Baked Falafel with Lemon-Tahini Sauce

IMG_6874In the little practically microscopic town of my college, there’s a Middle Eastern restaurant that I like to eat at on special occasions. I’ve been there three times throughout this year, each time getting my fill of fresh hummus and pita, chicken shawarma with red rice, mini falafel balls, and the most amazing almond cake. On my tiny island we have a limited number of restaurants, and unfortunately no Greek/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisines are among them. Which is quite sad for all the stuffed-grape-leaf-and-tabbouli-deprived people here on the island, but it makes eating at this particular restaurant at college all the more exciting for me.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, and I’m hoping you won’t judge. Cause it’s kind of bad, as in it makes me seem like the laziest person ever. Which I’m totally not, if you happen to ignore all the hours I’ve clocked watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix in the past transitionary week between the end of school and the beginning of work. We’re talking zero laziness for this girl. Anyhow, I was gifted a food processor last Christmas (ummm, as in 2012), which I was super excited to get and had every intention of using at my earliest convenience, but…..but. It might possibly have stayed in its tight little plastic cover on the carpet of my closet for the past too-many months. And this might be for no good reason other than that I decided it was too much work to wash and put together and learn how to use with all its little slicing/dicing/careful-or-you’ll-cut-your-hand-off tricks. So it might have just sat there gathering dust and shame. But I’m neither confirming nor denying.

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The important part is that now my little food processor is happily out of the darkness and getting quite the workout. Earlier this week I made some energy bites out of dates, flaxseed, cocoa powder, peanuts, vanilla, and honey (which were an experiment, and aren’t quite worthy of posting on the blog–sorry!) and it played a major role in last night’s dinner. The theme was Greek, and the menu was miniature baked falafel balls wrapped in whole wheat pita bread with a lemon-tahini sauce and Greek salad on the side. These falafel balls are gluten-free, vegetarian, easy, and fairly quick. And most importantly, delicious. Just as good as a meal from my beloved restaurant, but a million times cheaper and substantially healthier since the falafel is baked rather than fried. The lemon-tahini sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the falafel balls, and when stuffed inside warm pita bread with fresh greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and feta, it was a regular feast.

Even though I’m kicking myself for not breaking out my food processor sooner, it’s better late than never! And if you don’t happen to be the proud owner of a food processor (or, you know, there’s one sitting in the floor of your closet because you’re a ridiculous lazy fool like myself), you could most likely make them anyway. Just be sure to mash up the chickpeas really well with a fork or potato masher, and use finely minced garlic, green onions, and cilantro. I can’t promise that the texture will be the same, but it’s worth a try! Because no one should miss out on these delicious little chickpea balls of goodness. No restaurant required!

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Baked Falafel 

Makes about 30 small balls, or 15 larger balls

2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

4 scallions, roughly chopped

1 large egg

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/3 cup oat flour (or any other gluten-free flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, add all ingredients except for the flour and baking powder. Pulse about 40-50 times or until ingredients are well-combined but still coarse. Add in half the flour, and pulse several times to incorporate. Add in the rest of the flour and the baking powder, and pulse until combined. If the mixture is too wet, add in more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is moist but still holds together well.

Scoop the mixture into balls about 1 tablespoon each. (Mine were quite small, so if you want more traditionally-sized falafel use 2-3 tablespoons per ball. You’ll just have to increase the baking time a bit.) Drop onto prepared cookie sheets and flatten slightly. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the outsides are crisp and golden-brown and the insides are soft but cooked through.

Lemon-Tahini Sauce

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Directions:

Whisk all the ingredients together until smooth. Drizzle over warm falafel balls.

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(Falafel recipe adapted from How Sweet Eats; sauce recipe adapted from My Name is Yeh)

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Thai-Style Chicken Quinoa Salad

IMG_6194I figure it’s about time for some “real food” to appear on this here blog of mine. I mean, there are only so many delicious cookies, cakes, muffins, and bars that one can consume before a desperate longing for wholesome, nutritious meals sets in. Hah! I kid. But seriously, I really do cook actual non-dessert-type food. It’s just that I rarely have the motivation to haul out all my picture-taking paraphernalia and set up a photo shoot right when dinner is ready to be served. And after dinner, whatever I’ve cooked has almost always been devoured. And if there are leftovers, they often aren’t the most photogenic. Or I’m too tired. Or I have somewhere to be. Or I’m just not feeling it. I could throw out excuses all day, but it doesn’t really matter because this time I finally pulled myself together and managed to actually snap photos of this ridiculously delicious Thai Chicken Quinoa Salad, the star of tonight’s dinner. It was just too good not to document.

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My family members are all big-time lovers of quinoa, and it often appears in the form of side dishes, salads, and even entrees in our house. Whether it’s Mango & Black Bean Quinoa Salad, Black Bean & Corn Quinoa Salad, or a simple side to this Spanish Chicken and Kidney Beans, we love our quinoa. It’s healthy, cheap, quick-cooking, gluten-free, a complete protein, and is the perfect “base” for multiple dishes.

