This fresh, farmer's market-driven take on the classic falafel sandwich comes from Chef Todd Gray and his wife Ellen Kassoff Gray, of Washington D.C.'s famed Equinox restaurant. While living in Israel after college, Ellen fell hard for falafel. This recipe is a tribute to the iconic sandwich. (Don't feel daunted by the long ingredient list -- prepping the pickled vegetables is quick and easy, and they're meant to be made ahead.)
Ellen: My love affair with falafel began in Israel in 1987 when I discovered it for the first time at a shop in Tel Aviv. The counterman would spit out impatiently, “Chopped salad? Chopped salad?” I thought that meant salad, meaning the shredded lettuce and tomatoes kind of salad, but came to realize it was actually a mix of diced pickled vegetables. A few years later, Todd and I were in a falafel shop in New York and the counterman hissed at me, “Chopped salad? Chopped salad?” and I knew immediately he was an Israeli. It took me right back.
Todd: The acidic nature of the pickled vegetables really complements the nuttiness of the fried chickpeas in the falafel. The vegetables improve in flavor after they’ve marinated for at least 24 hours and taste best at room temperature, so plan ahead.
Make It Parve: Swap the Minted Lemon Yogurt for hummus and a drizzle of tahini. Or check out Gray's suggestions for condiment options (see Topping Off Falafel) below.
Recipe reprinted with permission from The New Jewish Table by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray (St. Martin's Press, © 2013).
- For the Pickled Vegetables:
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1-star anise
- 12 black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme (broken into short pieces)
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 cups finely shredded green cabbage (about 1/2 pound)
- 1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
- 1 red onion (thinly sliced)
- Optional: 1 jalapeño pepper (sliced 1/4-inch thick)
- For the Falafel:
- One 10-ounce package good quality falafel mix
- Canola oil for frying
- Dash salt
- Dash freshly ground black pepper
- 4 pieces of pita bread (cut in half)
- Minted Lemon Yogurt (recipe follows)
- Vidalia onion marmalade for garnish (optional)
- For the Minted Lemon Yogurt:
- 1 cup plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt
- 3 finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon honey (if you’re using plain yogurt)
- Dash salt
- Dash black pepper
Pickle the vegetables:
Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, peppercorns, coriander, fennel, bay leaves, thyme, and garlic in a medium saucepan. Bring to boiling over high heat; immediately remove from the heat and set aside to cool at room temperature.
Combine the cabbage, carrots, and onions in a large, heatproof bowl, add the jalapeño if using, and toss the vegetables to mix well.
Pour the pickling liquid through a mesh strainer into another saucepan; discard the spices. Bring the liquid back to boiling and then pour it over the cabbage mixture; stir gently to mix. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until the vegetables are pickled — for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
Make the falafel:
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Mix the falafel according to the package directions. Roll the falafel mixture into walnut-size balls, flattening each slightly in the palm of your hand.
Pour 3 inches of oil into a heavy saucepan. Heat the oil to 325°F over medium heat (measure on a candy thermometer). Working in batches as appropriate for the pan you are using, fry the falafel in the hot oil, turning once, until golden brown and cooked through—3 to 4 minutes per side.
While the falafel cook, arrange the pitas on a baking sheet and put in the oven to warm.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the falafel to a paper towel–lined plate and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
To serve, spoon some Minted Lemon Yogurt into the bottom of each pita half, then spoon in some of the vegetables, dividing equally, and add 3 falafel. Dot some onion marmalade over the top if you wish.
Minted Lemon Yogurt: (Makes 1 cup)
Place 1 cup plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt in a small bowl (Ellen favors vanilla).
Add to it 3 finely chopped fresh mint leaves, ½ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon honey (if you’re using plain yogurt), and a sprinkling each of salt and black pepper.
Whisk together until combined; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Topping Off Falafel
Todd: I like to bring a complex mix of tastes in this sandwich, adding jalapeño peppers to the pickled vegetables for a spicy accent, and finishing the whole with a sprinkling of Vidalia onion marmalade—a condiment I purchased. Minted yogurt makes a refreshing dressing, but you could also just take some hummus and/or tahini and puree it with some fresh garlic and a little water and salt.