The best-tasting veggie burger I’ve ever met is falafel. A product of the Middle East, falafel are deep-fried fritters made from ground chickpeas or fava beans that are tucked into pita pockets and drizzled with tahini. They are delicious, hearty, inexpensive and relatively healthy.
And if you’re lucky enough to live in a city like New York, they are sold by street vendors on nearly every corner.
But if you’re a home cook and want to make your falafel from scratch, you face at least a couple of challenges. The classic recipe calls for dried chickpeas or fava beans, which must be soaked in water overnight, a time-consuming requirement that may persuade you to call the whole thing off.
Happily, fava beans are in season now, so my recipe calls for fresh ones, which saves you from having to mess with the dried version the night before. However, because fresh beans have more moisture than dried, getting them to hold their shape when pureed and formed into patties means adding a binder, in this case, an egg.
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The second hurdle for the home cook is the frying. Apart from the inherent unhealthiness of deep-fried anything, the process itself is really a pain. I figured there had to be a healthier and easier way to cook falafel, a way that kissed off the deep-frying and yet somehow retained their trademark crunchiness.
Panko, those wonderful, super-crispy, Japanese breadcrumbs, were the answer. After I pureed the fava beans and added the flavorings, I chilled the mixture in the refrigerator to help it firm up. Then I shaped the puree into burgers, coated them with the panko, and placed them in a hot skillet with just a little oil. They crisped up great.
Finally, I topped the falafel with a garlicky cucumber yogurt sauce, which is just as refreshing and flavorful as tahini, but has far fewer calories. I was pleased to note that the family attacked these burgers with their usual gusto, even though they contain no animal protein. Now there’s a triumph.