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Falafel Burgers

Falafel Burgers

My first time having falafel was on a high school field trip to Brooklyn. It was a Middle Eastern history class and we were visiting the Jewish neighborhood where our teacher grew up, among other places. Lunch was to be at a restaurant specializing in falafel. Our teacher tried to explain to the class what falafel was, but most of us were a bit skeptical that this ground-chickpea ball that he spoke of would be as delicious as he insisted. Of course it was. It was amazing. And this was the day I fell in love with falafel.

Falafel, if you aren’t familiar, is a Middle Eastern chickpea fritter. They are usually made with chickpeas (ground to a pre-hummus consistency) mixed with herbs and spices and a little binder like flour, formed into balls or patties, and then deep-fried until a golden and crispy outer shell forms. Falafel is traditionally served in a pita with veggies and several bright, and flavorful accompaniments like tzatziki, tahini sauce, hot sauce, tabouleh, zhoug, etc. There are many, many ways to enjoy falafel.

Here is a different kind of way to enjoy falafels! The “batter” is not fried in balls, but formed into patties and seared to make burgers. Instead of a pita pocket, I used buns or butter lettuce leaves as the vehicles for the burgers. They are topped with cast of rainbow veggies and sauces that together amount to nothing short of a flavor explosion in your mouth. You could even think of this recipe as a veggie burger, which it kind of is, but with all the tastes of traditional falafel.

There are a TON of different flavors playing together in each of these falafel burgers. Inside the patties, there is herby parsley, warm spices like cumin and coriander, acid from lemon, richness from olive oil, and “meatiness” from chickpeas. On top, there is fresh and crunchy carrot and cucumber and lettuce, sour quick-pickled red onion, bright and herby zhoug (a pepper, spice, and herb sauce kind of like a pesto that almost steals the show), and a cooling cucumber yogurt sauce (like a simple tzatziki).

Prepping all of this may seem daunting to you, and if you don’t feel like gathering all these delicious toppings, it’s alright. You can stick to a traditional lettuce, tomato, mayo or whatever you like. However, I highly recommend having a little fun in the kitchen and whipping up this colorful spread (especially the zhoug!!). You will definitely enjoy it and be happy you spent the time making this special meal.

If you are vegetarian, or not, or just trying to get more plants in your life, these falafel burgers are for you. They provide protein for muscles, carbs to fuel your brain and body, fiber for good gut health, and lots of plant goodness like vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals to keep you healthy. This is a great recipe to make and then enjoy as leftovers too.

If you aren’t friends with gluten, you can swap out the flour for another gluten-free one, and enjoy the burgers on GF buns, or even better, crunchy butter lettuce leaves. I actually prefer the burgers on lettuce as the fresh crunchiness of the lettuce wonderfully contrasts with the warm, substantial falafel burger. Whichever direction you choose to take, I hope you enjoy!

Falafel Burgers

Makes 4

burgers

15oz (425g) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

½ cup lightly packed parsley leaves

1 tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 tbs. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

¼ cup (30g) flour

1 egg

1 tsp. ground cumin

½ tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. salt

pinch cayenne

few grinds fresh black pepper

 

zhoug

½ cup lightly packed cilantro leaves

½ cup lightly packed parsley leaves

1 medium mild to medium heat pepper, seeds removed and flesh rough chopped

1 tsp. sherry or red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tbs. olive oil

½ tsp. ground cumin

½ tsp. ground coriander

¼ tsp. salt

 

tzatziki

¼ cup (60g) Greek yogurt

2 tbs. cucumber, finely diced

½ tsp. olive oil

pinch of salt

 

pickled red onions

½ of a medium red onion, thinly sliced

6 tbs. red wine vinegar

3 tbs. water

½ tsp. sugar

½ tsp. salt

 

lettuce (butter lettuce is best I think)

shaved carrot

sliced cucumber

whole wheat buns

Start by making the sauces and getting the toppings all set. Then you can focus on the burgers and already have everything else ready to go when they are done cooking.

Begin with the pickled red onion. Simply combine all the ingredients in a shallow bowl or dish with sides. Mix well and try to keep the onion as submerged as possible under the liquid. Stir every few minutes to evenly pickle.

To make the zhoug, combine all ingredients in a small food processor (or even better, the small cup of a individual smoothie blender with the grinder attachment) and blend until smooth. Use a spatula to press mixture down as needed to blend evenly.

To make the tzatziki, just combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

For the burgers, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse and blend until a semi-chunky, yet homogenous mixture forms. Use a spatula to push down as needed for even blending.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, coat lightly with pan spray or some olive oil. Take ¼ of the batter and plop into the pan. Press down to form a patty. Repeat with the rest of the batter to create a total of 4 patties. Let cook for about 4-5 minutes on the one side, then flip and cook about another 4 minutes. They are done when golden on top and bottom, and hot in the center.

Serve immediately on lettuce or a bun with the sauces and veggies. Leftover burgers and toppings keep for at least a couple days in the fridge and reheat well. Just obviously keep burgers and toppings separate until time to eat.

Notes: In the zhoug I used an Anahiem pepper, which has pretty mild, if any, heat to it. You could use a green bell pepper to keep things very mild, or get spicy with a poblano or 2 jalapeños. Pickled red onions will likely keep a few weeks in the fridge and are awesome on tons of things like chicken, sandwiches, tacos, etc.

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