That's because falafel — pan-fried patties made from chickpeas, onions and a mess of delicious seasonings — are healthy, speedy and versatile. They can be served any number of ways — as-is with a yogurt or sour cream dipping sauce; stuffed into a pita pocket with onions and tomatoes; even wedged into a grinder and topped with tahini.
They also adapt well to whatever flavours you prefer. Though I like the classic combination of cilantro and cumin, you could ditch those for Italian or Indian seasonings. Cooking method can vary, too. Tradition calls for deep-frying, but I never do that. I prefer to fry them in just a bit of oil in a skillet. You also could lose the frying entirely and bake them in the oven.
This recipe mixes things up just a bit, adding lightly chopped cashews for a creamy flavour and delicate crunch. It also adds a bit of smoked paprika for depth and just a dash of hot sauce.
SPICY CASHEW FALAFEL
Prefer to do these in the oven? Arrange the patties on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake at 425 F for 10 to 12 minutes. And if you're not into spicy, feel free to leave out the hot sauce.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
4 large plum tomatoes, finely chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 medium red onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup fresh parsley
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup cashews
1 to 2 tablespoons hot sauce, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, tahini and lemon juice until smooth. Mix in the tomatoes and scallions, then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
To make the falafel, in a food processor combine the onion, garlic, cilantro and parsley. Pulse until the onion and herbs are finely chopped, but not pulverized. Add the chickpeas, cashews, hot sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt, the cumin, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and lemon zest. Pulse about 7 to 8 times, or until the chickpeas and cashews are finely chopped, but not ground.
Divide the mixture into 12 walnut-sized balls, then use your hands to form each into a tightly packed 2-inch patty.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the patties, working in batches if needed, and fry for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until browned and crisp. If working in batches, keep the finished falafel warm in a 200 F oven. Serve the falafel with the yogurt-tahini sauce spooned over them.
Nutrition information per serving: 400 calories; 220 calories from fat (55 per cent of total calories); 25 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrate; 8 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 17 g protein; 1,080 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org