Baked Falafel and Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce
I have a fear of deep-frying things.
Well not so much a fear, as an unshakable ambivalence.
And no, not just for health reasons. I’ll happily order deep-fried calamari, french fries, falafel, or agedashi-doufu at a restaurant. I’m just eternally reluctant to make them at home.
My history with deep-frying things is short and tinged with disappointment:
- In high school, some friends and I made some (moderately successful) vegetable tempura. (The success was thanks to the friends.)
- In college, a friend and I made some (complete failure) samosas, which were mainly a complete failure because we undercooked the potatoes, and they poked through the too-flimsy dough, so it wasn’t really a deep-frying-related failure, but still.
- [In Japan, I barely cooked for three years, instead subsisting entirely on restaurant food + copious amounts of homemade hummus, or bowls of chopped tomato and avocado laced with Sriracha.]
- In Philadelphia, a friend and I deep-fried some onion rings, which began as a moderate success, but then ended with some smoking black oil. (There was drinking involved.)
That’s it! In California, I’ve stood by as sous-chef as friends have fried up potato latkes, and as Paula has crisped up tortillas for chicken enchiladas, but I generally avoid deep-frying at all costs.
What am I afraid of exactly? I’m afraid that hot oil will splatter and burn me; that the food will absorb too much oil and become greasy or soggy; that the oil will start smoking or turn black and I’ll have to start over with more oil; and the worst part of all is the clean-up: what do you do with all of that oil after you’re done frying with it? Can you save it and use it again? Is that gross? If you don’t, isn’t that wasteful?
I obviously have a lot of questions here. Contrary to what you might think of the typical Wisconsin diet, when I was growing up, we were not a household of Deep-Fried Things.
Easiest to avoid these questions altogether and go with baked versions of everything instead! (Or, you know, eat out.) This is why I already have a collection of baked-versions-of-things on my blog so far: baked oven fries, baked pita chips, baked “fried” green tomatoes…
Now add to that list: Baked Falafel!
I’ve been unimpressed before by many an overly-fried falafel with a hardened exterior and a dry center. (Worse yet, are falafels that are dry all the way through.) This recipe– slightly adapted from the singular Jerusalem cookbook– offers up rich, herby, and succulent chickpea patties, so delicious on their own, you don’t even need Tzatziki.
(Try making some homemade tzatziki anyway, though; its delicious on its own, too!)
Paula devised a perfect-baked-falafel method of starting with cooked chickpeas, shaping slightly more sizable patties than called for in the cookbook, pan-frying them lightly first in cast iron to brown the tops and bottoms nicely (pan-frying, I can handle!), then baking them until the centers are cooked through, but never dry.
So now we can have all the makings of a Middle Eastern feast in just a fraction of our evening: homemade pita bread, hummus, falafel, and– quickest of all– tzatziki: a garlicky cucumber yogurt sauce, that takes just minutes to whisk up, and a good deal of willpower to stop eating. Greek Tzatziki is similar to Turkish Cacik, though a little less liquidy. Garlic, herbs, and olive oil perk up the tangy Greek yogurt, while the grated cucumber makes it surprisingly refreshing.
You can make the tzatziki, hummus, and even the falafel “dough” ahead of time– storing them in the fridge. Pair it all with a Shepherd’s Salad— if you have a bit more time to devote to chopping and dicing– for a feast that’s grander still; but even without any extras, this is already one of my favorite dinners of all time. I hope you enjoy it, too.
Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce
~ 1 small cucumber, or ½ large cucumber
~ ¾ cup Greek Yogurt, Labne, or strained plain yogurt
~ 1 small clove garlic, minced
~ small drizzle of olive oil, to taste
~ sea salt and black pepper, to taste
~ pinch of fresh chopped dill
~ pinch of fresh chopped mint
How to make it:
1. Peel the cucumber, then grate it (or dice it) into a colander. Sprinkle the grated cucumber with a pinch or two of sea salt, then set aside for about 10 minutes– over a bowl or in the sink– to allow the liquid to drain away from it.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the minced garlic into the yogurt. Gently squeeze any excess liquid from the grated cucumber (and rinse off excess salt if necessary), then add it to the yogurt.
3. Stir in the dill and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper to taste (though it might not need more salt). Serve slightly chilled with pita bread or over falafel.
(Recipe adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook.)
(Makes 12-15 large falafel; serves 4)
~ 1¾ cups cooked chickpeas
~ ⅓ onion, chopped
~ 2 cloves garlic, chopped
~ 2 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley, chopped
~ 2 Tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
~ 3 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
~ ½ tsp. ground cumin
~ ½ tsp. ground coriander
~ ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
~ dash of ground cardamom
~ dash of dried red pepper flakes
~ pinch of salt
~ ½ tsp. baking powder
~ 3 Tbsp. water
~ 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
~ several Tbsp. sunflower oil, for pan-frying
How to make it:
1. Use a food processor to blend the chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, and cilantro. Pulse ingredients together in small batches until finely and evenly chopped, but not too mushy.
2. Transfer to a bowl and add the spices, baking power, water, and flour. Mix well, by hand or with a rubber spatula. (Make ahead: optionally cover and chill in the fridge until just before dinner.)
3. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a tablespoon or two of sunflower oil in a skillet (preferably an oven-safe skillet, like a cast iron pan).
4. With wet hands, shape the falafel dough into small round patties, squeezing gently to shape them. Pan-fry the falafel in batches over medium heat, for 2-3 minutes, or until they start to brown, flipping them over as needed (and adding extra oil as needed).
5. Transfer to oven– on the same skillet(s) or on a parchment-lined baking sheet– and bake for 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Serve warm with pita bread and tzatziki.