Falafel from Scratch

Falafel mixture

When we were living in Hannover, I became a falafel addict. Might not sound typically German, but there’s a large Turkish population in Germany, and you can buy inexpensive, fresh, delicious falafel (as well as other yummy treats) at almost any corner. The guys at my imbiss (fast food joint) knew my falafel order by heart.

You can get excellent falafel in Charlotte (try Zeitouni), but I miss being able to walk across the street and get it, so I often make it at home. Box mixes are actually pretty good (Far East has a good one) but I’d always wanted to try making them from scratch.

So what’s in there? Dried, soaked (uncooked) chickpeas, onion, parsley, spices.

How hard was it? Well, if you’ve made from-the-box falafel before, it’s really not that hard, but it does require more planning and more cleanup. Big bonus if you have trouble with gluten is that making them from scratch requires no flour, which most mixes have. I find the difficult part is that I want to make all the fixin’s, too, which also take time—yogurt sauce, tahini sauce, chopped veggies.

Since I spent most of my energies on the falafel, I put my daughter to work on the yogurt sauce (she loves this) and dressed the veggies with just a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

This time I think my husband was right: I really DID use every dish in the house.

Results: delicious. Was it worth making from scratch? I have to say that, while I loved them would make them again, the box-mix kind are a close second.

Bittman’s recipe here.

Homemade Falafel

Next on my list: making harissa from scratch, and Egyptian falafel. They’re green!

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Quick Black Bean and Polenta Casserole

Black Bean and Polenta Casserole

I threw this together the other night when I needed something pretty quick and had to use what I had on hand. It was a perfect easy supper.

It’s inspired by Rachael Ray’s Calabacitas Casserole, which is yummy but more involved, with no beans. I once had it at my sister-in-law’s house, and was immediately sold.

My casserole is based on three main ingredients: black beans, salsa, and pre-cooked polenta. Anything else is icing on the cake.

Quick Black Bean and Polenta Casserole

Measurements are approximated. What you want is enough salsa to give the beans plenty of flavor.

2-3 cups canned or pre-cooked black beans, drained (I used up leftovers I had cooked the day before)

1/2 to 1 jar chunky salsa (I used Herdez salsa, which was great, but would’ve been better semi-drained. I think semi-drained Ro-tel would also be excellent, and maybe even Mexican-style stewed tomatoes)

1 tube prepared polenta, sliced into 1/3 inch rounds (you could also cook your own, then chill and slice)

Olive oil

Optional add-ins: diced scallions, cilantro, chopped veggies, spinach, cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F. I made a smaller version of this (since it was just for me) and cooked it in the toaster oven.

Place the beans in an oiled casserole dish (maybe 8 x 8), and add enough salsa to suit your taste. You want a little less salsa than beans, but enough salsa to add lots of flavor. Lay the polenta rounds on top and brush them with a little olive oil.

Bake for 35 minutes or so at 375 F, then add, if you feel like it, a handful of spinach and chopped scallions, and turn up the heat to 400 F. When the spinach is wilted, the polenta is getting crispy, and the beans are bubbling, it’s done.

The polenta adds structure and has such a great creamy/ crispy texture that I really didn’t miss having cheese. This one will definitely go on my repeat list. I think I’ll add more spinach next time and maybe cilantro. Hmmm…what about sweet potato?

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Gingered Carrot Soup


I’ve been trying new recipes, trying to get inspired to cook again. I really lost my cooking mojo after a long period of food sensitivities with my son (thankfully now he can eat anything) and then moving here to Germany, where the groceries are so different. Well, they’re not soooo different, and the quality is great, but it’s sometimes hard to make the recipes I was used to making.

I really liked this soup, and the hubs gave it a thumbs up. I thought the kids would really dig the orange color and slurp it down, but they weren’t into it. I’ll try again with them. The combo of spices works well: obviously ginger but also cumin, ground fennel, cinnamon, allspice, dried mint. I like orange veggies, which are kind of sweet, complemented by savory flavors, and with onion, garlic, and the added citrus hint (lemon juice), this had a really nice complexity.

A few notes:  as the recipe states, it is quite a thick soup. I like a thinner soup texture, though, so I think next time I would crank up the spices a little and water it down. I accidentally cranked up some of the spices already, having used the 1/2 tsp measure for a few of them—-I must be getting old, I could’ve sworn it was the 1/4 tsp. Oh well, it didn’t seem to matter. I also used nutmeg instead of allspice because I didn’t have it. The recipe was forgiving. I didn’t measure the lemon, either, and used one lemon and one lime because that was what I had. I don’t know if that’s more citrus that it called for, but since I’m a citrus-lover, it didn’t matter.

You can get the recipe here (along with lots of other Moosewood recipes). Also, if you haven’t discovered the cooking blog 101cookbooks, that’s another great place to go for inspiration. She does some amazing things with vegetables.

Simple Family-Friendly Dal (Indian Lentil Dish)

This recipe comes from my friend Awanti. Our favorite Indian restaurant here (Mogul) closed awhile back, and we’ve been suffering from withdrawal.  Dal, a thick lentil soupy-type dish, is a staple of Indian cooking. As I understand it, there must be a million different versions of it because every family has their own recipe. Thank you, Awanti, for sharing yours!

This recipe is great for cutting your teeth on Indian cooking. Easy and not too many ingredients. Also, although it’s flavorful, it’s not spicy-hot, so anyone can enjoy it. My kids lapped it up.  I think if I were making it just for the hubs and me, I would add some more ginger and chili pepper.

1.5 cups yellow lentils

2 TB cooking oil (I used olive)

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp garlic-ginger paste (available in Asian stores) or the equivalent half and half mash of fresh ginger and garlic

1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped

½ tsp turmeric

salt to taste

½ to ¼ tsp red chili powder (leave it out if you don’t want it)

fresh coriander leaves (i.e. cilantro—this is optional for those of you who can’t stand cilantro. You know who you are.)

Soak and cook lentils till tender (my package had directions, albeit in German). In a pan put in 2 tablespoons of oil, heat.
Add mustard seeds and let them start spluttering in the oil.
Then add ginger-garlic paste and onions. Cook onions till they are slightly browned. Add the lentils, and cook them into the onions. Add turmeric, chili powder if you like, and salt as per your taste.

Then add water – you have to decide what consistency your dal needs to be. All the water needs to be added now so that it cooks in and doesn’t remain watery. Bring to a rolling boil and keep stirring so it doesn’t boil over for about 3 to 4 minutes. Then let it simmer for at least 10 to 15 minutes with regular stirring.

Serve with finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and rice. Enjoy!