Falafel Fritters

Pan Fried Falafel

I love falafel, but they can be messy and oily to deep-fry. The solution? Pan-frying. Not only does pan-frying require much less oil, the flattened patties have more surface area to brown. The edges become crumbly and crisp, and the little bits that break off are good enough to eat on their own – just saying.

Pan Fried Falafel

When making your own falafel, you must begin with dried chickpeas, which yield the right crumbly and mealy texture. Falafel should not be mushy, which is what will happen when you use canned chickpeas. So, begin your falafel-making process the night before cooking by soaking the chickpeas overnight in water. That’s all you need to do. The next day, the chickpeas will have tripled in size and will be firm yet tender to the bite. Drain, rinse them well, and pat dry. Then simply blitz them with the remaining ingredients until you have a crumbly, mealy texture.

Now, I understand that the overnight soaking defeats any cravings demanding instant gratification – as most cravings do. With this in mind, I recommend soaking more chickpeas than you need. This way, you can refrigerate or freeze any unused chickpeas for later use (no overnight soaking required!) Or make a double batch of the falafel mixture and freeze some of that, instead. Then you will be set the next time the craving for falafel strikes – because you know it will.

Falafel Fritters
Makes about 24 (2-inch) patties

1 pound dried chickpeas
1 small onion, chopped about 1/2 cup
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded, chopped
1/2 cup (packed) Italian parsley, leaves and tender stems
1/2 cup (packed) fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems
1/4 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Grapeseed oil for pan-frying

Yogurt Tahini Sauce:
1 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Sriracha
Pinch of salt

1. The night before making, place the chickpeas in a large bowl. Cover with three inches of cold water and let stand overnight. The next day, drain the chickpeas and rinse well, then spread on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
2. Place the chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped with a consistency of coarse sand. Transfer half of the chickpeas to a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and process to form a coarse paste. Add the reserved chickpeas and pulse to finely blend. The overall consistency should be slightly sticky but not mushy, with small pieces of the chickpeas evident. Transfer to a bowl and taste for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Gather the falafel mixture, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and gently form into 1 1/2 to 2-inch patties. Add to the skillet and gently press in the center and around the edges to compact with a spatula. Pan-fry until the fritters are deep golden in color on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes, using the spatula to carefully flip. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining mixture.
4. Whisk the Yogurt Tahini Sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve the falafel with the sauce, lemon wedges, and additional Sriracha if desired.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus with Dukkah

Pantry Cooking: Fire up your hummus with smoke and heat.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus Dip

Hummus is my go-to appetizer. And while traditional chickpea hummus is always a favorite, it’s fun to riff on this popular Middle Eastern dip with additional ingredients.

This red pepper hummus is my latest favorite, which is smoky, sweet, and fragrant with spice. Using the faithful chickpea as a base, roasted red peppers and fiery harissa paste are added to the mix. It’s garnished with sprinkle of dukkah, which is an essential Middle Eastern condiment made from groundnuts, sesame seeds, and whole spices. It may sound underwhelming, but I assure you it’s not. Dukkah is crunchy and aromatic, and adds extra texture and flavor to an assortment of dishes. It can simply be sprinkled over bread dipped in olive oil, swirled into dips and spreads, scattered over salads, or used as a coating for meat and fish. And the good news is that it stores exceptionally well. You can make a batch of this versatile mix and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 6 months for handy flavoring.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus with Dukkah

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups hummus and 3/4 cup dukkah (both recipes may easily be doubled)

Dukkah:
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt

Hummus:
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 large roasted red bell pepper, drained well if using a jarred pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa paste (or Sriracha)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the dukkah:
1. Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant and colored. Remove and pour onto a kitchen towel. Cover with the towel and rub to remove the skins. Cool the hazelnuts.
2. Separately, toast the almonds until golden brown, and toast the sesame seeds until light golden.
3. Add the cumin, coriander, peppercorns, and fennel seeds to a clean skillet and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. Combine the nuts and seeds in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the salt and taste for seasoning. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Make the hummus:
Combine all of the hummus ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth. If too thick, add additional olive oil or warm water to your desired consistency. Serve the hummus garnished with dukkah and chopped fresh mint and/or cilantro.

Spring Comfort Food: Lemon Mint Risotto

Hunker down with this comforting bowl of creamy risotto:

Lemon Risotto with Mint

Here is what I think about risotto: A good risotto should be creamy, but not gummy or soupy. The rice should be tender with a little give to each bite (al dente). Any accompanying ingredients should be minimal without muddying, and, ideally, they should reflect the season.

This risotto checks all of the boxes. It’s firmly planted in spring with a lemony brightness and pucker that cuts through risotto’s inherent richness. Flecks of fresh mint and lemon zest add color and the whiff of garden-fresh flavor. The finished risotto is creamy and elegant, without being heavy. You can easily dig into a steaming bowl of this risotto and call it a meal, but it also makes a simple starter or side dish to meat and fish.

