Friday, February 1, 2019

Smoky Quinoa Black Bean Falafel

I adore falafel, but it’s definitely not one of my favorite dishes to make. I put the two-bite morsels in the same boat as sushi: ideal take-out fare, where I can gleefully delight in every transportable component from the tiny side condiments to the just-so placed meal elements inside the rectangular cardboard container, not at an inch of surface area to spare. Fried chickpea patties are probably not the first dish that comes to mind when you think dinner on-the-go, but I happen to live near Taim, which serves sensational herbed falafel nestled against perfectly proportioned dollops of hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, and tabbouleh, plus a za’atar spiced pita bread on the side. The arrangement is nothing short of heaven, and I’ll happily dig into this smorgasbord of flavors with my plastic fork over recreating each of these accoutrements from scratch any day.
I know, I know, falafel isn’t hard to make. It involves a food processor and an oven. (I actually have an excellent recipe for the homemade version here). But let’s be honest, it’s not exactly a “put everything in the food processor!” kind of dish. It involves herbs—usually more than one kind—that have to be carefully destemmed before blending. The bulb, whether it be onions, scallions, or shallots, likely need to be chopped too. Then each patty has to be hand-formed, and before you know it, the whole endeavor becomes quite cumbersome. (On second thought, can I have an extra za’atar spiced pita with my order, please?) 
Quashing all of my grievances with a single recipe is this Smoky Quinoa Black Bean Falafel. Here, we have a true everything-into-the-food-processor patty, no knife required. Even better, it’s a pantry item rendition: you most likely already have the ingredients in your larder. The base is a bean, seed and nut mix (hello protein!) seasoned with ample spices, tomato paste, and chipotle pepper for acidity; and coconut aminos and nutritional yeast for umami. (Don’t fret if you don’t have some of the more obscure ingredients. Soy sauce can easily take the place of coconut aminos—just omit the salt—and nutritional yeast is optional. If you don’t have chipotle peppers in adobe lying around, use one teaspoon of chili powder instead). 

Dana of Minimalist Baker—the quick & easy vegan cooking queen— is behind the recipe, so you know she has a few tried-and-true tricks up her sleeve when it comes to texture. To ensure a super crispy crust without using any oil, Dana bakes the canned beans in advance to rid of excess water, ensuring that the quinoa/black bean base is sticky and unyielding. You’ll feel the sturdiness of the batter in your hands after blending: its appropriately crumbly, but not too pliant; and just gummy enough to instill confidence that each rolled patty will deftly hold its own. Post-baking, this translates to an overwhelmingly satisfying chip-like crunch on the outside, and moist, meaty chew on the inside. 

I was also able to adjust my patty-forming technique to be much more efficient than in the past. The trick lies in rolling each patty with your palms, rather than your fingers. Using a heaping tablespoon of batter per patty, I would scoop the contents into the palm of my hand, where I would roll it into a ball. Then, I would flatten the patty—again, only using the palm of my hand—before transferring to the baking sheet. Each patty took about 30 seconds with this method. 

Try the falafel in a pita or on top of a salad—I always like serving mine with some diced tomatoes and cucumbers, but the second time around I got creative and added some olives and pickled onions, too. For a simple tahini dressing, combine 3 parts tahini, 2 parts fresh lemon juice, 1 part olive oil, and enough water (likely the same amount as the lemon juice) to achieve a drizzly consistency. (Water will thicken tahini before it thins it, so don’t be alarmed if at the beginning you achieve the reverse effect). Then, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Smoky Quinoa Black Bean Falafel (from Minimalist Baker)
Makes 16 falafel patties

1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa, from 1/2 cup dry (make sure it's cooked and completely cooled before using) 
1 15-ounce can black beans (rinsed, drained, dried) 
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (raw or roasted) 
5 cloves garlic (skin removed and crushed) 
1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste 
1 tsp ground cumin 
1/2 tsp ground coriander 
2 Tbsp tomato paste 
2 Tbsp coconut aminos (or soy sauce, if using, omit the sea salt)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (can sub 1 tsp chili powder) 
1 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)

1. If you haven’t prepared your quinoa yet, do so now (make sure it’s cooked and cooled completely before use). 
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Add rinsed, dried black beans to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until beans appear cracked and feel dry to the touch. Remove beans from the oven and then increase oven heat to 375 degrees F. 
3. Add black beans to a food processor along with pumpkin seeds and garlic and pulse into a loose meal. Then add cooked/cooled quinoa, salt, cumin, coriander, tomato paste, coconut aminos, chipotle pepper in adobo, and nutritional yeast (optional). Blend to combine until a textured dough forms (you're not looking for a purée). 
4. Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more coconut aminos for saltiness/depth of flavor, adobo sauce for heat, cumin for smokiness, or salt for overall flavor. 
5. Scoop out 1 1/2 Tbsp amounts and gently form into small discs using your hands. Add formed falafel to a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
6. Bake for 15 minutes. Then flip to ensure even baking and bake for 10-15 minutes more or until golden brown and crispy on the edges.