The traditional way of making falafel involves soaking chickpeas, blending them up with onion, herbs and spices, then deep frying them into crispy balls of perfection. The key point here is that the chickpeas aren’t cooked – if they were, they falafel would fall apart and you’d need flour or breadcrumbs to hold the falafel together. To me, this defeats the purpose, especially if you’re serving the falafel in a pita. I want to fill my pita with beans, not bread (it’s the age-old veggie burger versus bread burger dilemma).
For lack of good falafel in the Cotswolds, I’ve tried making my own falafel the traditional way but it’s always been a disaster, primarily at the deep frying step. I don’t think I can get my oil hot enough on the electric hob (that, or I’m scared). So the falafel just ends up soaking up all the oil and then falling into greasy gross pieces.
I’ve experimented with several baked falafel recipes, all of which involve using cooked chickpeas, or in Leon’s case, chickpea flour. The baked falafel I made with my sister was decent, but not exactly ultimate.
I’ve made these twice now, and while they don’t have quite the same wow-factor as really good deep-fried falafel, they are still pretty damn good and, as it seems, worth making again and again. They also keep well in the freezer which makes them handy for lunches (I re-heat them in the toaster!).
I like to serve mine with a simple tahini sauce made with lemon juice, tahini and enough water to make a drizzle-able dressing. Chilli jam or harissa is nice, too.
The next thing to master are those great pickles you get with falafel in good falafel joints. The best I’ve ever had were the falafel and pickles from Arabica in Borough Market, though the last time I had them they weren’t quite as good as I remember. (I’ve since been told I must go to Mr. Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush.)
Is it pickled turnips I’m after? And I haven’t even touched on the falafel sauce. Tzatziki? Tahini? Hot sauce? All of the above?
I wrote about these veggie sausages for Great British Chefs this week, but thought they were so good I wanted to give them a wider audience. Make them and enjoy with a crispy salad of carrot, apple, celery, red onion and honey mustard dressing, plus a big blog of good dijon mustard on the side.
Yesterday, Monday, 5th November 2012 marged the beginning of British Sausage Week, a time intended for encased-pork devotion. I may not eat pork, but I do have a fondness for sausage-esque foods. This may have something to do with my Chicago-based upbringing, studded with Polish sausage at family gatherings and an ardent appreciation for the Chicago-style hot dog, served with yellow mustard, whtie onions, pickle relish, “sport peppers”, tomato and celery salt (never ketchup). (Mention must be said of Hot Doug’s, the “sausage superstore and encased meat emporium”, for doing the best Chicago-style veggie hot dog in the world – it’s wrong, but oh so right.)
Back to British Sausage Week, I thought it a fine excuse to seek out a worthy veggie sausage to honour the occasion. But let’s not misdirect our plaudits: I’m not referring to those “fake meat” varieties of veggie sausage you often find in the supermarket (or dare I say Hot Doug’s), filled with weird stuff that not only isn’t meat, but also isn’t food in my opinion (don’t get me started on Quorn). In fact, these supermarket varieties give “vegetarian sausage” a bad name. In fact, the veggie sausage can be a delight, with as much nuance and comfort factor as its porky counterparts.
So what makes a great veggie sausage? I feel the same way about veggie sausage as I do about veggie burgers: they shouldn’t try to imitate meat – people who want a meaty sausage should just eat a meaty sausage. But if you love vegetables and want to experience them in tubular form, then veggie sausages are the way to go and are a novel form factor in which to showcase delicious ingredients. Options abound, from Rachel Demuth’s Glamorgan Sausages, made with cheddar, spring onions, breadcrumbs and loads of herbs to the Gluttonous Vegan’s Beany Snausages, a sort of rice-and-beans in sausage form.
I like my vegetarian sausages to be about the vegetables, and since we’re in the depths of autumn and beetroot season, I am sharing with you my recipe for beetroot and walnut veggie sausages inspired by Susan Voison. These sausages combine ingredients that work exceptionally well together – beetroot, walnuts, fennel and chilli – to create a sausage reminiscent of American-style “Italian sausage”. It’s great in a bun with sauteed onions and peppers, or on its own with tomato sauce or dijon mustard. The sky’s the limit: these babies are versatile, not to mention vegan and gluten free. You can even crumble them up and put them on a pizza.
Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Prepare a roasting tin or baking pan by oiling it generously with olive or sunflower oil.
Place the mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes, then drain and squeeze out the excess liquid.
Put the walnuts into a food processor and pulse to chop finely (but not too finely, we want chopped nuts, not nut powder), then remove and put into a large mixing bowl.
Peel the beetroot and cut it into small cubes. Add it to the food processor along with the mushrooms, garlic, and onion and pulse to chop coarsely. Add the chickpeas and all remaining ingredients and pulse several times to chop the chickpeas. Don’t over-do it: you want to maintain some texture, while still processing enough to form a mixture that you can shape into veggie sausages.
Add the processor contents to the nuts and stir well to combine.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out pieces of the mixture and, using damp hands, form the pieces into sausage-shapes (of whatever size you fancy!), squeezing lightly to compact it (you can also shape them into balls or patties if you wish). Place the sausages on the roasting tin or baking sheet.
Bake for about 35 minutes, turning the sausages once mid-bake, until lightly browned on all sides.