Crisp Lentil Patties Recipe

There are very few downsides to my work with Rose Water & Orange Blossoms. Except one thing: I share stuff, and then I’m held to it.

Sweetless, Meatless March? It sounded good, and I was really ready to get off the sugar parade that had lingered since the holidays. Also the red meat: less is best and yet this is something I have not been good at abiding.

So I went for it, and just to make it extra real, I let all of you know. What happened to keeping our sacrifices private, so that no one but God above is aware that a girl is pining desperately for French macarons, but she digs down deep and finds a way to resist?

Not Maureenie; she has to put it all out there so that every time I’m in the presence of those in the know, which is very often, and the sweet things or the juicy meats tempt her, they stand there and watch and wait to see if she is going to have a #lentfail right before their eyes.

I’ve done alright so far, in case you were wondering. In case you were hoping for a big ‘ole give-in that just might assuage any guilty feelings of your own for whatever eating habit you may be trying to change….

But when you work with food and have a personal obsession for pastry, then it seems that there’s no rest for the weary. Take those macarons. They’ve been everywhere I turn lately. In Chicago, they peeked out from the pastry case at Pierrot Gourmet and ever so sweetly, every so gently tempted. But no. NO!

Then there is the crazy macaron-laden cover of Martha Stewart Living magazine. With step-by-step instructions, no less! We did make macarons in culinary school, so that experience along with this tutorial…I’m so money to lay down beautiful macarons with and for you. But no. NO. I shun macarons. I open the magazine and see lentil patties, pan sautéed and served with a cool yogurt sauce.

Hey, that looks good. That sounds good. And even though I promised you classic Lebanese lentil soup (rushta) in my meatless/sweetless line-up, I decided then and there to switch course and put my lentils to use as a pattie, a lentil burger, if you will.

I’m not saying these really very delicious, crispy flavorful lentil patties have completely cleared my mind of macarons—my daydreams consist of a honeymoon in Paris just so I can visit Laduree—but they are more than worthy of the plate during a meatless, sweetless commitment and, I suspect, long after.

Crisp Lentil Patties with Yogurt Sauce
This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart Living. Makes 8 small, delicious patties.

1/3 cup French green lentils, sorted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/3 cup sweet or red onion, finely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh or 2/3 cup dried breadcrumbs
Few grinds freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 head of lettuce, such as bibb or romaine, leaves separated
1 cup plain yogurt or labneh
Pinch cayenne pepper

In a small saucepan, cover the lentils with water by a few inches and bring them to a boil over high heat. Add a teaspoon of salt and reduce the heat to simmer, cooking until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and cool the lentils for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat.

Puree half of the lentils, the onion, eggs, and bread crumbs in the food processor, blender or with a potato masher. In a medium bowl, combine this mixture with the remaining lentils and season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley. The lentils can be chilled at this point for up to one day; bring to room temperature before proceeding. Form patties with about 1/4 cup of the lentil mixture for each.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the patties, in batches if needed, until they are golden brown and crisp on each side, flipping them once.

In a small bowl, stir the yogurt with a pinch of salt until it is smooth and creamy.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter or individual plates and lay the lentil patties over them. Serve them with the yogurt, drizzling the lentils and yogurt with olive oil and sprinkling all with chopped parsley and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

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The Silver Lining

A few years ago, right about this time of year, I was living in Chicago and went to an event celebrating Saint Mary’s College with my sister. It was a gathering of alums and families who are especially connected with and supportive of the college. We were seated at a table with a woman who had caught my eye the moment we walked in, because of her striking beauty and her magnetic smile.

During our conversation over dinner, Hollye asked everyone at the table who our most inspiring teacher was. Mine was an English teacher at Saint Mary’s, a memory that led me to mention that I wanted to pursue my writing more fully, and how I was thinking of leaving my job and going to culinary school in San Francisco. It was the first time I’d really said anything to anyone outside the family about the plans that were starting to take shape. You absolutely have to do this!, Hollye said, you’re going to go for it and it’s going to be so great! At the end of the meal we had a table toast, which included Hollye saying to me: here’s to new beginnings.

