Posts Tagged ‘Falafel’

Broccalafel Casserole

February 20, 2010

Ingredients: falafel mix, broccoli, red bell pepper, onion, pine nuts, egg, crème fraîche, flour, butter, soup mix, za’atar, black pepper, salt.

I needed to use up a rather large head of broccoli, so I decided to make a casserole. Despite the deserved reputation as bland cafeteria food,* I actually love casseroles. In my life, excitement over that first tasty forkful has been responsible for many a burnt palate and/or tongue.

The best part of a casserole is, of course, the crusty top layer. Having no crackers to crush, I went in search of an appropriate substitute. What I found was a box of falafel mix. I’m happy to report that this worked beautifully! I was a little paranoid that the moisture from the broccoli would prevent the falafel from setting properly, so I pre-baked a slab of it in the same dish, with a layer of foil underneath for easy lifting.

Normally I would use some sort of cheese in a broccoli casserole, but I was leery of clashing with the falafel. Instead, I came up with an original (but not particularly risky) sour cream and pine nut sauce.

Toasting pine nuts is a precarious ordeal, so I did that first while my attention wasn’t split. I simply tossed the nuts around in a hot pan until they began to pick up some color, then set them aside.

Next, I browned some diced onion in plenty of butter, and turned it into a roux by adding flour and stirring for a while longer. I added milk to the roux and brought it to boil before turning off the heat and blending in a package of crème fraîche (thick sour cream). A trick here is to temper the cream first; do this by gently warming it in a separate bowl, using small amounts of the saucer’s hot contents. This lessens the danger of curdling the cream when you add it later.

I flavored the sauce with powdered soup and za’atar, which is a Middle Eastern combo of thyme, sumac, salt, roasted wheat, and sesame seeds. [Check this stuff out if you can. It makes a nice bread acccompaniment when mixed with olive oil, and works wonders as a rub on proteins.] I also added my pine nuts, and a raw egg for binder.

I assembled the casserole by pouring the sauce over a bed of broccoli florets and red bell pepper. Then I carefully placed the giant falafel disk on top, covered it all in foil, and baked it for about 40 minutes on low heat. I removed the foil during the last 5 minutes so as to crisp the falafel.

This casserole came out really great. The broccoli and sauce had condensed into a solid layer which was chewy and dense, but not overly so. The pine nuts added a flavor that matched the falafel really well, with nice tart sumac accents from the za’atar. My falafel was a bit overdone, so next time I will let the lower half of the casserole cook for a while before topping it. Another thing I will try next time is to add toasted whole coriander seeds to the sauce, since ground coriander is one of the primary flavor components of falafel.

* — I’ve found that the cure is more salt during the cooking process. The liquid component of a casserole will be absorbed by (and thus must support) the starchy component. In other words, the “sauce” for a noodle casserole typically needs to be quite a bit saltier than what you’d pour over noodles.


Bleu Cheese Salad with Falafel Croutons

August 21, 2009


Dressing Ingredients: bleu cheese, mayonnaise, crème fraîche, heavy cream, lemon, shallot powder, scallion, parsley, black pepper, salt.

Served with: falafel, iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, corn, carrot, sriracha.

Falafel is basically a chickpea croquette, flavored with onion, cumin, and coriander. It’s traditionally served tucked into pita bread with raw or pickled vegetables and tahini sauce. I do love a fresh crunchy falafel sandwich (and I frequently sought them out even before going vegetarian), but lately I’ve been wondering something: why is falafel always served exactly the same way?

I decided to do a little brainstorming. I knew I wanted to depart from the typical tahini sauce, but not too far, because un-dressed falafel is pretty dry. So, tahini sauce is made with lemon and garlic, and has a creamy consistency. That gave me the idea to try serving falafel with bleu cheese dressing, which is also lemony, garlicky, and creamy. I figured a nice garden salad would pair safely with the dressing, while the falafel balls acted as croutons. I also wanted to incorporate some hot sauce, since it’s used not only as a condiment for falafel sandwiches, but also in the mouthwatering combo of bleu cheese dressing and Buffalo-style chicken wings.

To make the dressing, I started by mixing mayonnaise, crème fraîche, lemon juice, and heavy cream. I then mashed in some room-temperature bleu cheese, and blended everything to a smooth consistency. I seasoned the dressing with salt, black pepper, and shallot powder, then added diced scallion and fresh parsley. [Can anyone out there actually taste dried parsley? It literally tastes like dust to me.] Finally, I crumbled in more bleu cheese, and stored the finished dressing in the fridge to let the flavors permeate.

I used a boxed mix for the falafel, which came out excellent as usual. I had a fresh ear of corn in the fridge, so I decided to boil that and slice it off the cob for my salad. I also used iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and carrot. I tossed the salad with the dressing, got artsy with the tomatoes and hot sauce, snapped some photos, then sat down to eat.

My first impression after one forkful of the salad was “wow this is good.” The dressing was perfect, right up there with Morton’s sublime (and inspirational) Iceberg Wedge Salad. The hot sauce was an interesting touch, too. The falafel … was a little out of place. Okay you win, Universe, I will just stick it in a pita with tahini sauce next time.

Or will I?