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Catastrophe Kitchen | Falafel with Tzatziki

By Salongo Wendland

These falafel are fragrant, crunchy, and filling. They’re delicious tucked into pitas with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion, and tahini, or served with the same as a salad. You can even just have them by themselves, dipped in tahini sauce. I am a heathen, and prefer tzatziki for its cool, creamy crunch, so I’m going to give you a recipe(ish) for that, too, and you can marvel at this Middle Eastern/Mediterranean mash-up made possible in the cosmopolitan confines of your own kitchen.

And as always, it’s not rocket science. EVEN I CAN MAKE IT! The only things that may seem intimidating are 1. remembering to soak the beans the night before, and 2. the spice list. If you don’t have all of the spices, you can, in a pinch, use just the cumin, coriander, and salt. But I suggest you use ALL of them.

You will need:

Falafel:
1 lb. dried chickpeas, SOAKED OVERNIGHT
1 small onion or 3 spring onions
1 handful parsley
1 handful cilantro
4 cloves garlic
2 T flour (I used chickpea flour, which makes this gluten free)
Spice Mix
Oil for frying
Spice Mix:
2 t cumin
1 t coriander
1 t salt
1/2 t turmeric
1/4 t crushed cardamom seeds, about 3 pods
1/4 t cayenne
1/4 t pepper
pinch of cinnamon

Haul out your food processor! You know, that expensive contraption someone told you to put on your wedding registry? The one gathering dust in the closet. That’s the one! Rinse your beans and dump them in the bowl. Give the onions a rough chop then add everything to your processor bowl, including the spice mix but NOT including the oil, and turn that baby on! You want to process it until it’s a little smaller than couscous and will hold an imprint when you push on it. Like this:

Put the mix in the fridge while you clean up your kitchen. The falafel needs to sit to develop the starch that will help bind them together (SCIENCE!). It should take you about 15 minutes. Unless you get distracted by how dirty your kitchen is, in general, and decide to clean the entire thing. Then it will take you an hour (OR MORE!).

You can also use this time to whip up some tzatziki, which is not a traditional accompaniment, but is something I love to put on my falafel. It’s the perfect cool, creamy, tangy, citrus-y foil for the crunchy falafel.

You will need:
1 C strained Greek yogurt
1/2 cucumber
1/2 lemon
3 cloves garlic
2 T dill

Seed the cucumber and chop it into a very small dice (or grate it if you want to be more authentic– I like the little cubes, though). Squeeze the diced cucumber in a towel to get rid of most of its moisture, then add it and the yogurt to a bowl.

Zest the lemon half into the bowl, then squeeze in its juice. Put the garlic through a press and give the dill a rough chop and add them to the rest. Stir it up and you’ve got tzatziki!

Now it’s time to shape your falafel. I made them into little patties, about 1.5″x.5″, but if you’re deep frying, you can make them into the more traditional balls. They are pretty loose, so just be careful with them.

You can either deep fry them, bake them, or pan fry them. I never deep fry anything because it smells up my kitchen and it seems like a waste of oil, but if you have an air-fryer (AKA you are just flush with crazy kitchen gadgets) or a fry baby (you fry way too much) feel free to knock yourself out.

I recommend pan frying to hit the sweet spot between easy and tasty. Just pour about 1/4″ of oil in your pan, heat it over medium high, then carefully transfer the patties to the pan in batches, making sure they’re not touching. After a minute or two, the browning will creep up from the bottom, and you can flip them.

(This is not a monster falafel. It is a normal falafel in the tiny baby pan I own and which I use incessantly. In this case, I used it because I didn’t want to waste oil, and only wanted to fry a few for my lunch.)

SO, you will see around the internet recommendations to bake your falafel. Do not do it. I did, and I regret it. I thought it would be the same! But healthier and easier and I could stock my freezer full and just heat them up! But it is NOT. THE. SAME. Even coating the baking pan with oil and the tops of the falafels with more was not enough to get much of a crunchy crust on them.

But even worse, the baked ones dried out like raisins, getting all crumbly instead of staying moist.

So, if you want to make a bunch and freeze them, I would recommend forming them, freezing them, then popping them off the pan into a ziplock. When you want fresh falafel, defrost your frozen falafel in the microwave for about 2 minutes, then fry them as usual.

I love these most in a soft pita or flatbread, but I only had a whole wheat wrap, so it had to do. Don’t follow my lead. Get thee to the pitas. Add on radishes or pickled veggies, lettuce and onion, tomatoes and tahini (and plenty of that tzatziki!). Marvel at all the flavors. Yes, falafel are healthy. And gluten-free. And vegetarian. But guess what, guys? They’re also DELICIOUS. Have another.

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