baked falafel with coconut raita. and january heat

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It’s quiet; a still and mild Saturday afternoon. A halcyon breeze floats through the window, softly scented with warm eucalyptus. Quite a change from the week-that-was – when temperatures reached over 46 degrees C (115 degrees f). Today feels positively balmy.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably read my complaints about this January’s blistering heat wave. Monday afternoon felt like a billowing sauna, extraordinarily hot and thick with the scent of roasting vegetation. Whilst venturing out at lunchtime, hot bitumen melted the sole off my sandal. What a way to start the new year.

Another victim of the recent heat is our three-and-a-half year old MacBook Pro. The once reliable beast appears to have died in a flash of heat and blinking white (even following this advice didn’t help). On Thursday, we consulted a bearded, self-confessed ‘geek’ wearing Rip Curl shorts (paradox much?). $160 and ten minutes later, temporary optimism melted into bitter disappointment as we were instructed to ‘…take it to the Apple Store’.

And so we did, only to be given an appointment for next Tuesday. Sad face.

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Life without a laptop is rather inefficient. I’ve been using my phone and iPad, but neither is optimal for writing or reading blog posts. My kindly husband has now loaned me his desktop PC for the afternoon, however I’m quite aware that this is holding up his own personal work (and more importantly, his progress in The Wolf Among Us).

I’m typing as quickly as possible, my gaze flicking back and forth between his giant dual monitors like a tennis spectator. As someone who is as much a geek as I am an emo (read: not at all), I feel like I’m stuck in the temperate cockpit of some tiny, artistic aircraft with floorboards for wings. The screens are wallpapered with digital paintings, gently peppered with art files and music downloads. All very Aaron. None of my foodie files are here, neither are my individual PhotoShop settings.

Another sad face.

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Anyway, that’s enough negativity for one day. Let’s focus on the positives of January; shiny orange positives in the form of sticky mangoes, blushed apricots and juicy nectarines. Summer has brought fruit galore, coloured jewels that are ripe for the picking. I’ve mostly been eating them cold, sliced into salads or piled upon thick coconut yoghurt, though a recent glut from the market may be turned into apricot compote (perhaps by the sun if I leave a pot on the balcony!).

Another January upside is the fact that glorious warm weather is perfect for lighter meals. Salads, quinoa sushi, raw vegetables and blackened corn slathered in chilli lime butter. I’ve also been relishing cocktails crowned with piles of ice, perfect for balmy evenings spent with a good book.

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Over the past week, my book of choice has been Green Kitchen Travels, a beautiful volume of recipes and stories both penned and photographed by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl (the talented husband and wife team behind vegetarian blog Green Kitchen Stories). After purchasing the book several months ago in London, it’s taken me a little while to start cooking from it – so far our table has been blessed with avocado and kiwi paletas, chocolate bean chilli and vibrant raspberry chia jam, all of which have been relished with keen eyes and sticky fingers.

Last Thursday, my mother and I decided to spend an impromptu evening drinking elderflower mojitos joined by Aaron, my beautiful (vegetarian) friend Lucy and her son Isaac. It took me three seconds to decide to make baked falafel from the original volume by David and Luise published in 2013.

Over the course of the evening, we drank from ice-cold glasses, slurped on healthy popsicles and drew elephants upon computer paper. We ate these crisp, nutty falafel balls in crisp cabbage leaves (san choy bau style) alongside baked pesto mushrooms with guacamole, smoky baba ghanouj (recipe here) and fresh turkish bread.

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If you’ve made the original recipe from The Green Kitchen, you’ll notice that I’ve switched up a few ingredients whilst adding a ‘chilling period’ for the falafel mix (which is specific to warmer regions). I’ve also omitted the cashew nut dressing in favour of a lavish spoonful of nut butter and fragrant coconut raita. Experiment as you like – I can assure you that the original version is just as blissful, as would a simple adornment of Greek yoghurt or garlicky hummus.

Here’s to a beautiful, healthy 2015 for all of us (and my computer).

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Baked Falafel with Coconut Raita and Tomato Chilli Salsa

Adapted from The Green Kitchen by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl (aka Green Kitchen Stories)

Falafel:

  • 1 cup (loosely packed) washed mint and parsley leaves
  • 200g (about 2 cups) unsalted nuts (I used pistachios, cashews and walnuts)
  • 400g chickpeas, cooked or canned
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 small red (Spanish) onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (substitute coconut oil if desired)
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp buckwheat flour (substitute oat or wheat flour if desired)
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Line a large baking tray (about 35x25cm) with baking paper, then set aside.

Blend the herbs in a food processor until coarsely chopped (about 30 seconds). Add the nuts and pulse until combined. Add the rest of the falafel ingredients and blend for 1-2 minutes or until well combined with a little residual texture (stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary).

Remove the falafel mixture from the food processor and place into a large bowl. Scoop slightly heaped tablespoonfuls of the mixture into your hands and roll to form about 24 small falafel. Place on your prepared baking tray, then push down lightly with your fingers to flatten slightly. Depending upon your climate, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up a little.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f). Drizzle the falafel with a little olive oil, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Turn after 10 minutes to get a uniform brown colour. Allow to cool slightly before assembling your falafel wraps.

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Coconut Raita:

  • 225mL (1 cup) chilled coconut cream (substitute natural dairy yoghurt or soy yoghurt if desired)
  • small handful of mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • small piece of finely chopped green chilli (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Place all ingredients into a medium-sized bowl, stir together and refrigerate for 30 minutes before using. Leftover raita is amazing with curries or dolloped over fresh green leaves with chickpeas, chopped grape tomatoes and toasted sunflower seeds.

