Falafel Kebabs with Lemon Dill Tahini Dip
Are you a lonely singleton living in Markham, Ontario? If so, I feel that it’s my duty as a responsible neighbor to promote the Socials For Singles event which is happening this Friday night at Colonel Mustards Pub. Socials For Singles, the brainchild of my dear friend Kim, is taking speed dating to a whole new level by incorporating group activities and events into the first part of the evening. I think that’s pretty grand for two reasons:
1) It gives you time to size up the competition and make sure that Johnny Blue Eyes over there has adequate time to admire your dazzling charms from across the room.
2) If you don’t find everlasting true love and your ultimate soul mate, at least you’ll have had fun.
Now you might be wondering why, as a newly fiancéed woman, I’m plugging a speed dating event. Well, my friends, it’s because the first part of the evening, the exciting group activity, will feature a cooking demonstration by yours truly. Yup. I’m going to be cooking in front of a large group of people for the first time ever. And they’re going to be watching me. Staring, some might say. At me. I’m going to get stared at. By people, in public. I think my toes are starting to seize up and if I’m not mistaken I think I just heard my voice crack like that of a prepubescent 13 year old boy.
My theme of the evening is “intimate appetizers” and I’ll be cooking a few recipes from this here blog of ours, and showing people how easy it can be to make some lusciously simple and gastronomically seductive recipes for their soon-to-be loved one. Despite my anxiety (I plan on keeping any tomatoes safely at my work station to avoid potential pelting) I’m pretty excited because I know it’s going to be a fun night. Also, as an added bonus, did I mention that it’s in a pub, ie That Which Is My Safe Place? Because no matter how embarrassed I might be, that’s nothing that a few bottles glasses bottles of Pinot won’t settle.
Anyway, my point is that if you’re a single guy or gal living in Markham and the surrounding area, you should really come by. And if you’re not, but you’re a reader of our blog? You would still be ever so welcome, because Mike and I would love to meet you in person. As long as you don’t tell me how much fatter I look than the picture on our ‘About’ page, because if so you’re dead to me.
Alright, on to the food. This is the second post from our 24, 24, 24 event where we played with some Lebanese fusion comfort cooking.
Falafel is the quintessential approachable Middle Eastern food. After all, you have cute little balls or patties that have been deep fried to a luscious golden brown crust that cloaks a soft and tender savory interior. A few falafel get nestled in pita with some fresh cucumber, tomato, lettuce and onion, with a drizzle of tantalizing tahini, and all of a sudden the day just seems a whole lot brighter.
As a former Torontonian who used to be fun in a previous life, late night falafel shops were the rhino’s rump. After a dizzy and booze soaked night in the clubs, a 3 am falafel wasn’t so much a luxury as a necessity. As an added bonus? Your vegetarian friend who’s thinking, “please don’t go for street meat, please don’t go for street meat, please don’t…” can share the joy as well for once, instead of being confined to scarfing a handful of pickles from the condiment rack when nobody’s looking.
The thing about falafel that I’m not so keen on is the whole deep fat frying element. I am not a deep fryer (frier? One who fries, as opposed to the cooking contraption). I don’t enjoy how my house reeks of stale grease for days after a fry up, regardless of whether or not my windows have been open for so long that the temperature inside has reached a balmy 54F. It kills me on the inside to deliberately waste an entire jug of oil, because my deep frying escapades are so few and far between that the oil gets skanky before it can be reused. Oh, and then there’s the minor issue of my tragic weight gain, and the fact that I can actually pop a button on my pants just by thinking about doughnuts. All that to say that I’m not anti-deep fried foods, and my affinity for fresh and salty poutine is a weakness that I’ve grudgingly learned to live with, but I prefer to save fry ups for a good pub crawl and lean towards baking at home.
Oh, but you can’t bake falafel. Don’t believe the people who say you can, because they’re liars. I bet they also tell you that they change their oil on time and that they brush their cat’s teeth once a week. Nobody with a shred of sanity and self-preservation actually brushes their cat’s teeth, and baked falafel is just silly. That’s what I have to say. Psssst….and next month I’ll probably be posting a recipe for baked falafel, so it’s okay if you just shake your head and move on.
One quick note about this recipe, as it pertains to traditional falafel. I’m a lazy slattern, and you’ll see that I’ve taken the liberty of using canned chickpeas here. If you’re a falafel puritan you probably just spat on the ground and clicked your heels three times, officially securing me a seat in Hell. I know that falafel should really be made with dried chickpeas that have been soaked overnight but haven’t been cooked any further. This yields a much drier, crunchier falafel, and that’s more along the lines of what you would get from an old school Middle Eastern falafel hut. But me? I use canned and I don’t feel any shame in that fact because I prefer a tender, moister texture on the innards. I also use a lot more flour, but again, the falafel end up softer and fairly light. Oh, and I’m lazy. That’s the real reason that I buy flats of canned chickpeas from Costco every couple of months. Don’t forget the lazy part.