When making risotto, there are a few rules to follow for success. For a traditional risotto, you will need to purchase arborio, an Italian rice grain that’s known for its high starch content which is key to a creamy risotto. Be sure to lightly toast the rice grains in the pan before adding any liquid. This step creates a protective shell around each grain, which prevents the rice from bursting or becoming soggy while cooking. And, yes, you must continually stir the rice while it cooks. This prevents the rice from sticking to the pan, and it will help to release the starch from the rice grains, which develops the risotto’s creaminess.

This may sound labor-intensive, but the process should only take 20 to 25 minutes, and it will allow you to take pride of accomplishment in the finished result. It’s also a window of time when the only task at hand is to concentrate on the rhythm of stirring – which in itself might be considered a simple pleasure – yielding delicious results.

Lemon Risotto with Mint

Active Time: about 30 minutes
Total Time: about 30 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable for a vegetarian option)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup (packed) finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil in a deep skillet or pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the rice is well coated and slightly toasted, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed, about 1 minute.

4. Add 1 cup stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup, until the rice is al dente, and the risotto is creamy. (Depending on the age of the rice, you may not use all of the stock. Older rice requires more liquid to cook.)

5. Stir in the cheese, lemon juice, mint, lemon zest, salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning.

6. Serve immediately, garnished with additional mint and lemon zest.

Improvised Ma Po Tofu

Feed the craving for homemade Ma Po Tofu with this fast and easy recipe:

Homemade Ma Po Tofu Soup

I call this soup Improvised Ma Po Tofu, because, when the craving strikes, and you have no intention to shop for specialty ingredients on a frigid Sunday night in your PJs, you improvise. For this soup, I used a David Tanis recipe in the New York Times as a template and dabbled with the ingredients I had, while adding extra smidges of this and that to ramp up the flavor and spice to my taste.

With that said – and in the spirit of planning ahead – I recommend preparing yourself for any future nocturnal cravings with two Asian condiments I relied on for this recipe. These ingredients add lip-smacking flavor to a smattering of dishes, Asian or otherwise. They also have a long shelf life and can easily be tucked away in your refrigerator, so they are worth the effort to purchase.

The first condiment I recommend is gojuchang. It’s a Korean fermented hot chili paste, which adds a smoky kick of heat, mild glutinous-rice sweetness, and that elusive umami flavor to sauces, marinades, and soups that makes them positively addicting.

Another useful ingredient is fermented black bean and garlic sauce, which has a murky, almost meaty quality that adds depth and savory flavor to stir-frys and marinades. Both of these staples can be found in most well-stocked supermarkets or in specialty shops, and they can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a year.

And while we’re talking about cravings, I’ll add that once the ingredients for this soup are assembled, you can whip it up in a matter of minutes. This is a close to instant gratification you can find on a PJ-clad wintry Sunday night.  

Ma Po Tofu

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves 2 to 4

1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large red jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
2 tablespoons fermented hot chili paste, such as gojuchang
1 tablespoon fermented black bean and garlic sauce
2 tablespoons grated fresh peeled ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons chicken or mushroom stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
15 ounces semi-firm tofu, patted dry, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, optional
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced

1. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, add the mushrooms, and let steep for 15 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chile, fermented chili paste, and black bean sauce and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and water to the wok. Stir in the 1 cup stock, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Slide the tofu into the soup, reduce the heat to medium.
3. Whisk the 1 tablespoon cornstarch with the remaining 3 tablespoons stock. Stir into the soup and simmer until the soup is hot. Taste for seasoning and add sugar, if desired. Stir in the scallions and serve.

Mortar and Pestle Guacamole

 Tap into your inner caveman with this guacamole recipe:

Homemade Guacamole Recipe

My favorite kitchen tool is my stone mortar and pestle. It sits proudly on my kitchen counter, holding its own in a caveman-esque sort of way, flaunting its primal elegance in between the stove and the espresso machine. It’s smugly confident in its weight and kitchen hierarchy (deemed decorative) while my food processor and standing mixer are banished behind cabinet doors (deemed clutter). New kitchen techniques are awe-inspiring and futuristic, yet my mortar is old and wise with a lineage extending as far back as the Old Testament. Sous-vides, anti-griddles, and smart ovens may be cutting edge, favored by professional chefs and culinary buffs, but my mortar has a stellar history as an essential tool to Native Americans, ancient Romans and Greeks, medieval pharmacists, and home cooks spanning the ages. It is the embodiment of simplicity and timelessness, pleasingly tactile and massively elemental. And it’s affordable.

What can you do with a mortar and pestle? You can grind, pound, and smash to your heart’s content (a useful method of expression these days), making pestos, pastes, sauces, dips, dressings, and marinades. You can grind seeds into powder. (I assure you that the results of lightly toasting cardamom, cumin, or coriander seeds, and then grinding them to a fine powder in a mortar will yield results unparalleled by the pre-ground versions.) The mortar is also the perfect place to smash garlic with sea salt, adding fresh-cut herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and mint. Crush the garlic first with the salt, then add the herbs and bruise them by giving them a few turns with the pestle to release their juices and flavor. You will be left with a powerful, aromatic paste you can smear on meats and poultry before roasting.

