Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad

Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Before we even begin I should say that these are by no means authentic falafel. For one, I skipped the dried chickpeas (couldn’t be bothered) and for two, these guys get just the barest whisper of olive oil, no deep frying or sautéing required, and finally, for three: this is my favorite ratio of spices and herbs, but to be honest I’m not sure if any of them actually belong in falafel. So really these should probably just be called something generic like “spiced chickpea patties” and not falafel at all. But, since we’re rebellious around here and it’s a handy shortcut I’m sticking with falafel.

Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Shortcuts or laziness are the name of the game with this recipe since the previously mentioned points (canned chickpeas, no frying) save a ton of time, effort, and mess. When has that ever been a bad thing? The most important part though is that they taste incredible.

Tender and garlicky, pungent with cilantro, bright from the lemon juice and deliciously golden, these falafel make the perfect topping to a greek salad or wrapped up in a pita. They’re just the thing for these not-quite summer not-quite fall evenings and I personally love to make a big batch and freeze the extras (assuming there are any!) for an even easier dinner down the road.

Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Baked Green Falafel & Greek Salad (serves 4)

Falafel Ingredients:
2 cups fresh parsley leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
6 cloves garlic
4 lemons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
28 ounces canned chickpeas, well rinsed and drained
1/4 cup whole wheat or oat flour

Salad Ingredients:
4 cups shredded lacinato kale leaves
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups diced hot house cucumber
8 ounces feta cheese, divided
1/2 cup hummus
4 pitas toasted
olive oil
kosher salt
black pepper

Instructions:
Place the parsley, cilantro, roughly chopped garlic, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and ground cumin in the bowl of a large food processor and mix to combine. The texture will be similar to a thick pesto.

Rinse and thoroughly drain the chickpeas in a colander and add half to the herb mixture. Pulse the food processor a few times to combine and then add the remaining half of the chickpeas. Pulse again a few times until the chickpeas are mostly incorporated but some larger pieces remain and there are still traces of un-mixed herbs. You want to maintain some texture not end up with hummus.

Use a rubber spatula to transfer the chickpea mixture to a large mixing bowl and fold together to finish mixing in the herbs and seasoning. Sprinkle the whole wheat flour over the chickpeas 1 tablespoon at a time using the spatula to press the mixture together until a loose dough is formed. It should be firm enough to hold its shape when handled, think meatballs. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Use a cookie scoop or measuring spoon to portion about 2 tablespoons of falafel mixture. Use your hands to form 12 flattened discs about 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter. Place on baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze for 15 minutes to firm up.

OPTIONAL STEP: I don’t bother with this, but for a little extra crust on the outside, before baking heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil. Swirl to coat pan, then add falafel. Carefully flip once golden brown – about 3-4 minutes - and then cook on the other side until golden brown as well  – 3-4 more minutes.

In the meantime, line a second rimmed baking sheet with foil and place in the oven while you pre-heat to 375 degrees F. When the oven is hot, remove the sheet (oven mitt!) and lightly coat it with non-stick spray or olive oil. Place the falafel on the warmed sheet and bake on one side for 20-25 minutes then turn and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Both sides will be lightly browned. The longer you bake them, the firmer they’ll get! While the falafel bake, prepare the kale, tomatoes, cucumber and feta.

Toss together kale leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers and feta. Serve the falafel alongside with the toasted pita and hummus. The falafel can be refrigerated, layered with parchment paper in an airtight container, for several days. Freeze to keep longer.

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used a medium food processor, small cutting board, fine mesh sieve, medium mixing bowl, rubber spatula, cookie scoop, and two rimmed sheet trays.

Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Baked Green Falafel and Greek Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette | Image: Laura Messersmith

This recipe will seem out of place once I tell you that wet bread makes me cringe. An under-cooked piece of French toast, still sodden with eggy custard sends a cold chill up my spine. A cellophane-wrapped sandwich where the tomatoes have seeped into the previously delicious roll? Eww.

