When I discovered that certain grocery stores sell celery by the stalk, it was a revelation. No longer would I have to purchase an entire bunch of celery just to make a recipe that called for one measly stalk. Someone was kind enough to apply the same idea to extra-large items like pumpkins and watermelons, which you can often find in plastic-wrapped halves or quarters, just in case, you know, you weren’t planning a blow-out party any time soon and were doubting your abilities to polish off 20 pounds of fruit before it went bad. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen cabbage treated the same way (maybe because it turns brown after you cut it, but still…). The only option is to get a whole head, and you’re left wondering what sort of crazy fertilizer everyone must be using because you swear the smallest head you can find is about the size and weight of a bowling ball.
So, when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, after you’ve enjoyed a dinner of corned beef, cabbage, Guinness, soda bread, and pudding, what do you do with the rest of this forlorn cruciferous that’s taking up space in the produce bin like an unfinished beer left abandoned on the counter? Embrace spring and turn it into an essential part of your baked falafel salad, that’s what!
Whenever I go out to Lebanese or Middle Eastern restaurants, I can’t resist ordering some falafel, but I hardly ever make it at home because deep-frying isn’t something that makes the regular rotation in my house. I have tried some baked falafel recipes in the past, but they just weren’t as savory or crunchy as I wanted.
So, I added a couple of inauthentic ingredients to mine: first, a spoonful of nutritional yeast, or “nooch”—even though it’s often used as a vegan cheese substitute and falafel never calls for cheese, I like the flavor it adds. I got mine from the bulk bins at Whole Foods; you can also find it online. Second: a pinch of asafoetida—also called Devil’s Dung, apparently, for how stinky it is. I had bought some from an Indian grocer a while ago, and it was indeed so smelly that I had to double-wrap the container in sealed bags to keep my husband from complaining about it every time we opened the pantry. It’s one of those odors that is 60% bad and 40% good—I honestly can’t do justice describing it. It’s like the smell of a sweaty workout after a meal that contained large quantities of garlic. I know, I know, that sounds so gross! who would want to eat that? but just a pinch of it is delicious in falafel. Trust me.
To make the baked falafel nice and crunchy, I generously oiled the pan and pre-heated it in the oven. I also borrowed a technique from the crunchiest crab cakes I’ve ever made and double-coated the falafel with flour (chickpea flour, natch) and then a layer of fine breadcrumbs. Instead of egg whites in between the flour and breadcrumb layers, I used the drained liquid from the can of chickpeas, beaten until it was foamy. Yeah, did you know you can whip chickpea liquid like egg whites?? I recently discovered this, and it’s pretty amazing. Some sources I’ve read call it aquafaba, which is the fanciest name for ‘bean water’ that I’ve ever heard. Anyway, let’s not let nomenclature get in the way—asafoetida or Devil’s Dung, drained chickpea liquid or aquafaba, I’ll take it if it makes my food taste better.
To serve the baked falafel, I (try to) stuff it into a pita with loads of thinly sliced cabbage, matchsticked radishes, fresh cilantro, and tahini sauce, but I usually I go overboard on the filling and the thing falls apart. However, I recently discovered by a happy accident that it comes together great in salad form—in fact, the salad might even be better than the sandwich because you can mix everything together more evenly. Whatever you choose, don’t skimp on the toppings.
Note(s): Many falafel recipes call for using cilantro, but I prefer putting parsley in the cooked patties and adding a little handful of fresh cilantro to the salad (or sandwich). You can find chickpea flour and asafoetida at Indian grocers or online. The patties can be made ahead of time and they freeze well; they just won’t be as crunchy when you reheat them. The falafel recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman, and the crunchy coating technique was borrowed from a crab cake recipe from Epicurious.
Crunchy Baked Falafel Salad (or Sandwich)
For the falafel
- 1. Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 15.5-oz. can chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved in a medium bowl
- 1/4 c. chickpea flour, divided
- 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 2 garlic cloves, microplaned or finely minced
- 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
- 1/3 c. finely chopped yellow or white onion
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. (generous) kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. asafoetida
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 c.plain dry breadcrumbs
- Spread the olive oil and vegetable oil evenly into a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375º.
- Pulse the drained chickpeas in a food processor until finely ground.
- Put the ground chickpeas in a medium bowl. Add 1 tbsp. of the chickpea flour and then all of the other ingredients except the plain dry breadcrumbs (so, nutritional yeast through baking soda). Mix well.
- Put your oiled pan in the oven to get nice and hot while you shape the falafel.
- Place the remaining 3 Tbsp. chickpea flour on a small plate or shallow dish. Divide the falafel mixture into 16 evenly-sized patties, and coat each patty in the chickpea flour, gently brushing off the excess. Set the patties aside on a cutting board as you coat them.
- Place the plain dry breadcrumbs on a small plate or shallow dish. Beat the reserved chickpea liquid until thick and foamy, like egg whites. Use a pastry brush to brush each patty all over with a little bit of whipped chickpea liquid, and then coat both sides lightly in the dry breadcrumbs. Set the patties aside on a cutting board as you coat them.
- Once all of the patties are coated in flour and crumbs, use a oven mitt! to take your hot pan out of the preheated oven. Place the patties in the pan (the oil will sizzle) and bake for about 10 minutes on each side, flipping once.
Putting it all together—do not skip or skimp on these toppings!!
- 1/4 c. well-stirred tahini
- 1/4 c. water
- 1 medium garlic clove, microplaned or finely minced
- 6 c. finely shredded green cabbage (slice it as thinly as you can) (use closer to 4 c. if you’re making a sandwich instead of a salad)
- 8 or so good-sized radishes, trimmed and cut into matchsticks
- 1/2 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- 4 pitas
- Make the tahini sauce by stirring together the tahini, water, and garlic. Season to taste with salt.
- If you’re going the salad route, first toast the pita. Then toss the fresh veggies together, place the warm falafel on top, drizzle with the dressing, and finish with pieces of your toasted pita. Make sure to get a little bit of everything in each bite.
- If you’re going to make sandwiches, I like to layer them: two falafels-veggies-sauce-two falafels-veggies-sauce. That way, you’re not stuck with all the cabbage at the top and all the falafel at the bottom.