You can make guacamole, a perfect crowd pleaser, just in time to make for your Super Bowl party. Serve with chips, and you have one-stop-shopping in a primitive vessel. If you don’t have a mortar, then simply combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork to achieve a chunky consistency.

Guacamole

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes about 2 cups

1 small red or green jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 garlic clove,  chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, plus extra chopped leaves for garnish
3 to 4 large ripe Hass avocados
2 tablespoons coarsely grated yellow onion with juice
Juice of one lime
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)

1. Combine the jalapeño, garlic, and red onion in a mortar. Press on the ingredients with your pestle, and grind them around the mortar in a circular movement, 3 to 4 times. Add the cilantro and gently bruise the leaves with the pestle.
2. Add the avocados, yellow onion, and lime juice and mash to form a blended but chunky consistency. Mix in the cumin, salt, black pepper, and hot sauce, if using, and taste for seasoning. Serve garnished with additional chopped cilantro.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

The Cold Season’s Answer to Vegetables:

Balsamic Braised Chicories

A spoonful of sugar helps the bitterness go away.

When the weather is frigid, and the garden has hunkered down for the winter, it’s time to turn to chicories. These leafy vegetables are our cold-season friends, packed with vitamins and nutrients, and winter’s replacement for sweet summer greens. While chicories are also referred to as “greens,” whites, reds, and purples may be more accurate descriptions. This broad group of leafy “greens” includes endive, escarole, frisée, Treviso, and radicchio.

Chicory leaves are hardy and often bitter, so it’s best to lean into their robust qualities, rather than pretend they are a substitute for mild-mannered lettuce. Team them up with equally strong flavors: sweet and sharp dressings, astringent citrus, smoky bacon, fruit, and nuts. And don’t be shy about using a little sugar, which will nicely offset their bracing bitterness.

Thanks to chicories’ sturdiness, they are great for braising, which is an appealing (and warm) way to get your veggies in the dead of winter. Braising will tame their strong flavor, and with a little extra sugar, amplify their natural sweetness.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

1 1/2 pounds chicories, such as endive, radicchio, escarole

1/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/4 balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnish

1. Trim the bases of the chicories. Halve the endives lengthwise and cut the radicchio and escarole into wedges.
2. Whisk the chicken stock, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange the chicories, cut-side down in the skillet and cook until they begin to soften and brown, about 5 minutes, turning once.
4. Pour the balsamic mixture over and around the chicories, and scatter the sprigs over. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the skillet and simmer until the chicories are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once or twice.
5. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is reduced and the chicories are slightly caramelized.
6. Discard the thyme sprigs. Season the chicories with additional salt to taste and serve warm, garnished with fresh thyme.

Good Morning Scones

These currant scones are guaranteed to get you out of bed in the morning:
:
Currant Scones with Lemon

If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. This pertains to great recipes, baking techniques, and, more specifically, these scones. I discovered this recipe years ago, published by Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen, and it’s a keeper. Since then, I have made these scones countless times with only the tiniest of tweaks. And, like any tradition worth repeating, these dense, moist, and crumbly scones have become a part of our breakfast rotation.

The technique is specific: the ingredients should be as cold as possible. And, while the method has steps that dance around this requirement, the good news is that the scones can be formed and cut, and then frozen in advance of baking. Simply pop them into zip-lock bags, and freeze for up to 1 month. The morning of serving, remove the scones from the freezer and bake them frozen, adding an additional 5 minutes or so for baking to compensate for their chilliness.

The original recipe calls for blueberries, which are a lovely springtime addition. I am partial to currants, so often add them instead, along with a generous sprinkle of lemon zest.

Currant Scones

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes 8

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) frozen butter, plus 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup dried currants
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl and stir to blend.
3. Whisk the milk and sour cream in a separate bowl and refrigerate while you grate the butter.
4. Coarsely grate the frozen butter and place in a bowl. Freeze for 5 minutes and then add the butter to the flour mixture. Quickly mix with the tips of your fingers to combine. Pour in the milk and stir until just combined.
5. Transfer the mixture to a floured work surface and knead several times until the dough holds together in a ragged ball. Roll the dough out into a 12-inch square, adding a little flour as needed. Fold the dough 3 ways into a rectangle, like a business letter, using a metal spatula to lift the dough from the surface as necessary. Fold the short ends of the dough into the center, overlapping, so you have an approximate 4-inch square. Freeze the dough for 5 minutes.
6. Roll the dough out again on a floured surface into a 12-inch square. Sprinkle the currants over the dough, lightly pressing them in to adhere. Roll the dough up into a tight log, then press into a 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 4 equal sections and then cut each section on the diagonal to form 8 triangles.
7. If freezing, place the triangles in one layer in a large zip-lock bag, press the air out, and freeze for up to 1 month. When ready to bake, remove from the freezer and proceed with the next step.
8. Transfer the triangles to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the melted butter and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the tops and bottoms are golden, about 20 minutes (or 25 to 27 minutes if frozen).