at least 2 inches of cool water, and place a lid on top. Let sit for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Later, when you're ready to cook, drain off the soaking water, place the garbanzo beans in a saucepan large enough to hold them and at least 2 inches of water covering them. (Do not add salt. Salt can make your beans ~ any kind of beans ~ tough. Salt them after you cook them.) Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

When the chickpeas come to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Taste for doneness; the beans should be nice and tender. Some will have slipped their skins. Drain. {Note: If you're planning to make hummus with some of the chickpeas, be sure to reserve at least a cup of the cooking water. Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator.}

That's it! Now you have some delicious, tender, sweet and nutty chickpeas to use however you'd like. I tossed mine on a salad, and then I made hummus (stay tuned for that post). Enjoy!

Chickpea and Romaine Salad

  • 1 cup torn romaine lettuce, cleaned

  • 1/2 cup freshly cooked chickpeas

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • Lemon wedge

  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Arrange lettuce on a chilled salad plate. Place chickpeas over lettuce and drizzle with olive oil. Squeeze lemon wedge over chickpeas. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste.

Recipe Note: To make this a complete protein, serve with piece of whole wheat pita bread or breadsticks.

Makes 1 serving

*Image of Apicius frontispiece courtesy of K-State Libraries online.
**Image of beige and green chickpeas courtesy of



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