Mushroom-falafel! (Yes, the exclamation point is necessary there.) It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, I’ll admit. But, what was I supposed to call it? Mushlafel? Falafshroom? See? Those are even worse sounding. But, like the kid with the weird name who is so awesome that by the end of the year all the other kids also want to be named Kermit too, this mushroom-falafel is so fabulous it straight-up owns its name.
I’m a little embarrassed that I get as excited as I do when I make something really good. But, I do. I get quite delighted with myself, in fact, and can’t wait to share how delicious said really good thing is. This dish definitely falls into that category.
It started with a falafel craving.
One of the most unfortunate things about having discovered an intolerance to a sprouting inhibitor enzyme (besides not being able to eat almonds, but I’ll save that complaint for another day) is that I no longer eat falafel because of the chickpeas. It’s a huge loss because I used to practically live off of falafel. I was obsessed with the stuff.
Through college and for a couple of years after, I would make falafel from one of those box mixes at least once, if not twice a week. And, the favorite destination for a late night snack with friends was “Falafel Palace.” They serve a $4 falafel sandwich until 3 am! What more could a 20-something ask for?!
But, after I figured out that storage legumes- chickpeas being a prime example – were part of what was making me feel sick all the time, the falafel binges became a thing of the past.
But, the desire to eat falafel has not faded. And last week, it hit me hard, like a grand piano falling out of the sky. (By the by, there’s a moving company in this city called Deathwish Piano Movers. That’s neither here nor there, but I think it’s funny.) Something had to be done!
Then, early Saturday morning, after seeing a recipe for mushroom patties that were meant as a stand in for sausage patties, I thought to myself, ‘hey! I wonder if I could make falafel-like patties out of mushrooms. I bet I could!’ And then I proceeded to feel quite gleeful the entire rest of the day because of this thought.
I gave it a try, and it worked beautifully! The distinctly Middle Eastern flavor profile, packed with garlic and lemon and herbs, of falafel came through just as I had hoped and was as delicious as I always remember it being. A sizzle in the frying pan followed by a brief turn in the oven gives the patties the crunch on the outside that gives way to a tender, flavorful inside that is also characteristic of a falafel.
But, they’re even better than falafels. Because, where in falafel you get your bulk from chickpeas (same thing as garbanzo beans, just in case anyone is confused), which are great and all but generally not super flavorful, here you get your bulk from sauteed mushrooms which are, in a word, sauteed mushrooms. That is to say, they are one of the best foods in the universe! The earthy musk of the mushrooms doesn’t steal the show, but it definitely has a voice and really plays its part wonderfully, adding some depth to contrast with the freshness from the herbs.
A cooling tzatziki sauce of yogurt, cucumber and mint is the perfect creamy compliment. And, because yours truly is a bit of a nutcase and frequently feels like it’s a good idea to have some dough rising if she happens to be working from home that day and needs to take a break from ploughing through texts on organizational theory, I made fresh homemade flatbread to serve with the mushroom-falafel. It was amazing. Seriously amazing. I’m still feeling rather impressed with myself.
You, of course, can buy pitas or flatbread to save that step. And the rest of the meal, though it takes a decent amount of chopping, comes together pretty easily. If you have a food processor, it’ll be a breeze. The mushroom-falafel are best served warm with all the accompaniments, but they’re also pretty darn tasty as cold leftovers. Tasty enough, in fact, that a friend who raided one from our fridge copped to the fact that he had, ahem, borrowed some of our food because he just had to ask me, “what was that amazing little round thing that was in your fridge?!”
Mushroom-falafels (serves about 4)
- 20 oz. of sliced mushrooms
- olive oil
- 1/2 cup shallot or yellow onion, very finely diced
- 2 large cloves garlic, very finely minced
- 1/2 cup cilantro or flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. ground cumin, optional (I say optional because I meant to add cumin and totally forgot, and it was still great without it. However, the cumin will give it a more falafel-y flavor)
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup grated mozzarella (I threw this in because I happened to have it, and I really liked the flavor and texture it added, but it’s possible you could skip it)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 3 eggs
- tzatziki sauce, for serving (see below)
- pitas or flatbreads, for serving
- lettuce or spinach and chopped tomato, for serving
- Add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan to a large frying pan. Heat to medium-high, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until the moisture they release has evaporated and they are tender, about 10-12 minutes.
- Transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board and let them cool for a while. When they are cool enough to handle, chop them well. (You could probably pulse them in a food processor to do this, but you don’t want to accidentally process them into a mush. The shallot, garlic and herbs you can definitely chop up in a food processor.)
- In a large bowl mix together the mushrooms, chopped shallot/onion, garlic, herbs, mozzarella, lemon juice, and panko breadcrumbs. Season to taste with salt. Then, stir in the eggs.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone pad. Use your hands to scoop up small handfuls of the mushroom mixture and press them into little patties about 1 1/2-2 inches across. You should get about 10 patties. Transfer the patties to the lined baking sheet as you make them. Then, put them in the refrigerator for an hour. This allows them to set and firm up so they don’t just fall to pieces when you cook them.
- While the mushroom-falafel are in the fridge you should have plenty of time to make the tzatziki and slice tomatoes, and get some other work done too! When you’re ready to cook the falafels, preheat your oven to 350F. Heat a couple of Tbs. of olive oil in a large frying pan then add as many patties as you can fit into the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned. As they are done frying, transfer the patties to another baking sheet (or the same one with the parchment removed). Finish frying and transferring all the patties. Then, put the baking sheet of mushroom-falafels into the oven and bake for 5 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and serve warm. Put a couple of patties on a pita/flatbread, add spinach and tomato pieces and dollop generously with tzatziki.
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, and cut into tiny pieces
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/3 cup mint, chopped
- 2 tsp. lemon juice (from the half of the lemon that you didn’t use for the mushroom-falafels)
- 1 cup Greek-style yogurt
- salt to taste
- Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it. This gives you a chunky version of the sauce, which I like. For a smooth version, blend everything together in a food processor until smooth. Voila!