Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pizza Bianca with Swiss Chard

I’m sitting here writing at a time when I don’t usually write. Normally on a Monday at around 6PM* I’m just finishing up a practice session, headed to rehearsal or singing the first few scales of my voice lesson. Perhaps I’m headed out for a run or pulling out the yoga mat to get my zen on. Today, though, you’ve got me sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of chai tea and almond milk feeling a little bit under the weather and savoring an evening that will most certainly not be hectic.

When I’m not feeling well, it’s so hard for me to do what a person who’s sick should do and simply relax, enjoy some free time, and avoid feeling guilty for not working out or practicing, which is how I tentatively feel at times like these when I think, “There must be something else I could be doing!”

But, despite being sick, one thing I am very capable of doing without exerting myself in the least is talking about my new favorite pizza recipe. The pizza recipe that shocked me, drew me in, reminded me that pizza does not, by definition, require marinara sauce to be present, and that truly makes me weak at the knees when I think of its spicy, cheesy, informal elegance.

Pizza night, as I may have mentioned before, has become a coveted part of our weekend routine. I look forward to it and think about it on days when it seems like the week will never end. “As long as there’ll be pizza night (and wine…),” I comfort myself, “I’ll make it through this shitty day/long rehearsal/annoying family situation.” It’s surprisingly comforting to know there’s dough rising in the kitchen as we take care of weekend errands, attend rehearsals, and hang out with friends, and, if you know me and my love for habits and rituals, it’s a constant in my life that I’m happy to know exists. (Unlike, for example, my mindless 9-5 job.)

I’m generally a minimalist as far as pizza goes so I’m perfectly content with a margherita pizza topped with really good marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil, but every once in a while I like to switch things up and see what other toppings will catch my eye.

As is the case when I’m looking for inspiration in the form of tried and true recipes, I don’t first consult one of my cookbooks, I instead head out to my Google Reader, because I know my favorite blogs will always give me everything I need. That’s how I found this pizza recipe, which is so incredible that I made it weekly for most of the summer because I just could not get enough of it. Habits are hard to break, especially when they’re this mind blowingly delicious.

What makes this pizza so special is that it’s layered with texture and flavor in a way that other pizza is not. Pizza can often be this one dimensional (albeit wonderful) bite in your mouth; first there’ll be the crunch of the crust followed by the chewy dough which will make way to the well blended, bubbling toppings, and, bam, there’s pizza at its finest. This pizza is different. The combination of oozing, creamy cheeses and tender sautéed chard, all covered with a spicy garlic oil before and after baking, result in a beautiful pizza that bubbles with warm cheese and bursts with slightly bitter and spicy undertones from the chard.

Making this pizza requires a few different steps, but if you’re able to set a little bit of time aside for it, it’s worth all the effort. Once the dough has risen and is spread out onto a baking sheet, you cover the dough with shredded mozzarella, then with tender, warm chard, and finally crumbled, tart goat cheese. Then it’s all finished off with the aforementioned garlic and red chili pepper olive oil, which sits and infuses for an hour before you pour half on top of the uncooked pizza. The whole thing is pizza at its best.

Despite the fact that I’ve made this pizza a dozen times or more, I have yet to snap a decent picture of it. It’s one of those recipes that comes out of the oven and excites you so much that you can’t think of anything else, including taking a picture for the blog, but eating it immediately. So, forgive me for the less than stellar photos. The pizza will make up for them, I promise.

*I wrote this at 6PM. Guess I’ve been distracted this evening.

One Year Ago: Fresh Tomato Sauce

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

I could pretend that I rise above excessive batter eating when I bake, but that wouldn’t be right because it’s just not true. Sometimes, I indulge more than others; chocolate chip cookie dough, for example, is one of the major offenders. Cake and brownie batter follow closely behind. But I think I’ve now found the best batter I’ve ever eaten, and it’s probably from a baked good whose uncooked counterpart you wouldn’t even expect to lay fingers on: chocolate zucchini muffins.

Yes, I’m serious. This batter was the epitome of everything I look for in a good batter. There was thickness, sweetness, depth of flavor, and, most especially, an attractive, quirky appearance with its dark chocolate color and the specks of green throughout. And it rendered me unstoppable.

I’m happy to report that I did finally slide the batter-filled muffin tray into the oven (I worried, for a second, that they wouldn’t make it that far), and the result was exactly what I’d hoped it would be.

I guess the thought of putting vegetables (or fruit, if you’re getting technical) into a sweet setting is pretty strange at first glance, but I kind of like the idea. I love zucchini in savory dishes (most recently, tossed with some garlic and oil in a pan and served with pasta), but the fact that it incorporates so well into sweet dishes, too, makes it even more intriguing. You can’t taste the zucchini in these muffins, but you don’t forget they’re there. The bright green color of the grated zucchini pokes through the dark muffins, lending them a bit of mysteriousness. The delicate zucchini flavor cuts through the sweetness of the sugar and offers the muffins a balanced quality and a wholesome edge.

While some muffins at the supermarket, for example, have the tendency to be heavy, flavorless gut-bombs, these muffins are light, quite moist, and very satisfying. They’re versatile enough to fit in perfectly as an after dinner treat, but they’d pair very well with morning coffee, too.