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette | Image: Laura Messersmith

So, as you might guess, I have avoided panzanella salads like the plague for 99.9% of my life until essentially this moment when I made one myself and discovered that if the bread-to-greens ratio tips slightly in favor of greens, the dressing trends toward a thick sauce, and the croutons are definitively toasted to burnished bronze then I’m good to go.

Only a few terribly specific requirements, oh and if there could be stone fruit involved too? There is? Awesome. This, my friends, is that recipe. An excellent dish for dinner with friends – fresh, light, filling, and gorgeous.

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette | Image: Laura Messersmith

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette (serves 4)

Ingredients:
4 cups sourdough bread cubes
4 teaspoons (3 cloves) minced garlic
2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
2 lemons
4 cups (1 large bunch) lacinato kale leaves
2 cups cherry tomatoes
2 ripe nectarines
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
olive oil
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Instructions:
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the sourdough into 1/2 inch squares (no need to remove the crusts) and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Toast in the oven, turning periodically for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned and crunchy. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, place the garlic cloves and 2 cups of the basil leaves in the bowl of a small food processor. Pulse until a thick paste forms. Scrape the pesto into a bowl or jar and mix with 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice to form a thick dressing. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.

Wash the kale leaves, the working with 4-5 at a time, remove the center rib and stack the leaves. Roll lengthwise in a loose cigar shape and slice across the roll in 1/4-1/8” ribbons. Repeat until all the kale is shredded, then toss together with 2 tablespoons of the pesto dressing and the remaining 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves.

Prepare the remaining ingredients. Remove the pits and slice the nectarines in thick wedges, cut the tomatoes in halves or quarters and tear the mozzarella in rough pieces.

In a large, shallow bowl layer the dressed kale and basil leaves with the nectarines, tomatoes, bread cubes, and mozzarella. Dollop the remaining pesto dressing on top and serve!

Inspired by The First Mess’s Summer Panzanella with Peaches and Kale.

Small Kitchen Friendly?
I used a rimmed baking sheet, medium cutting board, bread knife. Small food processor, medium mixing bowl, chef’s knife and tongs.

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Panzanella Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette | Image: Laura Messersmith

One-Bowl Guacamole Greens

Guacamole Greens Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Guacamole Greens Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

I have a theory that the Super Bowl is the late winter, sports-centric version of Thanksgiving. Roll with me for a minute – it’s a date established well in advance, guaranteed to inspire water cooler “What are you doing for X?” conversations, when people gather together over a buffet of decadent treats coupled with license to over-indulge in comfort foods we don’t eat the rest of the year, oh and by the way there’s a hotly anticipated football game.

Tell me that doesn’t sound exactly like Thanksgiving, and if I had to guess, whether you bleed neon turquoise or never heard of Peyton Manning before, you probably are coming out of a pigs in a blanket induced coma, or like me are wondering what possessed you to eat an avalanche of Nacho Cheese Doritos.

Which brings me to the present moment, time to re-group and balance out with something bright, fresh, and (thank goodness) delicious. I continue to be obsessed with sweetgreen and I’m a huge fan of their Guacamole Greens salad, so of course I had to try to make it at home. At risk of sounding smug I think I nailed it.

The baby kale is both tender enough to eat right away and tough enough to be dressed in advance and still retain its crunch, while the red onion, avocado, and lime juice mingle to evoke all that’s awesome about guacamole. Super easy to ramp up the proportions for a group or make an individual serving. Keep this one in your back pocket.

Guacamole Greens Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Guacamole Greens Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

“Guacamole” Greens (serves 4 as an entrée)

Ingredients:
1  1/2 - 2 pounds chicken breast, bone-in skin-on
10 ounces baby kale leaves
2 ripe Haas avocados, large diced
8 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
5 tablespoons minced red onion
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
4 tablespoons (2 medium limes) freshly squeezed lime juice
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Coarse ground black pepper

Instructions:
Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and place skin side up on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle the skin with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle both sides generously with kosher salt and ground black pepper.

