Crazy Good Falafel

I haven’t made falafel in years, because I just knew my kids would turn their noses up at it, but then we had a great experience at a Shawarma cafe while we were abroad last summer, and suddenly they were open to it. Okay, I think they were more into the chicken than the falafel, but at least they tried it (and I remembered that they liked it. They contested that when they saw these on the table.) At any rate, I had thought we had turned a new leaf and I was delighted. So, with the little extra time I can devote to actually soaking beans and the like, I pulled out my old recipe, rearing up to make it, when I thought to compare it to a new recipe from Bowls of Plenty from Carolynn Carreno. This new recipe was very similar to my old favorite, but included sparkling water, and knowing how much better tempura and onion rings are with sparkling water, I thought it was genius. And, it is. So, here’s crazy good falafel for you. So good, in fact, my fourteen-year-old not only requested it for her birthday, but also for dinner every night of the week. Enjoy.

Crazy Good Falafel

½ lb. (1 cup) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
½ small Spanish yellow onion, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves
¼ c. fresh parsley
2 T. fresh cilantro
1 T. kosher salt, plus more as needed
½ t. ground cumin
½ t. ground coriander
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄8 t. ground cardamom (optional; if you have it, use it)
½ c. sparkling mineral water
½ t. baking soda
2 to 3 c. canola oil (or another neutral- flavored oil), or as needed, for frying [I used peanut oil and thought it was quite delicious!]

1) To prepare the falafel, combine the chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro, salt, cumin, coriander, pepper and cardamom (if you’re using it) in a food processor and pulse until the chickpeas are finely ground. Turn the mixture out into a bowl and stir in the mineral water and baking soda. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour to soften the ground chickpeas.

2) Pour 3 to 4 inches of canola oil into a small saucepan. Fasten a candy or deep-fry thermometer to the side of the saucepan or drop in an unpopped kernel of popcorn into the oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until the thermometer registers 350° F or the kernel pops. Remove the popcorn kernel if you used it. (I learned this trick from the venerable cooking magazine Cooks Illustrated, a great magazine if you want to learn to be a better or more knowledgeable cook.)

3) While the oil is heating, give the falafel mixture a good stir and scoop it into 1-ounce (2-tablespoon) portions; roll into balls, and put the balls on a baking sheet or plate. The mixture is very wet and can be awkward to work with; the moisture is what makes the falafels as light as they are. Carefully drop the balls in the oil, adding only as many as will fit in a single layer, and fry them for 1 to 2 minutes, until they are golden brown and crispy, turning them as they cook so they brown evenly. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, transfer the falafel to paper towels to drain, and sprinkle with salt. Fry the rest of the falafel. Enjoy with hummus, cut veggies, or in a pita. I loved adding some pomegranate seeds as well!


Cumin-Infused Black Beans

Black Beans

Fantastic photo by Melissa Gallup

These simple black beans are just delicious! They are the perfect backdrop to a taco or burrito, or on a southwest salad, or just a delicious side dish. In fact, we’ve had these three times in the past week, and I’m beginning to be a big believer in having some beans in the fridge at all times since they are the perfect thing when you’re incredibly hungry. I used these as well for my Cinco de Mayo menu.

As I came to write down the recipe, I realized that you will have to pardon the approximations below. I know I’ll have to do specific measurements next time I make these, but it’s just more fun to throw the seasonings in the pan! Also, did you know that you don’t need to presoak black beans? If you have a little time, just throw them in a pot with 1″ water covering them, add a bay leaf and a pinch of baking soda (it preserves their color a bit), bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour with a lid partially covering the pot. So much more efficient and cost-effective than canned (even though I sometimes still don’t get around to doing it!).

Also, note the maybe-unconventional suggestion of using the canning liquid from the canned beans. I took this idea from the book The Food Lab where the author suggests that using this liquid increases the flavor in your dishes exponentially (okay, maybe he didn’t exactly say “exponentially,” but something like that). I’ve been really pleased with the results, even though I am fully aware that this liquid looks a little like something we should not ingest. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea, feel free to use chicken broth or just water, but you may be as much of a fan of this idea as I am!

Cumin-Infused Black Beans

2 T. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced small
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 c. cooked black beans, either from dried (see note above and reserve 1 c. cooking liquid) or from 2 cans, with canning liquid
3 generous dashes oregano
2 dashes cumin
1 dash coriander
salt and black pepper to taste (but be generous with your salt! Depending on the beans you use, start with 1/2-1 t. but you may need more!)
1/2 c. cilantro, stems removed and chopped and juice for one lime, if desired, to finish

Heat a 2-3 quart pot over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, wait for a minute, then add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until you can smell it, about 30 seconds, and then add the herbs, sautéing again for about 30 seconds.

