One of my favourite cuisines from around the world is Lebanese. I frequently go to a wonderful pita bakery in town named Sunbake Pita Bakery. Besides being experts at the traditional Middle Eastern flatbread, they use the dough as a base for a type of Lebanese pizza: spread with all kinds of toppings and quickly baked to give a cracker-like crunch.
I was there for lunch today and was thinking how powerful it was to see their dedication working during the revered month of Ramadan. I’m not of the Muslim faith but have the greatest respect for that level of dedication. They provide a valuable service to their community with their bakery and continue to provide that during a month of great sacrifice and spiritual growth.
I wanted to make a salad to honour that dedication and strength and decided on a salad platter that I see in some Lebanese restaurants: the falafel platter. I have done a lentil falafel before with dry lentils that I’ve sprouted, but that takes upwards of three days to do. Something quicker was in order. Cooking the legume makes the mix too mushy. A traditional chickpea falafel uses soaked dry chickpeas. If I tried that with lentils, again, it would go too soft so I went with a “falafel mix” idea. I ground dry lentil into a course flour in a blender and added spices with baking powder. Et voila! Instant falafel mix! It’s easy to do so I’ll include the recipe along with the rest of the salad. It all evolves one piece at a time into a harmonious platter with shared flavours throughout.
Lentil Falafel Salad Platter
For the Sour Cherry Quick Pickled Turnips:
1/4 cup shaved fresh turnips
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sour cherry juice (I used a beautiful product from Over The Hill Orchards in Saskatchewan, but you could just crush a handful of pitted sour cherries for the same effect)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp water
In a small bowl, combine the cherry juice, vinegar, salt and water. Lay the shaved turnips in the mixture and allow to sit and pickle for 25-30 minutes. Set aside, reserving the sour cherry brine with the pickle.
For the Roasted Zucchini-Radish Salad:
1 tsp cold pressed canola oil
1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped zucchini
1/2 medium onion, sliced
2 Tbsp radishes, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp fresh turnip, thinly julienned
2 Tbsp Reserved Sour Cherry Quick Pickle Brine
In a pan over medium high heat, heat the oil until smouldering. Add the zucchini and pan roast until golden on all sides. Add the onions and sauté for a further 3-4 minutes until the onions become golden. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Add the radishes, turnips and brine. Toss gently with your fingers and set aside.
For the Lentil Falafel Mix:
2 cups dry red lentils, ground in a blender into a coarse flour
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp salt
Grind all the spices together in a spice grinder. Add the spice blend to the ground lentil flour. Makes just over 2 cups of dry mix.
To prepare the Lentil Falafel:
1/2 cup Prepared Lentil Falafel Mix
1/4 cup hot water (I just use a tea kettle)
1 Tbsp Reserved Sour Cherry Quick Pickle Brine
1/2 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
In a medium bowl, stir together the falafel mix, water and brine until a thick, wet sand-like texture happens. When you pinch together the mixture in your fist it should hold together into a tight fritter.
Preheat 2 cups oil in a wok over medium heat. Using a thermometer, take note as the temperature rises. When it reaches just below 100C (about 200F), add the onion slices and garlic to the oil. When the temperature reaches 185C/360F, remove the golden onion and garlic and reserve on paper towels. Take up spoonfuls of mixture, pinch it into a tight shape and fry in the oil for 3-4 minutes or until deeply golden on all sides. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
For the Fried Onion and Garlic Yogurt Dressing:
1/4 cup plain yogurt
Reserved fried onion and garlic from preparing the falafel
Chop the fried onion and garlic finely and stir it into the yogurt in a small bowl. Season with a pinch of salt.
On a plate, add half of the zucchini salad in the centre. Place half of the prepared falafels along one side. Add a dollop of prepared fried onion & garlic dressing, a few sour cherry quick pickled turnips and some torn pita bread. Serves 2 (with plenty of Lentil Falafel Mix leftover for future use).