She and her family were just getting ready to move to California themselves, to Santa Barbara. I kept tabs on Hollye here and there, as we tend to do when we connect with our invariably cool fellow alumnae from SMC (I always tell my mom: Saint Mary’s was the gift that keeps on giving).

It was a bright moment in time, looking ahead to new beginnings. So it was such a shock, such troubling news when Peg told me that Hollye had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s writing a blog about it, Peg said, and you’ve got to check it out.

Which I did, immediately. I had just finished culinary school and was getting set to launch Rose Water & Orange Blossoms. I was interested in seeing how Hollye was doing hers, and once I went online and started reading . . . and reading . . . and reading, I just wanted to keep reading the installments like the page-turner story that it was.

What I found on The Silver Pen blog was such honesty, and beauty, and humor, and vulnerability.  Hollye was not only writing her way through her experience (why must we call it a “battle” that we win or lose?, she asks) of breast cancer, treatment, and recovery as a nurse-turned-patient, but also delving deep in every direction of her interests like literature, philanthropy, fashion, travel, family…and nourishing food—I’ve contributed a post or two to The Silver Pen’s Friday’s Fixins–and giving us all kinds of inspiration.

All of this is infused with Hollye’s emphasis on finding the silver linings in life. In other words: the more aware of and grateful we are for the good things that always do surround us even in the midst of adversity and pain, the stronger, more joyous, and hopeful we are.

Hollye’s experience brought to mind Ruth, my brother’s wife who had cancer not long before, but who had passed away with two young children at home (hers was non-smoker’s lung cancer).

And my own mother, who had breast cancer in the slow-moving wake of my father’s death. A silver lining there was that my mama takes on these things from a place of calm, from a place of what can only be described as faith. The other huge silver lining: Mom didn’t need any treatment other than the (difficult, painful) mastectomy.

Also to mind: the new, state-of-the-art cancer center that my brother Chris and his neurosurgery partners are opening in East Lansing soon. So proud walking through with him for a little tour recently (and also thinking: I hope this is the only reason I ever need to come in here, for a tour…).

The silver linings and everything else Hollye’s been writing about on her blog have sparked a huge interest in readers like me (and you). So much so that she wrote a book that is hot off the presses this week: The Silver Lining, a Supportive and Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer.

Hollye’s co-author is the amazing photographer Elizabeth Messina, whose gorgeous photos together with Hollye’s words of support and wisdom (not to mention checklists of what to do at every step of the way if you have breast cancer, or love someone who does) create a treasure of a book that inspires me to keep going with my own dreams. It’s a book that reminds me of my mama, because it comes to us from a place calm, from a place of faith and hope, a place where new beginnings are possible.

 

Buy your copy of the gorgeous The Silver Lining at your local bookseller, or online at Amazon, Books-a-Million, Indie Bound, and Barnes and Noble.

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Homemade Falafel Recipe

I’d like to get right to the heart of why, other than perhaps one or two bites, I had never eaten falafel before I made my own, from scratch, recently.

In a word: cumin.

I . . . don’t like it.

At all.

I think this is something one is born with, like the taste for or against cilantro (which I love). Either your taste buds receive cumin with warm welcome, or they are reminded of something else, akin to perspiration?, every time cumin walks in the room. That’s not a criticism, by the way, of the friends of cumin. Much of the world, including me, enjoys stinky cheese, after all.

My mama has never used cumin; I can say with confidence our spices have never rubbed shoulders with it. She is not alone. No food in our extended family, in either Abowd or Abood branches, is made with cumin. Some say cumin use is aligned with your religious affiliation in Lebanon, Muslims into it and Christians not. I will say though that my brother Richard champions the camun, the cumin, just a dash in his kibbeh, which he got from his days living in the environs of Detroit and which is the subject of incessant family banter. If you are a cousin reading here and you use cumin, all I can do is shake my head. Kids these days.

