Falafel Stuffed Pitas with Roasted Eggplant

Literally the best bite I had on a recent trip to Paris was a falafel sandwich from L'As Dus Fallafel. It featured a blend of crunchy, fresh, fried, creamy, and spicy components, cuddled in a warm pita. It haunted my grumbling-stomach dreams for weeks, until I broke down and recreated it for myself. My version of the sandwich has chickpea falafel, fresh cucumber, purple cabbage, roasted eggplant, a yogurt tahini sauce, and a spicy harissa sauce. That's a lot of components, but this falafel is also delicious on its own.

The tricky thing about falafel is the texture. To get a fluffy interior, I add some baking soda. Adding a little bit of flour binds the falafel together, and resting the mix before forming into balls also helps, but it really comes down to cooking temperature. Make sure the oil is at least 375 degrees, and reheat it between batches. mvp-header
GarbanzoThumb Quality chickpeas will give you the perfect flavor and texture for fluffy, crisp falafel. I love Rancho Gordo products, and their garbanzos are perfect for this. Garbanzo Beans, $6, Rancho Gordo

For the falafel balls: 1 1/4 cups dried chickpeas (7 ounces) 2 garlic cloves, minced 3/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (1 small onion) 1/4 cup chopped cilantro 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley 1 teaspoon kosher salt 2 tablespoons all purpose flour 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pinch of ground cardamom 1/2 teaspoon baking soda vegetable oil for frying

For the sandwiches: 3 pitas, cut in half 9 tablespoons hummus 24 falafel balls (see recipe below) 1 1/2 cups shredded purple cabbage 1 large cucumber, julienned2 1/2 cups roasted eggplant (see recipe below) 1/2 cup yogurt tahini dressing (optional) 1/2 cup harissa sauce (optional)

For the eggplant: 1 medium eggplant 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 1/4 teaspoon ground chili salt and pepper

(makes 6 servings)

1. Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them with about 3 inches of cold water. Soak overnight.

2. The next day, drain and rinse the chickpeas and pour them into your food processor, along with the rest of the ingredients, except for the frying oil.

3. Pulse all ingredients together until a rough, coarse meal forms -- about three 10-second pulses.

4. The texture should be somewhere between couscous and hummus (slightly dry and crumbly, but holding together). Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, pour it into a bowl.

5. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

6. For the eggplant, preheat oven to 375?.

7. Slice the eggplant into 1-inch thick slices, drizzle with some olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, chili, and cumin.

8. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes -- flipping halfway through -- until the eggplant is tender.

9. Cool, and chop up into ½-inch pieces. Set aside.

10. Fill a deep skillet with 1 ½ inches of vegetable oil and heat slowly over medium heat until it reaches 375?.

11. Meanwhile, with wet hands, form the refrigerated falafel mixture into 1-inch round balls.

12. When you're ready to fry, pop one ball into the oil to test. If it falls apart, heat the oil longer, and remix and reform the falafel using a little more flour.

13. Cook the falafel for 2-3 minutes per side, in small batches of 5 or 6 balls at a time, until golden brown.

14. Once fried, remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels.  15. Prepare the pita by holding with a set of tongs over an open flame until warm.

16. Carefully open each pita and spread with 1 ½ tablespoons of hummus.

17. Add one falafel ball, and a little cabbage, a little cucumber, and a little roasted eggplant.

18. Keep layering these ingredients and, if you wish, top with a small scoop of both yogurt tahini sauce and harissa sauce.

For more Mediterranean-inspired dishes and tips from Claire's travels, head to The Kitchy Kitchen.


Photographs: Claire Thomas