Thursday, April 8, 2010

Falafel Burgers

Since the 1970’s street food carts in  U.S. cities have been packing pita pockets with middle eastern falafel and salad drizzled with yogurt and tahini sauces for just a few bucks.  I remember a time when lunchtime crowds would converge on a certain mid-town Manhattan street corner to get what was rumored to be the best falafel in the city.  My colleagues and I would often walk 15 blocks passing several other vendors to get the falafel with the special hot sauce served from this cart. 

True falafel uses chickpeas soaked in bicarbonate of soda that are ground with parsley and spices then fried as bite-sized balls or patties. In Egypt, fava beans rather than chickpeas are used for falafel, a word that is used to describe things of a fluffy and crunchy texture in Arabic.  It is also thought to be a derivative of the Arabic word for peppers which sounds like “filfil.”

My falafel burgers shortcut the process with cooked chickpeas giving them a slightly softer texture but the same satisfying experience.  The burgers are baked rather than fried and can be made ahead and frozen for a future snack or lunch. A batch makes a week’s worth of bag lunches.  Peppery, spicey, fluffy, crunchy falafel burgers are easy to prepare and make a pure snack for big after-school and post-workout appetites.  For the truly time-starved (or oven-challenged) I've even included a no-bake falafel pita dip. 

Falafel Burgers with Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce
Makes 5 burgers

1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained or 2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh parsley or cilantro
1 cloves garlic, mashed
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup plain dry bread crumbs
spray cooking oil

  1. In a large bowl mash chickpeas with a fork until the mashed beans hold together but are still a bit chunky.
  2. Microwave diced onion on high 1 minute (or cook in a covered pan with a tablespoon or two of water).  Watch it carefully to ensure onions stay moist while they soften.  Add onion and parsley to chickpeas.
  3. Using the side of a chef’s knife, smash garlic clove and remove outer skin.  Sprinkle peeled clove with a bit of salt to provide friction and chop to a fine consistency.  Use the side of the knife to smooth garlic and salt into a paste.  Add to bean mixture.
  4. Next add cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, lemon juice and olive oil.  Taste mixture and adjust according to your tastes for more cayenne, lemon or spices. 
The falafel mixture can be eaten at this point, scooped into pita pockets with salad and tahini sauce or the yogurt-cucumber sauce below or served as a chunky dip.  To turn the dip into burgers, continue with recipe.

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil and lightly spray with cooking oil.
  2. Stir in egg and baking powder.  Using a 1/3 cup scoop or measuring cup, place a scoop of falafel onto a shallow dish covered with a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs. Flatten into a patty using the back of a fork or the measuring cup.  Sprinkle top of patty with more bread crumbs.  Use a spatula to carefully lift falafel patty to baking sheet.  Patties are quite delicate at this stage.  Use a fork to make any needed repairs from the dish to thje baking sheet.  
  3. When all patties are formed, spray the tops with a little more cooking oil and bake for 15 minutes, turning once.  
Falafel burgers can be served at once over a salad dressed with yogurt-cucumber sauce (below) or tucked into a pita pocket with lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and tahini sauce (see note).  Your favorite hot sauce finishes these burgers for those who like even more spice. 

Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce
Makes about 1 1/3 cups

8 oz plain yogurt
1/2 cucumber - peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
several fresh mint leaves, chopped
salt and pepper

In a small bowl combine yogurt, cucumber, dill, mint, salt and pepper. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Note: Tahni is sesame seed paste.   Thin a few tablespoons with water and lemon juice to make tahini sauce.  Natural peanut butter can be substituted.  If you find you love these burgers, buy some real tahini which comes in resealable cans and can be found in most international sections of your grocery.

When in New York City-- Falafel can be found served from carts on just about every corner but when I am in NYC and want some great falafel I head to Taim, a little shop in the west village where they serve falafel flavored three different ways.  Try a combo to learn what great falafel should taste like. (222 Waverly Place, west of 7th-- closest subway stations: Christopher St (#1) or 14th Street (#1,2,3).