I have said a lot of questionable things about vegans and vegetarians, on this blog and also to anyone who will listen. Sue and I were just having a conversation, in fact, wherein I expressed my fear that my kids will grow up and become vegans, because kids rebel. I’ll raise them to love pate and understand why it’s perfectly acceptable to keep bacon fat in a jar, and they’ll grow up and only eat raw kale. It’s the way of the world.
The truth, though, is that I like food with no meat in it. I eat it all the time. Just now I had a brownie. No meat. Yesterday I had some Doritos. No meat. (I don’t think. Erg.) I’m about to eat some bread and butter pickles. No meat!
My mild acceptance of food with no meat intersects with something I LOVE: Middle Eastern food. Babaghanouj is so delicious, it makes hummus look like its uglier, less charming cousin who just won’t give up on “your mom” jokes. The smoke of babaghanouj pairs so wonderfully with the fresh tang of tabbouleh. Tabbouleh is fantastic also because it’s a snack that’s good for you. You think you’re having a nice bar snack with your beer, but you’re not. You’re having a salad. It’s so good you don’t even consider throwing it on the floor and demanding jalapeno poppers with ranch.
Sidenote: Dom and I were going out to dinner this past weekend, and I wanted to go to this Middle Eastern place I’ve been eyeing. It took some convincing to make it happen, because they don’t have beer, but we got there in the end. We get there, the kid says 35 minutes (lie), so we go stand out in the cold for an hour playing the celebrity name game, during which Dom said that not only was O.Henry not a celebrity, but didn’t count because O. is not a first name. Untrue. Anyway, the meal was good and the portions were enormous, but the restaurant itself sucked, terrible ambience, harried and sour looking servers, seated too far away from each other to have a private conversation, etc. We both complained for some time, before Dom goes: “But all that aside, I know you’re so happy to be taking this home to keep in the fridge right now. I also would like to make a wager that you break back into this babaghanouj before the night is over.” I did not take that bet.
All that is why falafel is on the good vegetarian food list. It’s wonderful, and also gives me a chance to demonstrate one of my Central Tenets of Home Cooking. To wit, deep frying at home is never necessary. I bake my falafel. I do douse it a bit with olive oil so the patties get nice and brown, and I bake them on high heat so they don’t dry out. It’s taken some doing to get my falafel right. I like them a little on the wet side, that ensures them staying moist and tender. Also, there’s a secret to making perfect falafel: refrigerate it overnight and bake it the next day. It lets all the flavors meld together, and firms it up for easy patty-making. Falafel was one of the things I made for my food shoot with Kelly Goode of Capture Photography. She is amazing, which you already know, because you see the pictures.
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 onion, chopped roughly
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves
juice of 2 lemons
5-6 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chipotle powder (or a combination of smoked paprika and cayenne or red pepper flakes)
copious salt and pepper
2 cups panko
Method: In a food processor, combine all ingredients but the eggs and panko and pulse until smooth and well-combined. If your food processor is WAY too small to accommodate this much stuff, like mine is, you can do it in stages, like I did, and dump it all into a big bowl and mix it together there. As long as the ingredients are all in really small pieces, you’re good. With everything in a big mixing bowl, mix in the eggs and panko. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle some olive oil onto a cookie sheet and spread it around. Using a spoon or your hands, ball up the falafel into 1 inch or so balls, flattening each slightly so they form little patties. (This is a judgement call, lots of falafel is round, I just like the way patties sit more nicely in a pita.) Lay them onto the cookie sheet and drizzle the tops with a little more olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes or so and then flip and bake for another 10 minutes or so. The falafel should be deep brown and crunchy when you touch it.
Serve in sandwich form like I did, with greens, cherry tomatoes, pickled beets, pepperocinis and tzaziki, or in any form you like.
1/2 cucumber, grated, taking care to save the juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
copious salt and pepper
Method: Grate the cucumber into a bowl. Mix in all other ingredients and serve.