Commercial falafel, or falafel you make at home from a commercial mix, tastes to me of one singular flavor. I didn’t really even understand what falafel was composed of, and didn’t ever try to, because I thought it inherently had to taste the way it tasted. Of cumin.

When I wrote the proposal for my cookbook, I listed falafel with tahini sauce as one of the recipes I’d include. I was curious how I was going to play that one out, since I had no love for the dish and certainly had never made it before. But it sounded good, and at that point, that’s what mattered. When it came time to develop the recipe, I nearly crossed it off before even giving it a second look. How can I offer something I genuinely don’t like and still be sincere about it?

I persevered, and was richly rewarded (my life’s mantra, in a falafel nutshell).

The pleasure of developing a recipe is that you are in charge (well, the ingredients are in charge, then you), and you get to decide what’s what. Falafel is fritter made from a crumble of soaked, not cooked, dry chickpeas and fava beans. Some versions leave out the favas but I wouldn’t do that, since they’re flavor is so smooth. Along with an abundance of herbs, onion, garlic…and no cumin…this falafel has become one of my favorite things to cook and eat and put on my table, hot from the frying pan. Falafel has that irresistible crisp-fried exterior and tender fresh herb infused center, and a tahini sauce that brings how-good-is-this tears to your eyes.

Everyone around here, the little Lebanese crew of guys who taste test my work with no mercy, is in unison on this one: A+ for the falafel. Or as one of my darling cousins said: Valedictorian! Or as Dan puts it: MmmMMMMM!

Even if you love the falafel you get from a restaurant, or the falafel made from a boxed mix at home (there’s no shame), I invite you to take up the delicious mantle of making falafel from scratch. The difference is light years apart. I’ll go out on a limb and say that even if you decide to put a pinch of cumin in your homemade falafel, if you handed a hot one from the fryer to me wrapped in a little pita? I’d wolf it down, and give it high marks.

Homemade Falafel with Tahini Sauce
Begin making the falafel a day in advance to soak the chickpeas and fava beans. You can make the tahini sauce in advance up to three days. An ice cream scoop works great as an alternative to a specialty falafel scoop, but be careful not to make the falafel too thick, or they won’t cook through to the center. Makes about 10 2-inch falafel.

For the falafel:
1/2 cup dry (uncooked) chickpeas
1/2 cup dry (uncooked) fava beans
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup mint leaves
3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 small jalepeno, ribs and seeds removed and coarsely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion (1 small onion)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon baking soda
Safflower or canola oil, for frying (about 3 cups)

For the tahini sauce:
3/4 cup yogurt
1/3 cup tahini (stir before measuring)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/3 cup lemon juice)
Crushed dried mint, for garnish

In a medium bowl, cover the chickpeas and fava beans with cool water by several inches. Soak them overnight and up to 24 hours.

Drain the chickpeas and fava beans and pat them dry with a paper towel. In the food processor, process them with a teaspoon of salt until they are ground to a coarse crumb. Add the mint, parsley, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, onion, and sesame seeds and pulse until everything is finely ground and the mixture is a fine, web crumb—but not pureed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, stir in the baking soda, and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to one day.

To make the tahini sauce, process the yogurt, tahini, salt, and garlic until combined. Pour in the lemon juice and pulse to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings so that the sauce has a nutty flavor of tahini with a bit of the tang of the yogurt.

Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan or sauté pan until a pinch of herb dropped in floats and bubbles dramatically. Using an ice cream scoop or a large spoon, pack the falafel mixture tightly in to the scoop to form 2-inch ovals. Lower the falafel into the hot oil using a slotted spoon, and fry a few at a time until they are golden brown, flipping them over as soon as they are browned on one side. Remove the falafel from the oil to a paper towel-lined plate, and fry the remaining falafel in the same way.

Serve the falafel immediately with the tahini sauce topped with crushed dried mint, and some good pita.