Though I’ve tried so many great quinoa recipes that I could never pick a favorite, this Thai Chicken Quinoa Salad definitely comes out near the tip-top. Cubed chicken, crunchy veggies, edamame, dry-roasted peanuts, and fresh cilantro are all loaded into the quinoa and tossed with an amazing Thai-inspired dressing. The dressing has a hint of spice that’s rounded out with a bit of sweetness and is packed with a multitude of flavors from lime juice, coconut milk, peanut butter, garlic, and ginger. The myriad of tastes and textures all come together into a one-dish meal that will leave everyone fighting for leftovers. I had to restrain myself from taking a third helping when I made this for dinner, and everyone in my family loved it. It’s hard not to!

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Thai-Style Chicken Quinoa Salad

Makes 6 servings

For the salad:

1 & 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup water

2 cups cooked, cubed chicken (about 1 pound, or 2 medium chicken breasts)

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup diced bell pepper

1/2 cup shelled edamame

1/2 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the dressing:

1/4 cup sweet chili sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 1 small lime)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons canned coconut milk (light is fine)

1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons creamy peanut butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

Pinch of ground ginger

Directions:

Combine the quinoa, chicken broth, and water in a medium-sized pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender.

While the quinoa is cooking, whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Prepare the rest of the salad ingredients if you haven’t already.

Transfer the cooked quinoa to a large bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Then pour the dressing over the quinoa and stir to combine. Add in the chicken, scallions, bell pepper, edamame, carrots, peanuts, and cilantro. Mix well. Serve the salad warm, chilled, or at room temperature.

(Recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, originally adapted from How Sweet Eats)

Chicken Fajita Salad

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Last spring, while on a shopping trip for much-needed summer clothes, I ate lunch at one of my favorite cafes. After much debating, I ordered the Chicken Fajita Salad and it. was. phenomenal. Being a hard-core lover of Mexican Food, especially chicken fajitas, I suspected that I’d love the salad, and boy was I right. Sautéed chicken, roasted pepper strips, garlic, and onions were served atop crisp greens and piled with avocado slices, fresh salsa, shredded cheese, and tortilla strips. The combination of fresh flavors was to die for, and I knew that I just HAD to re-create the salad at home. So I did.

My version is slightly different than the original, but I enjoyed it just as much, if not more. I decided to marinate the chicken in a mixture of lime juice and Mexican-style seasoning before sautéing it with sweet white onions. Then I stirred in roasted red peppers and piled the mixture onto fresh salad greens. For toppings, I went with avocado slices, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, broiled corn tortilla strips, chopped olives, and salsa, but you can adapt to fit your personal tastes. And there you have it! A fast, super-easy, low-carb, pretty darn healthy, utterly DELICIOUS lunch or dinner! I first made this re-creation back in August, and my dad promptly requested that it be his birthday dinner. His birthday is in March, so I took that to mean that this meal was a winner all around :).

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Chicken Fajita Salad

2 Tbs olive oil, divided

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground oregano

1/2 tsp ground coriander (or 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips

1 medium white or yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers (or 1 fresh roasted red pepper), sliced into strips

To serve:

Fresh salad greens

1 avocado, sliced

Crispy tortilla strips

Chopped olives

Shredded cheese

Salsa

Directions:

Combine 1 Tbs olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, and coriander in a large ziplock bag. (If using fresh cilantro, wait until the end to add it in.) Put the chicken slices in the bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the onion slices and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add in the chicken, including the marinade, and cook for about 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir in the red pepper and cilantro (if using) and cook over low heat until heated through.

To serve salad-style, spoon the chicken mixture over mixed greens. Top with shredded cheese, tortilla strips, avocado slices, chopped olives, salsa, and any other desired toppings. Serves 4-6.

(Recipe heavily adapted from this Chicken Fajita Salad)

Black Bean & Corn Quinoa Salad

During the school year, my family has a “dinner night” system.  I’m in charge of planning meals for the week, assigning each person to 1-2 dinner nights, and doing some of the grocery shopping.  Some weeks everything goes smoothly, and we eat wholesome, on-time dinners made from ingredients that were already purchased and ready to go.  I would estimate that this happens about 1 out of every 10 weeks.  🙂

The majority of the time, the system is semi-smooth…but life happens.  My brother happens to *forget* that it’s his night for dinner until 7 pm, someone has already used up the ingredients that were meant to go into that night’s meal, one of my parents has to work late, or it’s just one of those exhausting weeknights when the energy required to cook dinner fails to be conjured up and we end up ordering Thai food.  Those nights are the worst!  (insert sarcasm)

When it comes to dinner nights, everyone’s style is a little lot different.  My mom prefers cleaning up to cooking, and though my dad likes to cook, limited time and limited energy lead to fast and easy weeknight dinners.   And as for my 18-year-old brother’s attitude toward actually cooking an actually balanced meal by an actually reasonable time for his family…I’ll just say that if it was between doing that and sticking daggers into his eyes, I’m not sure which he’d prefer.  Which leaves me.  I honestly enjoy making elaborate dinners (and just so we’re clear, a pot of homemade chili is considered elaborate when compared to some of the other meals that have graced our table) and my family looks forward to trying the new recipes I make and enjoying the old favorites.  The funny thing is, no matter what I make, if it involves more than 5 ingredients and about 20 minutes of cooking time they think they’re eating a gourmet meal and assume that I must have labored over dinner all afternoon.  They ooh and aah over almost everything I make.  It’s nice to have such a great support team, but sometimes their exuberance over, say, a meatloaf, makes me laugh.  I can only imagine the awe that would ensue if Julia Child offered to cook for them.  (Just to clarify, I’m talking about awe at her cooking, not awe at the fact that a deceased chef is standing in their kitchen.)

