Falafels and Cranberry Pecan SaladFalafels -- I’ll have you know -- were never supposed to be a stand-in for meatballs. They are what they are: wonderful chickpea balls. And this version of “Falafels with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce,” from the February 2009 issue of Cuisine at Home (recipe below), would make a fun party food. Their perfect texture is slightly crunchy and they’re great with the grilled pita triangles and tangy yogurt sauce. The clincher for me was the required baking, rather than frying. This elevated the falafels away from the junk food category, where they often tend to fall.

Falafels with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce
A Middle Eastern sandwich specialty of chickpea and spice “meatballs,” these falafels were oven-fried to keep their calorie count down.
Makes 4 servings; Total time: about 1 hour

For the falafels:
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 (15oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup diced onion
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup each packed fresh cilantro and parsley leaves
Zest of 1 small lemon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten

For the yogurt sauce:
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/4 cup seeded, and minced cucumber
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. minced garlic
salt and cayenne pepper

Coat a 9×13 inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray and 1 Tbsp. olive oil and place inside oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pulse chickpeas, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, zest, salt, cumin, pepper flakes, and baking powder in food processor until minced but not a paste. Transfer to bowl and stir in flour and egg until fully incorporated.

Drop mixture in balls the size of golf balls onto hot baking sheet and bake 20 minutes. Brush falafels with remaining oil, flip, and bake until golden on both sides 15-20 minutes more.

Combine yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice, and 1 tsp. minced garlic in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Chill until ready to serve.

Serve falafels with pitas, diced tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber slices, and yogurt sauce.

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It’s always an easy pleasure to pulse your ingredients in the food processor. Half an onion equaled 1 cup. The zest of one lemon equaled 1/2 tsp. My combined mixture formed 12 balls. I added 1 tsp. salt and a whisper of cayenne to my yogurt sauce. I’m sure this recipe could be comfortably increased, allowing you to bake many balls at once, then enjoying a real party with your dining guests.

Lemony Blueberry MuffinsA suitable companion to the falafels was the “Cranberry Pecan Salad,” from All Recipes. It was a perfect salad combination of greens, dried fruit, nuts, red onion, and cheese. I used Spanish goat cheese, rather than the suggested feta. This smooth cheese elegantly “melted” into the salad.

I added 1/8 tsp. black pepper to the dressing, and used red wine vinegar instead of raspberry vinegar.

Did I need a recipe for such a basic salad? Well, not really, but the elements and proportions were right on.

And here’s yet another treat: the “Lemony Blueberry Muffins,” from Nava Atlas (recipe below). You’ll notice it’s a vegan recipe, meaning there are no eggs or dairy. I was happy to use wheat germ and applesauce and rice milk, along with a minimal amount of sugar. Lemon and blueberries and walnuts. These were perfect muffins! They came together so easily: just some simple stirring, by hand, in a bowl. They were moist and full of flavor. My young child ate three in a row without a flinch.

Lemony Blueberry Muffins
Makes one dozen
Quick! While it’s still not too hot to bake—here’s the late spring classic, with a twist of lemon.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbsp. wheat germ or ground flax seeds
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup natural granulated sugar
1 cup vanilla soy yogurt or applesauce
2 Tbsp. safflower oil
1/3 cup rice milk, or soy milk, or as needed
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. grated lemon zest, optional
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the first 5 (dry) ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir together.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the yogurt, oil, enough rice milk to make a smooth, stiff batter, and the lemon juice and optional zest. Stir together just until thoroughly combined.

Stir in the blueberries, then divide the batter among 12 foil-lined muffin tins. Sprinkle the optional walnuts evenly over the tops of the muffins.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are golden and a knife inserted into the center of one tests clean. When cool enough to handle, transfer the muffins to a plate or rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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RECIPES: baked falafels will provide the crunchy fun that any good party needs, and will be ably supported by a winning salad and fantastic muffins
PREP TIMES: falafels will take an hour to prepare; salad requires only assembly time; after cooking and cooling, the muffins can be tasted in an hour
TASTES: slightly crunchy falafels are generously flavored with garlic, cilantro, parsley, ground cumin, and red pepper flakes; the successful salad formula = greens + dried fruit + nuts + cheese + red onion; the muffins will make you smile, then sing and dance, as your guests do the same

Next time, I want to get a little quieter and make “Spaghetti with Tuna, Lemon, and Breadcrumbs,” from the January/February 2009 issue of Everyday Food. Return to my site on Saturday, June 13, to witness my results.