Roast at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until the thickest part of the chicken registers 160 degrees F. on an instant read thermometer.

When the chicken is done, set aside to cool.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and dice the meat in large pieces, about 1/2 inch. Set aside while you prep the vegetables.

Place the kale leaves in a large mixing bowl. Slice the cherry tomatoes in halves or quarters, finely mince the red onion, open the avocados and dice into large pieces placing each prepared ingredient in the bowl with the kale. Next, add the cilantro leaves and diced, cooled chicken to the salad.

Finally, squeeze the limes over the salad, then sprinkle with 3 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Toss all the ingredients together until evenly distributed and coated with the seasonings. The avocado will soften slightly and combine with the lime juice, salt and pepper to form the dressing.

Taste and adjust the seasoning to your preference. Best if served immediately, but will also hold dressed in the refrigerator overnight.

Guacamole Greens Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Guacamole Greens Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used a rimmed baking sheet, large mixing bowl, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, measuring spoons, and a large wooden mixing spoon.

The Verdict:
As I was testing and fiddling with the final seasonings we ate this salad four times in less than a week. Normally grounds for complaint from my chief taste-tester who likes a bit more variety in his dinners, but this time not a peep even on the fourth night. We both love guacamole seasoned with plenty of zingy lime and a generous sprinkle of salt and this salad fits the bill 100% while still providing a healthy and satisfying meal. A definite go-to from now on.

Guacamole Greens Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Guacamole Greens Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Blueprint Lunch”

The Set-up: Ina is making lunch for the team working on her barn construction project.

The Menu: Avocado and Grapefruit Salad, California Iced Tea, Easy Lobster Paella, Shortbread Hammer Place cards

0:33 – I’ve decided to keep track of how many construction puns Ina uses, so far Blueprint Joke Count: 2.

1:12 – First up Shortbread Hammer Place cards. The name says it all – the cookies will be shaped like the tool and Ina will write each person’s name on a cookie.

2:28 – Ina says she loves to make shortbread dough all different ways. I need to work on establishing my go-to basic cookie dough; perhaps this is the one?

3:46 – Miguel is doing the table setting for the lunch party, so you know this is serious business. So far he’s made a table out of sawhorses, covered in painter’s drop cloth, and has copied the plans for the barn onto placemats. #crafty

4:05 – Ina’s back inside to make California Iced Tea, a combination of black tea and lemonade. I’ve only ever heard this called an Arnold Palmer, but maybe it’s tough to get that name cleared for TV.

5:20 – Note to self: add superfine sugar to the pantry of sugar options.

6:38 – California Iced Tea is in the fridge to chill before the lunch party and now it’s onto cutting out the place card cookies.

9:14 – Ina has chilled the shortbread dough for 30 minutes to allow it to relax and let the butter firm-up a little. I’ve also heard that it gives the flour time to absorb more of the moisture in the rest of the ingredients. No idea if that’s true.

10:27 – The cookies will bake on parchment paper and can I just say that parchment paper has been a total game-changer for me? I pretty much never put a baking sheet in the oven any more unless it has a parchment liner.

11:36 – Quick glance outside to see that Miguel is engaged in some sort of craft project before Ina gets started on the Easy Lobster Paella.

12:19 – The trick to making this paella easy is two-fold: 1. Do most of the cooking in the oven. 2. Use proteins that are already cooked, ie. lobster, kielbasa, so you don’t have to worry about varied cooking times/methods.

13:44 – Other advantages of this dish: you can sub other ingredients that are less expensive than lobster – personally I’d go for shrimp anyway – it doesn’t have to be served as soon as it’s done cooking, and it can be made in large quantities for a crowd.

14:53 – The rice (basmati if you’re wondering) and chicken stock are in the pot, now all into the oven lid on for 15 minutes.

18:32 – Quick stir, then lid off in the oven for an additional 15 minutes to allow some of the stock to evaporate. I am so curious to see how this turns out….

19:26 – Over to the Shortbread Hammer Place cards so that Ina can make icing to pipe the names on to the cookies.