Add the black beans to the pan, with the packing liquid if canned, or 1 c. cooking liquid (or water) if you cooked them from dried, and bring to a boil. Turn the pan down to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld, adding a little more water if necessary to give them a bit of a sauce. Serve with your favorite tacos, or just simply with rice or on top of some greens, chopping some cilantro and adding it to the top, along with a few squirts of lime, if desired.

Cilantro-Pineapple-Jicama Salsa

Pineapple Jicama

Salsa in the front right, photo by Melissa Gallup

I love this quick, fruity, and bright salsa. I’ve had it with chips, beans, and shrimp tacos. Great every time! Definitely try it with the Chili-rubbed Shrimp Tacos! This recipe is from McMillan’s Taco Night.

Cilantro-Pineapple-Jicama Salsa

  • 1/3 c. finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 peeled pineapple, cut into 1/4-inch dice (3 cups)
  • 1 cup jicama, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 jalapeño—stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, combine the red onion, lime juice, pineapple, jicama, cilantro, and jalapeño to the bowl and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Let the salsa stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Serve right away or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Winter Chopped Salad

Winter Chopped Salad

I always feel like salads in the winter should be different than salads in the summer. Something seems incongruous to me if we’re having tomatoes and cucumbers with lettuce in the heart of winter, and though I love Martha’s baked goat cheese salad, as well as my favorite roasted pear salad, I’ve needed to expand my winter salad vocabulary this year. I found this recipe in Sustainably Delicious with a claim that it was one of Paul Newman’s favorite. Well, that’s enough to convince me to give it a whirl. Their salad, though, was decidedly a warm-weather creation, so I changed it to feel more seasonal, but like all the salads, any number of vegetables could be used to change its personality.

Winter Chopped Salad

  • 1/4 c. white-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 t. honey
  • 1/2 t. sea salt
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 3 medium stalks celery, diced (1/4-inch)
  • 2 medium carrots, diced (1/4-inch)
  • 2 medium tart apples, peeled and diced (1/4-inch)
  • 2 large golden beets, roasted, peeled, and diced 1/4″
  • 4 c. baby arugula
  • 1 bunch watercress
  • 1 c. crumbled goat cheese
  • 1/2 c. toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  1. Whisk vinegar, oil, honey, salt and pepper in a large salad bowl until well combined.
  2. Add celery and carrots to the vinaigrette. Let marinate for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour (or longer, if you want a stronger pickled flavor. I did!)
  3. Add apple, beets, arugula and watercress to the bowl; toss to coat. Add almonds and toss to combine.


Spicy Lime Cilantro Slaw

My husband and I tried a new Mexican restaurant in town, Tortilla Bar, and everything was great, but I was really excited to replicate the delicious cabbage slaw they served, since I always am looking for better ideas in using my veggies. So, I’m sure this isn’t exactly their recipe, but this is what I came up with, and I’m excited to eat it all summer long!

Spicy Lime Cilantro Slaw

1 small head of cabbage, sliced thinly (purple cabbage looks striking, but green cabbage works as well)
1-2  jalapeno peppers, sliced thinly in rings (seeds and ribs removed, if you want less heat)
2 limes, both the zest and the juice
1/2 c. olive oil
1 handful of cilantro, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the cabbage and the jalapeno in a serving bowl. Grate the zest of two limes on top of the cabbage and toss.

In another bowl, whisk the juice of the two limes with the olive oil. Add the cilantro and the salt and pepper to taste. Combine thoroughly then dress the cabbage. Toss and enjoy!

Glazed Radishes

Glazed RadishesI clipped this recipe from an Everyday Food back in 2006, and I’m still making it. It is definitely my favorite thing to do with radishes, besides topping fish tacos with them. The result is something sweet and salty, and the radishes almost take on a pearl-onion flavor, but I like these better.  You can tell from the photo how many we had left by the time I remembered to take a photo!

Glazed Radishes
3 bags (6 ounces each) red radishes (about 45), ends trimmed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Cut large radishes in half; leave small ones whole. In a 12-inch skillet, combine radishes, butter, sugar, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced and radishes are tender and glazed, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve.

Summer Avocado Dressing

I was trying to remember a Jamie Oliver Green God Dressing the other day, and this is what I came up with. We have liked it so much, I think we’ve made it 5 times in the last couple weeks. Forgive my a-little-bit-inaccurate measurements; I have mostly eye-balled the amounts, and when I’ve gone back to measure, it hasn’t quite been the same. I also took a picture of this, but I can’t seem to make it look appealing. I’ll keep trying.