My point is that it’s very, very easy to impress my family when it comes to dinner.  Even if it’s a dish that takes 30 minutes to prepare with only 10 minutes of hands-on cooking, tastes wonderful, goes with almost anything, requires minimalistic ingredients, and can be served at any temperature.  Win, win, win, win win!  This Black Bean & Corn Quinoa Salad is so quick and easy to make, yet my family is always convinced that they’re eating a gourmet side dish.  I’ll admit that this may have something to do with them, but it may have even more to do with this fabulous recipe.  This salad is full of fresh, healthy ingredients that give the quinoa lots of flavor without loading up on heavy fats or salt.  It’s perfect as a side dish to highlight a simple main course, or you could even serve it as a main dish since it’s full of protein from the beans and quinoa.  I bet if you make this for your family, they’ll assume that since it tastes so good, it was a lot more difficult than it really is.  And then they’ll proceed to thank you for dinner about 10,000 times and say, “Is this cilantro?  How fancy!”  Or wait….maybe that’s just my family….

Black Bean & Corn Quinoa Salad

1 Tbs olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa

1 1/2 cups (12 oz) chicken or vegetable broth

1 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 cup frozen corn, yellow or white

2 15-oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and sautee, for 4-5 minutes, or until tender.  Add the garlic and sautee for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant.

Add the quinoa and broth.  Stir in the cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is cooked.

Stir in the frozen corn and black beans.  Cover the pot and allow it to sit off the heat for about 5 minutes to heat the corn and beans.  Stir in the cilantro.  Serve warm or chilled, your choice.

(Recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

Black Bean, Chicken, and Red Pepper Stew

After an unseasonably warm September, which to Pacific-Northwesterners like me means temperatures over 60 degrees and more than 5 days of sunshine in a row, fall has finally arrived!  Today the thermometer hasn’t gotten past 52 degrees and I woke up to that familiar feeling of being inside a cloud.  Gray skies, moist air, and the sound of fog horns resonating from the harbor all the way up to my house a mile away.  Basically the kind of weather we get about 200 days a year.  And it comes with that cold, clammy wetness that seeps into your bones and stays there for perpetually 7 months.  I’m sure by now you’re all just dying to move to the Pacific Northwest, right?

Actually, it’s not all that bad.  I’m just highlighting all of the bad features and keeping the good ones to myself so that you won’t all pack up and move to my island and overpopulate it and take over all the good beaches and build a bunch of houses on my favorite trails and go around asking a bunch of ridiculous tourist questions.  Because we islanders are very, very unfriendly.  And the weather really does suck. (See what I did there?)

Kidding.  Anyway, I’m actually excited because cooler weather means that fall is here!  The  leaves have turned beautiful colors and started to fall, pumpkins are appearing outside the grocery stores, and Halloween decorations/recipes/crafts are all over Pinterest.  That last one is what really clued me in that autumn is among us.  Hah.

Anyway, along with this cooler weather comes an overwhelming desire for me to make lots of warm stew, soup, and chili.  Which I have done.  I’ve made several different stews/soups/chilis this fall, but they keep getting eaten up before I can snap a picture!  Sad.  But don’t worry, because I did manage to get a picture of the last bowl of this Black Bean, Chicken, and Red Pepper Stew!  And I’m so glad I did, because this recipe is just too good not to post.  The combination of beans, chicken, roasted peppers, green chiles, and cilantro (among other good things) makes for a seriously delicious stew.  It was so thick and hearty that it reminded me of a chili, but with a little more broth and fresher flavors.  This is a perfect meal to warm you up on a chilly fall day, and I’m sure I’ll be making it many more times throughout the cold months ahead!

Black Bean, Chicken, & Red Pepper Stew

2 Tbs olive oil, divided

2 large chicken breasts, cut into small chunks

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers, diced (or 1 large fresh roasted pepper)

1 4-oz can diced mild green chiles

2 14-oz cans chicken broth

2 Tbs cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander seed (optional, but adds great flavor)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or paprika, if you can’t take the heat)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and cook, stirring often, until browned and cooked through.  Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken pieces to a separate bowl.  Set aside.

Drain the juices out of the pot and heat up the second Tbs of oil.  Add in the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute or so.  Next, stir in the black beans, diced tomatoes, roasted peppers, green chiles, chicken broth, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper.

Heat the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer.  Simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until stew reaches desired consistency.  Season with salt and pepper and stir in the fresh cilantro.  Serve.

(Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats)