Last month I was interviewed by the Huffington Post’s Healthy Living section for an article about alternative spins on burgers. The article was in response to the recent concerns about a resurgence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease, and the editors wanted to give their readers some new beef-free grilling candidates. I was excited to contribute to the article because, fatal illness aside, everyone can use a little mojo in their grilling repertoire.
I suggested a chicken burger, made from lean grilled chicken mixed with pesto and parmesan cheese and served on baguettes. I also suggested grilling up a marinated firm fish such as tuna and serving it with julienned veggies in lettuce leaves. But the one that resonated most with my friends was the falafel burger, which was simply a standard homemade falafel mixture formed into large patties and grilled until cooked through.
For those of you unfamiliar with the humble falafel, we’re talking about a patty of Middle Eastern descent made with a base of mashed chickpeas. Usually flavored with onion, cumin and parsley, it’s packed full of nutrition. Chickpeas are cholesterol free, low in sodium and they’re great sources of calcium, iron and soluble fiber. But its traditional cooking method–deep frying–means it’s more of a fritter than a burger, and the resulting fat content from the dip in the greasy fryolator isn’t the best choice on a healthy diet.
My experience has been that falafel comes out great with just a quick saute in a hot oiled pan, so I asked Guiding Stars’ team to rate the recipe and include the oil needed to get that crisp browned exterior. When I make falafel patties this way, I make them smaller and round, about the size of a golf ball, and move them around in the oil until they’re browned on all sides. Even with two tablespoons of vegetable oil for frying, this recipe still earns three Guiding Stars!
Chickpeas crisp up really well in the oven or on the grill, so if you want an even healthier cooking method, you’re still not going to sacrifice much of the texture or taste you’re expecting. If you’re a sucker for the super crumby outside of the fried falafel you might buy from a street cart in the city, you can always try dipping your formed patties into an egg wash and dredge them in panko bread crumbs before baking or sauteing. A modest spray of aerosol vegetable oil over the crumbs will make the falafel even crunchier and assist in browning. I wouldn’t recommend this little trick for the grill, however, because any crumbs that release from the patty may smolder or burn, imparting an off taste to your food. Just keep them plain, spraying or brushing with vegetable oil before throwing them on the grill.
As a common street food in the Middle East and around the world, falafel is most often served in a pita with assorted crisp veggies and a sauce made from tahini (ground sesame paste) and seasonings like lemon juice and garlic. I’ve served mini falafel balls at parties I’ve catered as little skewered bites with a tangy yogurt and mint sauce. Leftover mini falafels make a great hands-on snack for the kids’ school lunch or snack time. They’re tasty warm or cold, they freeze well, and they’re vegan, meaning you’ve got a handy, homemade and healthy option for your meatless friends.
A simple falafel sauce is super easy. Just combine ½ cup tahini (sesame seed paste, available in the Middle Eastern section of your supermarket) with ¼ cup water, a tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic, ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika for color, and a little dash of pepper and cayenne if desired. Add more or less water depending on your preference. The sauce’s tart taste and creamy texture is the perfect complement to the crunchy and savory patties.
Servings: 4 (190 g )
Prep Time: 30 min.
- 1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup diced white onions
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- ½ tsp. lemon zest
- 2 tsp. cumin
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 whole-wheat pita pockets
- 1 cup alfalfa sprouts
- 1 cup diced cucumber
- 1 plum tomato, sliced
- Place chickpeas and onions into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs (5-10 seconds).
- Add lemon juice, parsley, zest, cumin, salt, and pepper. Pulse mixture until it starts to clump together in the bowl, but before it reaches a full puree (10-15 seconds).
- Form the mixture into four patties. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook, turning once, until patties are golden and crispy on both sides (4-5 minutes per side).
- Serve inside a whole wheat pita half topped with alfalfa sprouts, diced cucumber, and sliced tomato.