20:45 – Piping now seems slightly less intimidating after my adventure with Woodland Gingerbread Cookies.

21:10 – Back outside to deliver the placecards and discover that Miguel’s craft project was a mobile of fabric swatches to hang from the pergola.

22:37 – To balance out the rich flavors in the paella Ina is pairing it with an Avocado and Grapefruit Salad.

23:21 – I’m with Ina, 90% of the avocados in supermarkets are too green to eat, which requires a little advanced planning to buy them, let them ripen, and then use them. 2-3 days is about right and then they start to go bad. #shortwindowofopportunity

24:48 – Salad is complete, and once again I have to hand it to Ina for transforming a super simple dish into something elegant.

27:00 – Love you Ina, but you just changed your pronunciation from British “pie-ella” to the Spanish “pi-ehya” and I can’t let that go un-remarked upon.

28:34 – Final touches to the paella: Pernod, diced cooked lobster and kielbasa, along with frozen peas all brought up to temperature. Yum.

29:55 – Lunch is served and Ina grills the team on how long until her barn will be finished. The answer: a lot sooner if we stop having these leisurely lunches. Umm, wrong answer if you want any more of Ina’s cooking!

Final Thoughts:
I am horrendous at cooking rice – it always turns out mushy. New Year’s Resolution 2016?

If someone could invent a device to accurately predict when an avocado will be ready to eat they’d have my sincere appreciation and I would absolutely buy one.

How does Ina manage to make a themed party seem so elegant and chic?

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I decided to make the Avocado and Grapefruit Salad, not because it’s particularly difficult, but because I reeeeally needed something summery and light to break up the monotony of winter, even the snow-free one we’re ‘enjoying’ here in New York. Here's what I learned through repetition:

Avocado Selection – I buy Haas avocados, which are a bit smaller than the brighter green Florida avocados and in my area are almost always sold under ripe in the store. I look for two signs when buying and make a call based on when I want to eat the avocado. 1. The color of the skin changes from dark green to a deeper greenish brown as the fruit ripens. I look for an evenly browned, but not blackened or shriveled skin. 2. The texture of an unripe avocado will be very hard and unyielding. I press very gently near the stem end and if it gives way a bit then I know it’s ripe and will be ready to eat within a day or two.

Citrus Segmenting/Supremeing – This is an excellent recipe to practice your supreming technique, a skill that will serve you well whenever citrus is involved. I recommend a 3-4” utility or paring knife, something easy to maneuver that you have firm control over.

Step 1: Cut a narrow slice off the top (stem end) and bottom of the grapefruit to reveal the interior of the fruit and create two flat sides.

Step 2: Place one flat side on the cutting board and slice vertically down the sides following the curve of the fruit to removing the grapefruit zest and pith in long strips. Do your best to leave as much of the flesh as possible.

Step 3: Trim off any remaining bits of pith from the grapefruit so that you can clearly see where the membranes divide the fruit into segments.

Step 4: Hold the grapefruit in one hand over a bowl and carefully cut vertically along both sides of each segment using the membranes as your guidelines until you reach the center of the grapefruit. The segments once released from the membranes will fall into the bowl.

Want a live demo? Here’s a video via Real Simple.

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Absolutely. A medium cutting board, utility knife, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons and a medium bowl or serving platter are all you need. C’est tout.

The Verdict:
This Avocado and Grapefruit Salad is incredible, mainly because these two ingredients are a match made in heaven. Creamy, rich, dense avocado was meant to hang out with bright, acidic, tender grapefruit. I went with pink grapefruit for it's slightly sweeter flavor and preppy color, but white grapefruit would work just as well. Yes, you could just eat these ingredients side by side, but the simple vinaigrette makes this feel more intentional and less like an afterthought. I served this salad along with Ina’s Panko Crusted Salmon (more on that next week) over baby kale leaves and it’s an excellent combination that makes healthy taste delicious and those eat-better-in-2016 resolutions feel attainable.

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith