Let’s face it. I could, at all times, be eating something. Especially falafel. In fact, if I could be in a constant state of eating falafel, I would be. It’s so good, right? So balanced in so many good ways — the smoky with the snappy, the fresh with the flagged, the light with the leadfooted.
I have made falafel many a time. In particular, a few brilliant misadventures come to mind, all of which involve my dearest friend Meghan, who shares in my appetite for these tasty little Mediterranean bean nuggets. One evening in London, where we once shared a flat for the summer, we decided to make them ourselves — a feat proven to be enormously difficult without the assistance of a food processor, blender, or even so much as a potato masher. Smashing chickpeas with salad forks was slow going, to say the very least, and I remember the finished falafel being remarkably un-falafel-like. Many of the chickpeas were only half-way smashed; many others had been launched from the bowl, rendered airborne, and had landed on the floor. If my memory serves correctly, though, our love for falafel was so unapologetically steadfast that we repeated this ridiculous rite a year or two later in my Connecticut apartment. We didn’t have a food processor then either.
In February, I visited Meghan in DC, the fast-tracked, fancy little high-heeled city she’s called home for the past two years. We spent the weekend gorging on the most excellent of brunch spreads, nerding out at our first play at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and just chatting and laughing and loving all things life. On my last evening in town, we decided to cook a dinner together, and I suggested that we put together a version of the recipe I’ve shared below. It is falafel, but it is not quite.
In many ways, I am a purest. But, you see, sometimes (read: all the time), if you can’t have a proper falafel, you will settle for its essence. It’s spirit. You want how it tastes, how it smells, you want to go to all of the places it takes you. But maybe you don’t have a food processor. And maybe you don’t feel like deep frying. And maybe, if you’re like me, you just prefer to eat as many meals as possible with a long-necked spoon and from a big stew bowl — food’s cozy equivalent of sweatpants. There are plenty of reasons to circumvent the traditional falafel format, so pick yours, and pick it quickly. And then, as soon as you do, get on this recipe. Because it’s so damn good.
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 medium onion
- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground roasted coriander
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 10 ounces mushrooms, diced rather finely
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into small cubes
- 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15 ounce can, drained and rinsed)
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- Salad greens, grains, or pita
- Tahini paste
- Feta cheese
- Over medium heat in a big cast-iron Dutch oven (or, alternatively, a stock pot), melt the coconut oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and a bit of salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes until the onions become translucent.
- Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft and a bit mushy, about 5 minutes.
- Add the eggplant, stirring the pot well to make sure the spices and coconut oil are well distributed. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the eggplant starts to really break down and become soft, about 15 minutes.
- Add the lemon juice and its zest, and use the acid to help you scrape up all the lovely brown bits at the bottom of the pot.
- Add the chickpeas and a bit more salt, and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the whole pot is warm and the chickpeas are well incorporated and coated with spice.
- Serve over grains or greens, or with pita, and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro, crumbled feta cheese, and a big drizzle of tahini paste.