Punch a ticket in your extravaganza card with easy baked falafel surrounded by all your favorites – flavorful simmered lentils, quick pickled red onions, assorted veg and orange-tahini dressing. Anything and everything goes when it’s an extravaganza, so let’s get this celebration going.
Baked falafel – who knew?
I mean, who knew it was this easy to make oil-free, baked falafel? For this recipe, it’s just a rough chop, 2 cans of chickpeas and a food processor or blender away.
What is falafel?
Taking a few steps back though, I grew up with American traditions – pizza, hamburgers, French fries. Yep, the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet). I didn’t know about this traditional Mediterranean dish, often found wrapped up in pita bread. Undoubtedly, I’d have loved falafel because in those days, the idea of anything crunchy and deep fried was pretty darned appealing. The fact that they are vegan, comprised of chickpeas or fava beans with herb and spices would have been a non-issue back when I was eating to satisfy my immediate need for food satisfaction without considering the long-term consequences of what I was stuffing in my mouth.
Change, ready or not
When I started making new approaches to eating, the change in what and how I cooked hit warped speed. So many wonderful ingredients and opportunities to make all those dishes I loved and some I had yet to discover I loved. Falafel came someplace in between there. I’d had falafel and I liked them, but deep down, I knew I would enjoy them more with a bit of exploration and a healthier approach.
After creating a simple recipe for baked veggie balls, it hit me that falafel, using the basic ingredients of chickpeas, chopped parsley and cilantro, along with garlic, cumin and coriander (traditional falafel stuff) was a natural transition. I knew the chickpeas would serve as a bit of a binder to hold the falafel balls together, but experience told me that chickpeas alone wouldn’t keep them from crumbling.
What is a binder?
Whenever you make veggie burgers or balls, you need to consider what kind of binder you’ll use. A binder is just what you think it is – an ingredient (or ingredients) that help hold everything together. When I make tempeh burgers or chickpea cutlets for example, I use vital wheat gluten (seitan). This is a wonderful option when you want something that has a ‘meaty’ texture. Another standard are breadcrumbs which I used to much success with baked bean balls for kale vegetable soup. The common factor here of course, is gluten and sometimes and for some folks, it’s a good idea to cut that part out. Besides, neither seitan or breadcrumbs are close to standard ingredients for falafel.
In honor of baked falafel and trying to preserve enough integrity to call them falafel, I used ground 3 tablespoons of ground chia seeds (you can also use flax seeds). Why? Because a bit of ground chia or flax seeds take on super binding/thickening properties when they are combined with liquid. If you do a lot of vegan baking (or a little), you’ll often see ‘flax egg’ as an ingredient. That is simply, flax seeds mixed with water.
Grinding chia or flax seeds
I personally find that ground chia or flax seeds result in better binding than used whole. There’s also a nutritional benefit from grinding because the hard, outer shell of the whole seeds is difficult to digest. I use a ratio or 2 to 1, whole to ground. For example, you’ll want 6 tablespoons of whole seeds to get to 3 of the ground. I usually grind seeds in batches because they keep really well in an airtight container along with my dry spices and flours.
Crunchy seed mix – our new healthy obsession
And in the spirit of making this falafel recipe just a bit twisted, but still keeping it healthy, I turned to our absolute new favorite. This addictive toasted seed mix with pepitas, sesame seeds and red chili flakes might sound just ‘basic’, but let’s not be putting ‘basic’ in a corner people. As we discovered when we make white bean tostadas with that yummy blackberry salsa the other week, this seed mix is probably one of the most versatile ingredients I’ve made yet.
Not only does it crunch up any salad or taco in the place, we used it to coat tempeh burgers the other week and well, falafel – crunchy – seed mix. That was just too easy. I am seriously recommending to anyone who will listen that this is THE condiment you need to have on hand. Don’t believe me? Add it to any roasted or steamed vegetable and then let’s talk.
The ins and arounds of toasted seeds
I made enough toasted seed mix for an army this time, but I used ¼ cup mixed right in the falafel and then reserved another ¼ cup to roll the falafel balls just before baking them. It’s an added bit of crunch, with just a subtle amount of chili. The tiny amount of natural oil from the toasted and broken up seeds also helps keep your falafel from sticking to the parchment paper or baking tray. And don’t be ‘stash’ (I know, so old school), any of the seed mix that falls off during the baking process can participate in the extravaganza.
What I learned about baked falafel
When I first started baking falafel at home, I based the success of my outcome on my experience of mostly highly process, oil added falafel dough that was deep fried. Maybe I ‘baked’ (reheated) the packaged kind, but that couldn’t hide all the extra stuff in there designed to make them presentable. I’m only bringing this up because you might discover that the falafel will form a few surface cracks when you bake them. When this first happened, I thought this might be a huge recipe fail, but what I discovered it that it’s a natural consequence of the expansion of the ingredients as they cook. My advice – don’t get excited – that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Our other party guests
When I think extravaganza and food, it’s all about multiple tastes, flavors and ingredients. I won’t suggest for a minute that ‘naked’ baked falafel isn’t wonderful. I tested this theory right out-of-the oven, so I consider myself a bit of an expert.
I was going for food party here, so I invited some of my favorites starting with lentils simmered with bay leaves, thyme and a pinch of salt. This concoction in my kitchen are salad lentils. Nothing special in terms of recipes, but here’s another something to keep hanging out in the fridge. It’s the super easy salad maker.
And while I was at it, I invited quick pickled red onions, because they are low maintenance and so very delicious and colorful. What’s not to love about a 5-minute that makes itself in 15 minutes in the fridge? Never forget about pickled red onions, we use them on just about everything from salads and wraps to burgers to putting them in a pretty dish alongside any meal that deserves a bit of color.
After you raid the fridge for whatever greens and veg you are inviting to this here extravaganza, the thought might occur that without a dressing, your baked falafel, lentils and all the other party guests are simply not going to mingle well without an inspiring host. You know the kind, they bring everyone together without taking over the guests.
I know, we’re talking baked falafel here, with emphasis on the word easy and that can only mean a creamy tahini dressing. I used a combination of lemon and orange juice this time, with garlic and tahini. A bit of a break from my favorite tahini-lemon-garlic, but the orange juice added a bit of sweetness that helps balance everything out. If life happens and you don’t have orange juice or an orange hanging around, remember, every party has a few hiccups and all you need to do is substitute a bit of extra lemon juice and or water. All will be well.
I love when an extravaganza goes off without a hitch, but if the food is good, I can easily tune out any uproar. Eating good food, the kind that is completely guilt-free is an extravaganza all to itself. Your surroundings might be a noisy gathering around the table, a quiet moment of contemplation while you enjoy your food or perhaps something in between. One thing I know for sure, in sticking to the plant-based principles and controlling the ingredient list for oil and a few other unwanted guests, my insides can consider food an extravaganza, no matter the circumstances. Peace.Print