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Tomato Chilli Salsa

  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes or 250g mixed cherry tomatoes, finely diced (leave the seeds in)
  • 1/2 long red chilli, finely chopped (de-seed if you’d like less heat)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything in a medium bowl, mix well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to intensify the flavours.

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To serve:

  • 1 green cabbage or iceberg lettuce, core removed, leaves washed and dried
  • toasted sunflower seeds
  • soft green herbs (coriander, mint, parsley), leaves picked
  • gently warmed nut butter (cashew butter, pepita butter or tahini) to dollop
  • lemon wedges

I served these falafel pre-assembled in little cabbage cups however you can wrap them up in iceberg lettuce for a crispy alternative… or leave everything in small bowls on the table for people to help themselves.

For a more traditional meal, serve the falafel in warmed pitas doused in plenty of nut butter, raita and salsa. They’ll be delicious either way.

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herbed chickpea salad with feta and lemon

peajarThere’s a lot to love about chickpeas. Otherwise known as ‘garbanzo’ or ‘ceci’ beans, these naturally creamy, adaptable legumes have been a staple food in India, the Middle East and some parts of the Mediterranean for centuries. Fortunately for us in other countries, processes of migration and settlement have slowly seen chickpeas filtrate into local cuisines worldwide. For instance, in my home country of Australia, you can find chickpeas in more traditional dishes such as hummus and Chana Masala whilst also sampling them in Westernized baked goods such as chocolate chip cookie pie and chickpea burgers or patties. Interesting.

Okay, here’s an admission: I haven’t personally crossed the line into ‘sweet’ chickpea territory as yet. Perhaps this is unusual for a foodie, but the idea of eating legumes in a cake or brownies sounds incredibly… well, undesirable. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that using chickpea batter is a fabulous substitute for the copious amounts of butter and other saturated fats that we often put into baked goods, whilst also being a wonderful gluten-free option for those intolerant to flour. I have utmost respect for the amazing cooks who can formulate these recipes, but for me? Well… my brain just says no.

parsleyI’m digressing again. Let’s get back to savoury dishes, the chosen medium for consumption of chickpeas in my household. Over the years, thousands of these little canned or dried legumes have made it into personal versions of spicy curries, fried snacks, dips, burgers, breads and wraps. All versions have been delicious, my personal favourites being crisp-fried chickpeas with lemon oil, harissa and minted yoghurt, chilli-spiked hummus and the simple chickpea salad that you’ll find below.

This recipe has become slightly famous in my immediate circle; mostly due to its simplicity, freshness and adaptability. I first introduced it at a casual barbecue a couple of years ago (as a side to my friend Mark’s famous, Jamie-Oliver-inspired, rosemary-infused lamb and chicken kebabs) and since then, at least half of the group have been making their own versions on a regular basis. In fact, my friend Caryse (an amazing cook in her own right who also happens to own a photography business) has labelled this salad ‘…the best recipe I ever stole’. I hope that you might experience the same success in your own kitchen.

ingmont3Herbed Chickpea Salad with Feta and Lemon

  • 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained, or equivalent dried chickpeas, cooked (see ‘notes’)
  • 2  small Lebanese cucumbers
  • 250g punnet cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 small red capsicum (red pepper)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 small Spanish (red) onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 bunch coriander, washed and finely chopped,
  • 1 bunch parsley, washed and finely chopped
  • 100g (0r to taste) goat’s feta
  • 1/3 cup pepitas, lightly toasted
  • juice of 1 lemon plus 1 tbsp finely grated rind
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Chop your tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers and red capsicum into a rough dice. Place them into a medium-sized bowl with the Spanish onion, herbs and drained chickpeas.

ingredmontCrumble over the goat’s feta, then add in some olive oil, black pepper, the lemon rind and the fresh lemon juice. Toss to coat, then taste. Adjust flavourings and add salt as required.

lempepNotes:

  • If you would like to use dried chickpeas in this recipe, use the conversion ratio of 1:3 (1 cup dried chickpeas equals around 3 cups cooked chickpeas). There’s no need for exact measurements in a chickpea salad (I’ve given you quantities as a starting point, but play around with things as you like), but to rehydrate the equivalent of a 440g can of chickpeas, start with around 150g dried chickpeas and follow the cooking method below.
  • To prepare dried chickpeas: place your dried chickpeas into a large bowl and cover completely with cold water. Add in about a teaspoon of baking soda (to speed the soaking process by penetrating and softening the skins) then cover. Allow to soak overnight, or for around 12 hours. After soaking, transfer your chickpeas to a large cooking pot or saucepan. Cover with twice the amount of water, then cover and simmer slowly for 2-3 hours. Test them for softness: if ready, a chickpea should be plump and tender; you should be able to easily ‘squash’ it between two fingers. When ready, train your chickpeas and allow them to cool.
  • Cooked chickpeas can be kept in an airtight container or covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to three days. They can also be frozen for up to one month.

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  • Chickpeas are a rich source of zinc, folate and protein whilst also providing about 49-53mg phosphorus per 100g. Recent studies have also shown that they can assist in lowering of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
  • For more information on the nutritional value and difference between canned and dried chickpeas, I’d encourage you to read the thorough rundown posted on George Mateljan’s World’s Healthiest Foods site. It includes a full nutritional background in chart form.

P.S This recipe was made with liberated cucumbers from my local fresh market (I went to buy Lebanese, but… well, either they’re liberated or they conservatively vote for the Liberal Party. Just thought you should know.

cucumbers

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