Herbed Falafel Bowl

I am a fan of Sara Forte and Hugh Forte and their beautifully presented blog, The Sprouted Kitchen. Even more so, I am a fan of my friend who gifted me with the Forte's first cookbook, simply entitled The Sprouted Kitchen. Thus, I was looking forward to this sophomore cookbook from Sara Forte. It meant good food, beautiful pictures, and a nostalgic return to her first.

This new cookbook combines the pragmatism of the first book (healthy, whole foods) with the charm of a single dish. While the book reads almost like a vegetarian cookbook, Forte tucks in recipes for turkey meatballs, seared tuna, jerk-seasoned white fish, roasted salmon, and seared scallops. Forte is no simpleton when it comes to healthy food, for such a qualifying moniker doesn't always mean food without poultry or seafood. Further, Forte admits that one must not get too literal with the bowl and spoon, even encouraging you to branch out to the fork and plate as needed. However, there is something wonderfully comforting about nestling foods of appealing and assorted textures, flavors, colors, and temperatures into one serving vessel and, if need be, settling onto the couch to watch a favorite movie. While these dishes are not always as portable as a lunchbox entree (although some of the salads and side dishes are), they are portable from kitchen to living room in a deep bowl. So, branch out, move away from the table, and still have a good dinner even if it's while sitting at your desk while you grade papers, sitting around the coffee table instead of at the dinner table, or curling up in a favorite chair to flip through a good book (with requisite bowl perched on your thigh).

I was delighted to make the Herbed Falafel Bowl (on page 115, for this slim book doesn't go all the way to 215). Back in the mid-nineties, I was a culinary novice, interested in good food but utterly baffled by it. I went to visit my Oregon-living friend, and she introduced me to what have become necessities in my life, chai and falafel (not necessarily taken together). On that trip, we also hiked, went to a fancy dinner, played basketball by streetlamp-light as we waited for those dinner reservations, and took a trip to the coast. However, I remember these two culinary and quite well-spiced introductions found at Portland street vendors far more than I do the fancy dinner at a restaurant whose name I cannot even recall.

Falafels were a boon for me as a then-vegetarian. While many disagree on the precise history of the falafel, some say that the dish originated in Egypt with the Coptic Christians, who ate the deep-fried chickpea fritters as a replacement for meat during Lent*--a perfect vegetarian food. Further, with all those beans (recipes debate as to whether one should use chickpeas or fava beans or a combination of both), the falafel balls were a great source of (an incomplete) protein. I have made many a falafel (sometimes even of the boxed variety but often of the homemade assortment).

*Others suggest that the falafel originates in Israel for the country claims the falafel as its national food, and even others claim that Palestine is the origin of the humble spiced bean ball.  The New York Times has a great article on the contentious origin of this mushed legume, and I shall leave the final word to food historians and journalists. However, thus far, no one has yet tried to contend with this fun fact: the world's largest falafel was recorded in July of 2012 and weighed in at 164.4 pounds.

Ever focused on health, Sara Forte updates this falafel recipe for the gluten free who wish to avoid deep frying their food. Even if you do not count yourself in either category, I recommend making this scrumptious dish.

These falafels are also exceptionally portable, as evidenced by the fact that I brought them with me on my trip to Stinson Beach.  I love this beach--I have walked along it with my sister, my mother, my niece and my nephew. The husband and I have spent time here with many friends, including one whom I miss immensely. And today, I spent the day there by myself, with a bowl of falafels, a blanket, a book, and my journal. Despite all my sunblock, I did end up with a little bit of a burn on the tops of my feet, and I made friends with a stray dog, who unfortunately did not have tags. I can see the end of spring break on the horizon, unfortunately. So I am savoring every beach- and falafel-filled moment.


Herbed Falafel Bowl

Serves 4

For the falafel
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Medjool dates, pitted
1/2 yellow onion
2 cups cooked and well-drained chickpeas
1/2 cup toasted pistachios
1 small bunch, chopped cilantro (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves
 2 Tbsp flax seed meal
1/2 tsp baking soda

For the Tahini Citrus Miso Dressing
1/2 cup tahini
2 Tbsp white or yellow miso
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp hot sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 large orange (about 1/3 cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon juice, to taste   
For the bowl
1 head romaine, finely shredded
1 English cucumber, sliced thin
1 pound tomatoes, sliced in wedges
3 cups cooked brown rice              

For the falafel:
1.  In the bowl of a food processor, add the garlic, pepper flakes, cumin, sea salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, dates, and onion. Process until well mixed. Add the chickpeas and pistachios and give it a few pulses until chunky; do not puree. Add the cilantro, parsley, mint, flax seed meal, and baking soda and pulse until the herbs are just incorporated. You want a coarse mixture, not too smooth. (This can be done up to 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.)

2.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rub a little oil on your hands, form 2-inch balls with the batter, and arrange them on the baking sheet; you'll have about 20. Brush a thin layer of olive oil on top. Bake 25-30 minutes, until the tops are browned.

For the dressing
3.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together the tahini, miso, honey, sesame oil, and hot sauce to combine. Whisk in the vinegar, orange juice, salt and pepper to taste. Thin with water or lemon juice, 1 Tbsp at a time, if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning.

For the bowl:
4.  Toss the romaine, cucumber, and tomatoes with the dressing. Arrange the bowl with the rice, the vegetables, and the falafel. 


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