My blood may be mostly Scandinavian, my appearance may be Irish-dominant, but in my heart I’m way more exotic. Sometimes my heart is Greek, sometimes it’s Italian, and every now and then it flirts with the Middle East. This Middle Eastern flirtation began, as with many food discoveries, in my college cafeteria. The hit-or-miss “Grains” (read: vegetarian) line was suspiciously popular one day, so I decided to investigate. The overwhelmed student worker filled my plate with the donut-hole sized fried balls that my classmates were clamoring after, topped with a mysterious tangy white sauce.
It was love at first falafel. With some googling, I learned that my dear falafels were just a magically balanced blend of chickpeas and spices, rolled into balls and fried to a golden brown. The mysterious white sauce, tzatziki, would later become an obsession of mine on a study-abroad trip to Greece, but this first taste in my MN homeland was what started the tzatziki and falafel fever.
Post-graduation, there were several attempts at recreating the cafeteria falafel experience: boxed mixes that tasted…boxed, scratch-made recipes that made my falafel balls collapse and break so they were balls no more, and an overly fried, poorly seasoned falafel stick at the MN State Fair. Nothing was up to snuff. In fact, nothing even came close, until one fateful day when I stumbled across a falafel burger recipe from Rachel Ray. So, today I bring you the best falafel recipe I’ve found over the past 4 years, along with a quick tzatziki lime sauce that, when drizzled over top, is sure to make your heart feel Middle Eastern, even if you are but a petite Irish Scandinavian.
Falafel Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce
Adapted from Rachel Ray’s “Falafel Burgers.”
Serves 4-6 (depending on the size of the patties)
- 2 14.5 ounce cans of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), drained and rinsed
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
- 3 1/2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (or white flour if you wish)
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon coriander
- 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 egg
- 2 slices whole wheat bread (or white bread if you wish)
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 whole wheat pitas (or white pitas if you wish)
- 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
- Romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
- 1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Tzatziki Sauce (the “mysterious white sauce,” revealed)
- 1 cup nonfat greek yogurt
- 1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 small lime, juiced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350.
After you rinse your chickpeas, pat them dry. If you don’t pat them dry, they’ll have too much moisture and the patties will be more difficult to handle.
Combine the chickpeas, onion, garlic, spices, flour, and salt and pepper in a bowl. If you have a large enough food processor, you can combine the ingredients in there. My food processor is itty bitty, so I had to process in waves.
Whatever your food processor size may be, make it work and process the ingredients until the consistency is thick and mostly smooth (there will probably be some chunks – that’s ok). Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then taste and adjust salt/pepper level to your liking. Add 1 egg and mix well.
Form four-to-six patties (depending on how large you want them) from the mixture. Wipe down your food processor, then add two pieces of bread, torn into chunks. Add the garlic salt, and process until you have fine crumbs. Pour into a bowl, and dredge the patties (carefully) in the crumbs one-by-one.
Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, flip, and bake for another 8 minutes. This will allow the patties to firm-up a bit so they’re easier to fry later.
While the patties are baking, get your tzatziki together. Combine the yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, dill, garlic, and lime juice in the food processor, and pulse until smooth.
I know, I know, tzatziki usually has lemon juice, but a touch of lime works perfectly with these burgers. You can use lemon if you want, but I was flying by the seat of my falafel, and I liked it.
Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, then add two of the patties and cook for 3 or 4-minutes on each side. Remove the patties and place on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil, then repeat with the remaining two burgers.
To assemble your burger, pour a couple spoonfuls of tzatziki sauce in the pita, add the burger, tomatoes, romaine, olives, and any leftover cucumber, if you so choose. Top with some more tzatziki sauce, and boom, your delicious falafel burger pocket is ready for chow down time.
Oh falafel heaven, I’ve found you once again. This burger is huge, for starters, because I chose to make 4 monster burgers instead of 6 normal-sized burgers. I didn’t want a normal-sized burger. Nope, I wanted a huge, falls apart in your hands, drips tzatziki sauce all over your face, nostalgic mouthful of deliciousness. And that is just what I had. If you’re a falafel fiend like me, you simply must try this.
You may be wondering, “What’s the beast’s take on falafel burgers?” Well, my hunch is that he would love these, because they’re big, flavorful, and packed with a variety of ingredients, which usually adds up to a WIN in his eyes. I will likely make them again to share, but truth-be-told I intentionally waited until he left town to take on the falafel. I could lie and say my timing simply allowed for experimentation and potential falafel failure, but the reality? I just wanted leftovers for lunch this week. Selfish? Maybe, but what am I supposed to do? Sometimes a girl’s gotta follow her [Middle-Eastern] heart.
Update: On 4/30/13 I made these falafel burgers for dinner, and The Beast DEVOURED his. These are no longer a burger just for when The Beast goes out of town.