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.
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 flavourings, 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 flavourful 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.
fava bean falafel burgers with cucumber yogurt sauce
If you buy fresh fava beans, you'll need to peel and cook them. To do this, remove the beans from the pods and cook in boiling salted water until just tender. Depending on the size of the bean, this should take 2 to 8 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water. When cool, slip the skins off the beans and proceed with the recipe. Some grocers also sell fresh or frozen peeled favas. If you can't find favas, substitute frozen lima beans.
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic, divided
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika or cayenne pepper
1 3/4 cups shelled peeled fresh fava beans or frozen lima beans (thawed)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons tahini (stir well before measuring)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
4-inch slice seedless cucumber, coarsely grated (about 1/2 cup, packed)
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
In a large skillet over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the garlic, the cumin, coriander and paprika, then cook for 1 minute, stirring. Transfer to a medium bowl.
In a food processor, pulse the fava beans just until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer 1/2 cup of the chopped favas to the onion mixture.
To the food processor, add the egg, tahini, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste. Process the mixture until finely ground, then stir it into the onion mixture. Cover the mixture and chill it for 30 minutes.
While the mixture is chilling, in a small bowl combine the yogurt, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon garlic, the cucumber and salt to taste. Set aside.
Shape the chilled falafel mixture into 4 patties (the mixture will be loose). Spread the panko on a sheet of parchment paper and dip the patties into the crumbs to coat on all sides.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining oil. Add the falafel patties and cook until crisp and golden on one side, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil and turn the patties; cook for another 3 minutes, or until crisp and golden.
To serve, transfer the patties to serving plates and top with yogurt sauce.
Nutrition information per serving: 620 calories; 200 calories from fat (32 per cent of total calories); 22 g fat (3.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 45 mg cholesterol; 76 g carbohydrate; 21 g fiber; 30 g sugar; 34 g protein; 670 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."