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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vegan coconut caramel and dark chocolate slice

compolikeIf you’re an Australian child of the 90’s, you may remember the Cadbury Caramello Koala advert featuring a bastardized version of Donovan’s ‘Mellow Yellow‘ (you can watch the video here). I both loved and hated that song. It got stuck in my head for days, torturing me with a caramel-filled earworm that’s remained attached to my brain stem some sixteen years later.

But despite the lyrical annoyance, I still eat the darn things. Why? Well, they’re delicious little koala-shaped Dairy Milk chocolates filled with smooth, sticky golden caramel. They’re blissful enough to overcome the strongest of psychological aversions, particularly as chocolate-covered caramel is one of my all-time favourite vices.

cocktailmakingOver the past few years, I’ve probably eaten at least one Caramello Koala a week; definitely more at my last workplace, where Cadbury fundraising boxes were a permanent charitable fixture in the lunch room.

However, as of this week, I’ll no longer be reliant on Caramellos for my chocolate-covered caramel fix. I have a new favourite: Coconut Caramel and Dark Chocolate Slice, the delicious brainchild of my gorgeous friend Krystel (aka Zendarenn) who visited last Sunday for a cooking catch-up, complete with elderflower Mojitos, board games and a tasting panel of hungry men.

cocktail2Caramel slice is a popular treat in my homeland of Australia. It’s known as ‘Millionaire’s shortbread’ in Great Britain, possibly due to its obscene richness when made with lashings of butter and refined sugar. In terms of deliciousness, it’s got the trifecta: crisp, buttery shortbread topped with smooth, rich caramel and a layer of thick, melted dark chocolate. It’s like a Twix bar on steroids, and in my sweet-toothed brain, that’s definitely a good thing.

We ate these caramel slices in the cool of the evening after feasting on a pulled lamb shoulder, young courgettes with preserved lemon, goats cheese and olives, herbed roasted Royal Blue potatoes and homemade lemon aioli. After the first bite, six self-proclaimed ‘gluten-free and vegan intolerant’ carnivores were reduced to quiet murmurs of chocolate-coated caramel bliss. They swiftly went back for seconds, and for some, thirds. Complete success.

caramel2potatoes2In terms of food intolerances, Krystel’s recipe is an absolute dream-come-true. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free, and whilst it does contain refined sugar, it’s in significantly lower amounts to many other caramel slice recipes in the blogosphere. As the caramel is made with coconut milk, there’s also an additional rich, fragrant hint of coconut goodness in every bite.

If you’re allergic to nuts, you can easily substitute the nut meal in this recipe for oat flour or rice flour. I’d probably increase the melted fat (Nuttelex or Earth Balance) by 25g to compensate for the additional dryness, or until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

This is the perfect recipe for a portable lunch box treat, coffee accompaniment or dessert. However, despite the ‘healthier’ ingredients, it’s still rather rich. I’d recommend you start with a small piece and come back for seconds.

omglsVegan Coconut Caramel and Dark Chocolate Slice

Begin this recipe one day ahead. Makes about 20 small pieces

Biscuit Base:

  • 125g Nuttelex, Earth Balance or other vegan spread, melted
  • 1/2 cup (65g) almond meal, hazelnut meal or a mixture of the two
  • 1/2 cup (65g) rice flour
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut

Coconut Caramel:

  • 2 x 400g cans full-fat coconut milk (do not substitute coconut cream*)
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 30g Nuttelex
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup

Chocolate Layer:

  • 170g vegan dark chocolate (dairy-free, 70% cocoa solids or greater)
  • 2 tsp vegetable or canola oil

For the coconut caramel: Combine coconut milk and caster sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then lower the temperature to a slow simmer.

coconutmilkmontCook, stirring occasionally, for around two hours or until thickened and halved in volume. Carefully stir in the Nuttelex and golden syrup (be aware: the mixture may splatter at this point).

syruprunContinue to cook the mixture over medium heat until it becomes golden brown, thick and glossy (about one hour). Set aside whilst you prepare your biscuit base.

For the biscuit base: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 20cm x 30cm slice pan. In a medium bowl, mix together the rice flour, nut meal, coconut and melted Nuttelex until just moistened (the mixture should resemble coarse breadcrumbs). Tip the mixture into your prepared pan, then press down firmly in an even layer.

basemontBake for 15-20 minutes, or until slightly browned. Pour over your caramel filling and spread it into a smooth layer.

caramelpour2Bake for around 10 minutes or until the caramel is darkened and bubbling (it may resemble a moonscape at this point but don’t be overly concerned; the surface will smooth a little as it cools). Allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before adding your chocolate layer.

For the chocolate: Using a double boiler or microwave, melt the dark chocolate and oil together.

chocomontMix well, ensuring that the oil is fully emulsified, then pour over the cold slice. Smooth gently with a knife to create an even surface.

caramelchocRefrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight before eating in small pieces with a hot cup of coffee. So, so good.

caramel3 caramelcuNotes:

  • The initial condensing of the coconut milk can be done the day before. Just store your thickened condensed milk in an airtight container or jar until ready to use.
  •  If you can resist temptation, make these bars one day ahead of serving to give the flavours some time to soften and meld together (all of us agreed that they were even better – with a crunchier base and tastier filling – the next day)
  • *Don’t be tempted to use coconut cream in place of the coconut milk. Though the cream thickens well during the condensing process, it tends to split into a layer of coconut solids and coconut oil (the latter of which rises to the top in an oily film during the baking process). If you do use cream, you may need to blot off a layer of coconut oil on the caramel after baking before adding the chocolate layer.
  • This slice gets ridiculously hard in the refrigerator so leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving. Krystel and I would also recommend using a hot knife (dip your knife into boiled water, dry it then cut whilst still hot) to prevent the chocolate from cracking and splintering.
  • This slice can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks

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