Christmas is fast approaching, and I must admit that if I could stay home all day, everyday, just baking, cooking, listening to good music (Christmas-themed or not) and reveling in the simple (gustative) pleasures of life, I would totally do it. And while I can’t, because in order to pay for my lovely house in Normandy, and the food I’m cooking and all the vacations I’m dreaming of taking, I have to work, I make a point to spend my weeknights and ends doing what makes me happy. And right now, what makes me happy is butternut squash soup with red wine and lardons*, Thanksgiving feasts, spicy hot cocoa cookies, red velvet cheesecake cake, persimmon coffee cake, flatbread and pistachio falafel.
These are just a few of the dishes I’ve made over the last week, and that I’m working on getting up on this here blog. I really enjoy sharing my culinary creations with the world via this creative outlet, but what I don’t want is that writing about what I’m making and eating actually starts to get in the way of actually doing it. So while I am creating share-worthy recipes nearly daily, I still prefer sharing them with those in my home to forcing myself to write about it here. That being said, I am trying to make an effort to post at least two recipes each week. So, here is the first, a two-parter (perhaps a three-parter): Pistachio falafel with freshly grilled flatbread, topped with, among other things, leftover cranberry-fig chutney.
Not only was this meal relatively easy, it was also one that just sounded impressive. I associate falafel with street food, obviously, but it also falls into the category of foods that I would never have thought to make at home until recently. Someone once told me that the secret to a good restaurant is to offer things that people generally wouldn’t make at home. To make them want to go out to eat, because they would be getting something special, something that they couldn’t just whip up themselves. Up until a few days ago, falafel was totally in this category for me. That is, until I realized just how easy and rewarding it would be to make it at home.
I’d saved this recipe in my evernote months ago, but it wasn’t until surfing on the web very recently and randomly coming across a recipe for flatbread that I decided to give it a try at home. Last weekend I went grocery shopping for my epic Thanksgiving feast (bloating and overall food satisfaction was had by all last Saturday). I had so much in my shopping cart with the T-day fixings alone, that I could barely think about what to make for the rest of the week (and was clearly banking on leftovers). I threw two cans of chickpeas in with the rest and called it a day.
After two long days of baking and cooking, I had expertly prepared the Ultimate Thanksgiving turkey (slathered in butter, mayonnaise and fresh herbs, and baked to perfection), fresh, savory green bean casserole, mashed potatoes with roasted fennel and rosemary butter, potato and celery rave gratin, sausage, leek and green apple dressing, cranberry and fig chutney, pumpkin pie and a red velvet cheesecake layer cake. It was epic, and we did indeed have leftovers for about three full days after that. On the fourth day, I knew exactly what we needed.
I first set off making the flatbread, knowing that it would have to be thoroughly kneaded and left to rise for several hours. It was easy as pie, and while it attempted to rise (it never really did…), I prepared the falafel. About two hours later, the dough was as ready as it would ever be, my falafel was cooked and we were ready to make our sandwiches. It was kind of like crepe night, when instead of eating in the dining room, we both hover in the kitchen, watching the stove like hawks and eating when we can. We set the table full of garnishes (we used thinly sliced onion, crème fraîche with lemon and cayenne pepper, golden raisins, chutney and grilled mushrooms, because I didn’t have anything else, but clearly freshly sliced cucumber and pickled cabbage would be ideal) and took turns cooking the flatbread and taking pleasure in devouring it. I think this would be a fun idea for a laid-back dinner party with friends.
Pistachio falafel with warm flatbread and cranberry-fig chutney from various sources: Herbed flatbread adapted from Saveur magazine, Falafel inspired by Green Kitchen Stories, and Chutney from Bon Appétit
For the flatbread (should be made at least 2 hours in advance)
3 ½ cups flour
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/4 C water
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
Whisk the first three ingredients in a large bowl. In a small sauce pan, heat water until just boiling. Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and powder. Mixture will fizz. Let stand about ten minutes, before adding the water and the vegetable oil to the flour mixture.
Mix until just combined, adding a little more oil or flour if necessary, until mixture resembles dough, but is not too sticky. Put the dough onto a heavily floured work surface and knead for 6-8 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Place the dough into a lightly floured bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1-2 hours.
Once the dough has risen, cut it into 8 pieces and roll into disks about 6-8 inches in diameter. I highly recommend adding some minced garlic to the dough before rolling it out, and possibly some cumin or other spices as well. Once you have your disk and are ready to eat, lightly brush one side with olive oil and heat a pan to medium-high heat. Place the oiled side directly into the hot pan and let cook, without touching, for about three minutes. You should see bubbles starting to form in the dough. Add a bit of olive oil to the dough before turning. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes and serve right away.
For the falafel
1/4 C fresh mint
3/4 C pistachio nuts
2 cups chickpeas (canned)
3 cloves garlic
½ small onion
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
Soak the chickpeas if need be before starting, but if you’re using canned they should be ready to go. Now simply toss all ingredients into a food processor and blend! Add additional olive oil or flour as needed. The finished purée should be moist, but dry enough that you can it into balls without too much sticking to the hands.
Make as many falafel balls as you can, and place them on a very lightly oiled baking sheet. Your oven should be set at about 350°. Cook the falafel for about 25 minutes total, turning often to ensure even browning. I have a feeling that these would be even better fried, but that call is up to you.
For the cranberry-fig chutney (optional)
This I had left over from Thanksgiving, but the sweet tartness went incredibly well with my earthy falafel. I would highly recommend using the two together. Takes about an hour to make, so plan ahead!
1 1/2 cups red wine
12 dried figs, diced
3/4 cup sugar
3 strips orange zest
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
Pinches of salt and pepper
I’ve never been a fan of cranberry sauce, for the simple reason that it just wasn’t a tradition in my household growing up. I am, however, a big fan of fresh ginger, red wine and orange zest. Throw in some figs and a few cranberries, and I figured, why not? Turns out, I love cranberry sauce. This one anyway.
Start by bringing the wine to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add the sugar, orange zest, ginger and figs and boil over high heat, until the sugar has dissolved. Let simmer another 10-15 minutes before adding the cranberries. Turn the heat way down. Add your salt and pepper, then let the flavors mingle for a good 30-40 minutes more, until the liquid has reduced by at least 2/3, and mixture resembles runny jam. Serve lukewarm or cold.