Monday, February 13, 2012

Meatless Mondays: Tofu Falafel

Tofu falafel

Today's recipe is a take on a middle eastern classic: falafel. Traditionally made with a garbanzo bean/chickpea base and deep fried, this version uses tofu as the base for extra protein, and the falafel balls are baked, rather than fried. The result is a lighter variation on the classic that is simple to make at home. Also, this Meatless Monday recipe is vegan!

You'll notice the ingredient list is kind of long. I thought about trying to simplify it - about what, if anything, could be omitted. But all of the ingredients contribute to a complex and layered flavor, and I don't think they dish would be as satisfying if I simplified things.

I call for tahini, which I discussed in my hummus post. If you don't have tahini, and don't want to buy it just for this recipe, I think peanut butter would be a fun twist. But tahini is more classic, and really delicious, so it's worth giving a try.

Finally, a word on tofu. Tofu is a staple in many vegetarian dishes and diets, because it is a source of complete protein derived from plants. It doesn't have much flavor of its own, but readily absorbs flavors from whatever marinade, sauce, or other ingredients it is combined with. I call for extra-firm tofu here. If you cannot find extra-firm, I would suggest using firm tofu, but pressing it before use. To press, place the block of tofu on a plate (I usually put a few paper towels under it), place another plate (turned upside down) on top, and place a somewhat-heavy object on top of the plate - the sides of the block should bulge somewhat, but not split. Leave the tofu like this for 30 minutes, then drain the water from the plate and proceed with the recipe. Pressing tofu removes some water, so it better absorbs flavors and has a better texture.

Many people hesitate to try tofu, but I promise it is good - the whole secret is that you must give it flavor, since it has so little of its own. All of the spices, herbs, and oils in this dish do just that. 

To serve these, you can serve them with a few sauces, as I did, or on top of a salad, or stuffed into a pita as a sandwich. I put them over hummus, with greek yogurt mixed with some extra chopped herbs on top. (Note that the yogurt is not vegan.) If serving them on a salad, a tahini-based dressing would be a great topping.

Tofu falafel2

(The parsley in this recipe, and that photo, is from our windowsill garden!)

Tofu Falafel
This recipe was inspired by the Moosewood cookbook. It should take 30-40 minutes to prepare, start to finish.
Yield: 20 falafel balls, serves 3-5 (depending on your appetite!)

1 block (16 oz) extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed dry with paper towels
1/3 cup finely diced onion (about 1/4 a medium onion)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
hearty pinch of black pepper, or to taste
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp tahini
juice of 1/2 lime
tiny pinch of cayenne (or more to taste)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mash the tofu with your fingers. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.
2. Line a baking sheet with a silpat liner, parchment paper, or spray it with cooking spray. Scoop heaping tablespoons of mixture into your hand, roll into a ball, and place on the baking sheet. (I used a 1 1/2 tbsp scoop for this, so the falafel would be uniform).
3. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the falafel are golden on the outside. Serve as desired - with sauces, on a salad, or in a pita sandwich.

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