Falafel Kebabs with Lemon Dill Tahini Dip
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
- 2 cans (19 oz each) chickpeas
- 1/2 yellow onion
- 5 large or 6 medium cloves of garlic
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 + 1/4 tsp cumin
- handful fresh parsley (about 1/2 cup)
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt or to taste *
- 1 tsp black pepper or to taste
- 1 tsp baking powder **
- 8 tbsp + 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- vegetable oil to deep fry
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 English cucumber
- 1 bag mini pitas
Lemon Dill Tahini Dip
- 1/2 cup tahini ***
- 1 lemon (1.5 tbsp zest, juice of whole)
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1.5 tbsp dried dill
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup water
- salt to taste
*It’s a rainy day when I measure out salt and pepper, but I did my best for you because falafel needs to be well seasoned. I found 3/4 tsp of salt to be about right, and you would need a bit less if you had table salt instead of kosher, but taste the raw falafel mixture and add more salt as you see fit.
** Not pictured because I’m a big dorkus.
**Tahini is a pasty sauce made from ground sesame seeds. Although it is usually seen in Middle Eastern cuisine (hummus being a great example, or thinned as a sauce for kafta and falafel), this sesame seed paste is often sometimes found in Japanese or Korean dishes as well. Try to buy your tahini from a grocery store with good turnover of Middle Eastern ingredients, because although tahini has an excellent shelf life the oil tends to separate out over time. That’s not horrible and it’s certainly still usable, but it means that you’re going to have to get the elbow grease going to stir the stiff paste at the bottom of the container into the thinner oil on top.
Cut the half onion up into several large chunks and pulse it in a food processor until it has broken up into manageable pieces.
Drain the chickpeas, rinse them thoroughly, and drain them well to remove as much liquid as possible. Add the chickpeas to your roughly chopped onion. Peel the garlic cloves and cut them into quarters to help them blend, and add these along with the parsley, spices, salt and pepper.
Pulse the mixture in 1 second intervals until the chickpeas are coarsely chopped but there are still many large chunks. You may need to scrape the bottom from time to time if the blade starts to get stuck.
Add the 8 tbsp of flour and the baking powder. Pulse again about 5-6 times or until most of the flour is incorporated but the mixture is still a bit coarse. You don’t want the falafel to be entirely pureed because the wee balls will be too dense and lack texture.
Spread the falafel mixture evenly into a baking dish (at least 8×8, but 9×13 wouldn’t hurt) and leave it to chill, uncovered, for about an hour. The purpose of doing this is to allow the mixture to dry out a little bit, and the chill will make it easier to scoop and shape the balls.
As the falafel mixture sits, let’s get started on the lemon dill tahini dip and skewers.
Scoop the tahini into a medium sized bowl. Grate or press in the clove of garlic and add the oil and dill. Zest up about 1.5 tbsp from the sunshine rind of your lemon. If you have a rasp, you’ll make quick work of the zest. If you’re using a zesting tool that makes those pretty long strips of zest, that’s fine but you’ll want to give the zest a bit of a rough chop before it gets added to the bowl. Squeeze in the juice of your mostly naked lemon.
Whisk the mixture together and add 1/2 cup of water. Stir, and if the mixture seems to thick add another 1/4 cup (for 3/4 in total). It should be loose enough to look saucy, but not runny. Think of the texture of a nice bechamel, and you’ll have it just about right. Season to taste with salt.
Cut the cucumber into 1/4″ rounds and thread a cherry tomato and 1 round of cucumber onto about 24 small skewers or cocktail picks. Put these aside until the falafel are fried.
About 10 minutes before you start to roll the balls, preheat your oven to 200ºF and heat up about 3 inches of oil in the bottom of a large pot or use a temperature controlled deep fryer….which, of course, I don’t have because I’ve deep fried food a total of two (2) times in the last three years. You want the oil to be about 350ºF. If it’s hotter than that the falafel will brown too quickly on the outside and stay relatively raw and pasty in the middle. That’s not cool. If the oil isn’t hot enough the falafel will stew in the oil and eventually start to fall apart. If you have a heat safe device like a candy thermometer or a digital reader that’s oven safe to 500º (I’m paranoid), use it.
Scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the chickpea mixture and shape the falafel into small balls that are about 1″ in diameter. Pack the mixture together with your hands. You should have about 20 – 24 little balls.
Roll the balls lightly in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour and deep fry them in small batches of about 6 at a time. The balls will cook up quickly, and in about 3 minutes they should be a lovely rich golden brown. Transfer the cooked balls to a baking sheet lined with paper towel and tuck them in the oven to keep warm until the rest of the balls are fried.
Thread one falafel ball onto the end of each skewer and plate up your adorable mini-kebabs with a bowl of the lemon dill tahini dip on the side.
Because I’m a fan of all things twee, I like to serve these mini kebabs with teensy mini pitas so that each guest can make a couple of Lilliputian falafel sandwiches. A few briny black olives on the side wouldn’t hurt either.
If you have any leftover tahini dip, hold on to it because it will keep for at least a week in the fridge and it’s great with cruddité and any extra pita.
Crunchy on the outside but so light, soft and tender on the inside, falafel kebabs are a great not-too-heavy starter dish or cocktail munch. Also, they look just precious. Did I mention that I’m shallow and will sometimes consume food purely based on appearances? Because it’s true. Thankfully, in this case, I didn’t have to.
Alright, so I deep fried and still managed to make it out alive. My 3 inches of oil and I will see you again in 2012. Cheerio!