Summer Avocado Dressing

Place in a blender:

1 avocado, pitted and skinned
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, smashed (or 2, if you like:)
3 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed from stems
3 sprigs fresh mint, stems removed
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and de-seeded (or a dash of cayenne pepper)
1 t. salt (approximately)

Blend all ingredients together until smooth. If desired, you can thin with water. Terrific on lettuce and tomatoes and cucumbers! We’ve been known to eat it by the spoonful, too.

Great Potato Salad

This recipe, from May 2012’s Gourmetmagazine, is one my new favorite potato salad. It’s reminds me of my grandma’s, and since I don’t have her recipe, I’m really happy to have this. Definitely worth trying if you don’t have a tried-and-true recipe you love.

Gourmet’s Image

Great Potato Salad

  • 2 3/4 lbs. medium red-skinned potatoes, peeled (about 8)
  • 1 1/4 t. kosher salt plus more
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/4 c. sweet pickle juice from jar
  • 8-10 sweet-pickle chips
  • 1 1/2 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper plus more
  • 5 large hard-boiled egg yolks
  • 2 T. chopped red onion
  • 2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Paprika

Place potatoes in a large pot. Add water to cover by 2″, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 20-30 minutes. Drain. Place potatoes in a large bowl and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, pickle juice, Dijon mustard, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt in a small bowl for dressing.

Using a large wooden spoon, coarsely smash potatoes, leaving some larger pieces mixed with some well-mashed pieces.

Add dressing and egg yolks to potatoes and toss to coat, coarsely smashing egg yolks. Add onion and parsley; gently mix to incorporate. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Divide potato salad among small paper cups or bowls; dust with paprika. Top each serving with a pickle chip.

Mama’s Sweet Potatoes

In 2002, for my first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, I made this recipe for a group potluck and the Legend of the Sweet Potatoes has followed me ever since.  By popular demand, I submitted the recipe to our church cookbook, and I just got a request from another friend to please send her the recipe.  So I thought I would post it here for posterity.

As a little background, I’m 3/4 Southern.  Which means sweet potatoes are very important to my family.  Also, pecans.  My mom invented this sweet potato recipe when I was in junior high and we were trying to eat less refined sugar.  While this isn’t healthy, per se, you can feel a little better about eating this than the sugar-filled, marshmallow-topped version.  Personally, I like my mom’s version better.

Sweet Potatoes

2 large cans sweet potatoes (or 3-4 medium size fresh sweet potatoes, baked in the oven or microwave until soft)
1/4 C. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 C. apple cider or 1 tsp. apple juice concentrate
1/4 C. water

Blend everything together and spread into 9×13 glass baking pan.

Topping (as a confession, sometimes I double the topping)

1/3 C. flour
1/3 C. turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
1/2 C. chopped pecans
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 C. butter

Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle evenly over sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are bubbling around the edges.

Sesame-Lemon Cucumber Salad

Cucumber sesame saladI’ve been trying to find a recipe for a cucumber salad that is reminiscent of Asian cucumbers salads I’ve had at restaurants, and this is it. It’s not too sweet, and the sesame flavors really shine through. It also comes together easily. It comes from the Best American Side Dishes (America’s Test Kitchen), and makes great use of cucumbers, if you have a prolific plant. Note that you have to drain the cucumbers before making the salad, so start this dish at least 70 minutes before serving. Or, just start it at the beginning of your meal prep and let it rest however long you have time!

Sesame-Lemon Cucumber Salad

3 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, sliced, salted, and drained (See instructions below)
1 T. salt (used to drain the cucumbers)
1/4  c. rice vinegar
1 T. juice from 1 lemon
2 T. toasted sesame oil
2 t. sugar
1/8 t. dried red pepper flakes plus more to taste
1 T. sesame seeds, toasted in a small dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 4 minutes.

1. DRAIN CUCUMBERS: Peel each cucumber and halve lengthwise. Use a small spoon to remove the seeds and surrounding liquid from each cucumber half. Place the cucumber halves flat-side down on a work surface and slice them on the diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Toss the cucumbers and salt (1 T.) in a colander set in a bowl. Place a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag filled with water on top of the cucumbers to weigh them down and force out the liquid. Drain for at least an hour, and up to 3 hours.

2. Whisk all of the ingredients except the cucumbers in a medium bowl. Add the drained cucumbers; toss to coat. Serve chilled or at room temperature.