Last week, my friend/colleague (friendleague? colliend?) Mary, came into the office with an armful of grocery sacks stuffed with fresh bibb lettuce from her garden. Apparently she’d gotten a little overzealous with planting and needed to thin out her bed and us co-workers became the lucky recipients of her over-planting.
Woohoo! Free produce!
Even if you don’t grow a garden yourself, you can pretty much always guarantee some surprise produce from co-workers, friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers during the summer in Indiana. As a gardener, there is always some point where you can’t even think about eating another spear of asparagus/cherry tomato/zucchini and you start to give away the rest of the crop to every single person you see. There is even a whole holiday dedicated to sneaking extra zucchinis onto your neighbor’s porch. It’s pretty common to walk into our office kitchen on any given day during summer and see a pile of tomatoes, squash and cucumbers with a big “TAKE ME!” sign hanging over them. That’s Midwestern generosity for you.
Okay, and maybe it’s a little bit of Midwestern pawning off, too.
As soon as I snatched these broad, beautiful lettuce leaves from Mary, I knew I wanted to do lettuce wraps. I just didn’t know what I wanted to wrap in the lettuce. The traditional lettuce wrap we know in this country is an Asian-flavored dish and, as you know, soy flavor ain’t my thing. So I wanted to explore past the standard and come up with something else to wrap in lettuce leaves.
I started thinking about all the foods we traditionally wrap in carb-heavy bread-y things—burritos, tacos, gyros, falafel. Wait! Falafel! Perfect.
Standard falafel balls (or patties) are a flavored chickpea mixture that is deep-fried to a crunchy golden brown outside while the inside stays soft and fluffy. It’s pretty incredible. And also pretty not-so-great for you. While the chickpeas offer a lot of great protein and fiber, to me, the deep-frying cancels out the health benefits. Sure, it’s better than eating a deep-fried Milky Way, but it won’t being making it onto the World’s Healthiest Foods list anytime soon.
To clean up my falafel patties, I baked ’em! Baking doesn’t give you exact the same texture as frying (does it ever?) but it’s a pretty close approximation. The outsides get crunchy and brown and in the inside is soft and crumbly. And by serving the falafel patties with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes on a bed of fresh lettuce, you’re getting a nice chunk of veggies in each bite. To up the flavor ante a bit, I made a very simple tahini sauce to drizzle on top. It also makes an excellent dipping sauce for…pretty much anything.
Baked Falafel Lettuce Wraps with Tahini Sauce
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
For the Tahini Sauce
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Pinch of black pepper
- 3-4 tablespoons water
For the Falafel Patties
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas (about one can)
- 1 small onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Cooking spray
For the Wraps
- Leaves of bibb or iceberg lettuce
- Tomato slices
- Cucumber slices
- Minced parsley
- To make the tahini sauce, mash together the garlic clove and kosher salt with a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon until it turns into a paste. In a small bowl, whisk together garlic mash, tahini, lemon juice, black pepper and water until it’s a drizzle-able consistency. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- To make falafel patties, pulse together chickpeas, onion and garlic in a food processor until well-chopped. Add in egg, cumin, salt, lemon juice, baking soda, bread crumbs and black pepper. Pulse until just combined.
- Form the chickpea mixture into 15 balls or patties, place on a cooking spray-coated baking sheet. Spray tops of of balls or patties with cooking spray and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until tops are golden brown and begin to split.
- To assemble lettuce wraps, layer cucumber and tomato slices on lettuce leaves, top with falafels and drizzle with tahini sauce. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.