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Ingredient: Fava Beans

What, can I ask, is wrong with the Lebanese that we so dearly love the very beans that require such painstaking attention? The chickpea is a wonder bean, but that little sucker is most often nothing until it is properly free of its skin. The fava is no different.

My position as a bottom-feeder at Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco after culinary school meant that I enjoyed the pleasure of every labor-intensive job that needed doing in the kitchen. I rubbed the pesky charred skin off of massive can after can of roasted red peppers for muhammara. I pushed what had to have been 20—no 30!—cups of chickpeas through a tamis (a fine drum sieve) to pulverize and smooth it (thank goodness they weren’t up on the skinning of the chickpeas, or I’d have been destroyed. Or, on the other hand, necessity may have prompted me to seek out and find the heaven of skinless chickpeas long before I did).

They knew I was Lebanese, so maybe I had “let me skin every bean around here” all over my face. Of course, I was handed what at first appeared to be small bowls of tender blanched green fava beans to shell. The small bowls looked like nothing compared to where I’d been. Until I dove in. Getting into a rhythm that makes shelling fava beans quick and easy isn’t so obvious.

But really, who can complain when your view as you do this is the Bay Bridge at twilight, and you’ve just spent the greatest year of your life in culinary school? So hush up, Maureen.

This week we’re cooking with fava beans, but these are not fresh spring favas—they’re dried fava beans. And all dried fava beans, I’m happy to report, are skinless. Fava beans start out fresh in a pod, are shucked from that and then are protected further by a tough skin, under which is revealed a little button of a green bean that tastes and looks like spring incarnate. The dried beans are not quite so spring-essence, but they are gently flavored and delicious. And supremely healthy, a great source of protein and iron, which a girl needs when she’s trying to go meatless.

I’d love to know if you are able to find dried fava beans in your local groceries. Up here it was no problem, and they’re from one of my favorite brands, Bob’s Red Mill.

There is no substituting canned fava beans for the dry ones for our incredibly good falafel recipe, take note. We start from dry and they pretty much stay dry, except for an overnight soak in cold water. The chickpeas we’ll use are also dry, and skin-on is right-on. For a welcome change.

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My Sweetless, Meatless March

 

 
 

Easter is late this year. Which means Lent starts late (today). Which means that I have been left far too long out there on my own without this annual tap on the shoulder to stop it already with the constant indulgences.

Hey, there were the holidays to celebrate, then an engagement to celebrate (another glass of bubbly anyone?), then birthdays and Valentine’s Day for which I made one request and one request only of my generous gift-giving people: candy. As in See’s (their chocolate caramel marshmallows rule) and Fabiano’s (perfection in a fabric heart box that is all but demolished by now). You get my drift.

Why can’t I be more like Aunt Hilda or Aunt Louise who, when gifted a fine box of candy, save it. For company. Dan tells me he has never reached for chocolate just for the heck of it until he started hanging around me, and now it has to stop (“I can’t keep doing this”). Good thing he’s so swarthy and all of that.

Fine then. The next sweet I eat will be our wedding cake, that’s what I said as I ate more than a spoonful of Fat Tuesday cake with orange blossom caramel sauce (for the book, and is it goooooOOOOD). That’s June though, and that’s a little crazy. It would be better if I could just have 40 good days of Lent, or even a solid month of March to do the kind of fasting that has always put me on a path toward physical and spiritual good. Or how about this: how about if I take today and try to do today well? Then we’ll see about tomorrow.

Sweetless, Meatless March Menu, Lebanese Style

Fava Beans and Chickpeas with Garlic, Breakfast Beans (not kidding)
(stay tuned)

Classic Lebanese Rushta, Lentil Soup
(stay tuned)

Spinach Fatayar

Fried Cauliflower with Tahini Sauce

The Best Falafel Ever
(stay tuned…)

Mujadara, Lentils with Caramelized Onion

Citrus Salad with Pomegranate

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