In case you’re still left with the final zucchini harvest from your garden or happen to see any green squash at the market, these muffins would be a great way to use them.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Roasted Eggplant

As soon as there’s a chill in the air, which happened to arrive in New York over the weekend, I get an overwhelming urge to stand over the stove and stir a bubbling pot of marinara sauce.  I know, look at me, the typical Italian who can’t live without her pasta and sauce, let’s try something new, shall we? It’s more than that, though. It’s about the act of being in the kitchen, chopping, dropping, stirring, tweaking, anticipating, smelling and then, finally, enjoying. All of this is so much more enjoyable when it isn’t 100 degrees outside.

Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? The one during which you put something like a soup or chili or sauce on the stove and while you wait for it and putter around the house doing other things, you know it’s there simmering away, developing its flavor, keeping the kitchen warm and smelling like home. That, to me, is why I can tip my hat to the often excruciating heat of the summer and allow fall to draw me in and envelop me with its pumpkin filled, nutmeg-y, butternut squash laden warmth. (Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Marry me.)

You know what’s better than pasta covered with marinara sauce, though? Pasta covered with marinara sauce, caramelized onions and roasted eggplant. Each of these ingredients is incredible on its own, but once you combine them, they transform into an incredibly rich, textured, comfort dish that’s reminiscent of the kind of food I grew up eating as a kid. Because onions and eggplant have inherently sweet tendencies, when you roast them and caramelize them as you do here, you help highlight what they do best. And if you’re looking for motivation to get more vegetables in your diet, I can’t imagine a better way to do it than with vegetables like this.  If you omit the cheese from this recipe, which I did, it’s vegan.

One Year Ago: Blondies

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Coffee Ice Cream

You know that moment when you’ve prepared something in your kitchen and thought, “Damn, I can’t believe I actually made this because it’s AMAZING?” Well, with the exception of the infamous margherita pizza from a few months ago, which has made most other pizza seem unworthy, my newest success is coffee ice cream.


For a while, I thought the prospect of owning an ice cream maker was too frivolous. I didn’t have anywhere to put it and figured that, even if I did buy one, I would probably never use it. But, when I found myself with a Crate & Barrel gift card a few months ago (from a ridiculous work incentive program, no less), I treated myself to the machine and to four cute, colorful bowls. This began my ice cream making career.

Now, before you think I’m tooting my horn with all this, “best thing I’ve ever made” business, let me be the first to admit that a) many of my kitchen experiments don’t turn out all that well so this one happened to be an exciting coincidence and b) without the perfect recipe for this ice cream, which can be found in this book, I wouldn’t have been able to make it at all.

Coffee is my favorite flavor of ice cream. I find its smoothness, depth of flavor and rich caramel undertones irresistible. It reminds me vaguely of a cup of coffee filled to the brim with cream and sugar (one of my secret, rare indulgences), except it’s exponentially more decadent. This homemade version, which anyone with a little bit of time, a few easy-to-find ingredients and an ice cream maker can conjure up, is the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s pure and creamy with perfectly balanced coffee flavor that’s sweet, rich and layered. If you’re a fan of coffee ice cream, you will love this recipe, dream about it, and then sigh longingly when you stare at the tupperware it once occupied and realize it’s gone.

I wondered before I made this what kind of coffee beans would make the best ice cream. Would all of them yield basically the same result or would there be a difference between a milder coffee bean and a bold one? I wound up using Trader Joe’s organic Bolivian coffee beans, which I had at home. (These beans are surprisingly good for $7.99.) The ice cream turned out wonderfully bold and nuanced. Each bite embodied cool sweetness and really swam across the palate, igniting all of my senses on the way back. I’d advise you to use coffee that is boldly flavored if you’re looking for a pure, rich coffee flavor in your ice cream, but I’m sure any sort of beans would work fine here.

One last thing! I was told by a fellow coffee loving friend this morning that today is National Coffee Day! This post was in the works before I knew about today, but I guess it just makes this ice cream flavor even more fitting.

And, while I’m pretty happy with the photos I took of this ice cream, the photos here might make you swoon.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Red Curry with Vegetables & Tofu

One of my guiltiest pleasures is a night at home with Thai takeout, a beer and plopping onto the couch and catching up with the DVR or a movie. I secretly look forward to these rare nights when I have no plans or simply feel like spending quiet time at home when I can lounge and kick back, not having to worry about the to-do list or whatever else I might worry about which, if you don’t know me already, is usually a lot of stuff. I’m working on that.

I’m a creature of habit, of course, so you’ll usually find me ordering green curry with tofu and vegetables with brown rice or the occasional Pad Thai when I’m feeling completely unadventurous. And Thai food, for me at least, has this special place in my life as “the food I love to eat but could probably never cook well because I don’t have the patience or skills to do it right.” That doesn’t mean I can’t try and create something inspired by Thai food, though.

After my recent dabble with Thai ingredients in the noodle dish I attempted a few weeks ago, I thought I’d take the next step and try to make red curry. Or something that resembled it, at least. The result was a solid, healthy dinner that came together relatively quickly.

The feature that stands out most about this dish is the thick, coconut infused curry broth, which carries a hint of warm spice at the back of the palate. The tender vegetables still hold a bit of their crispy bite and have the chance to soak completely in the broth, practically bursting with coconut and spice flavor with each bite.

While this curry isn’t as good as anything you’d order at a Thai restaurant, it’s the sort of humble dish that makes you proud when you sit down in front of it, knowing you used ingredients that are new to you in a way that isn’t going to make anyone around you gag or chew awkwardly with a look of disgust on his or her face while they try politely to act like they enjoy what you’ve made. (Ahem, Scott, ahem. Love you! No more stew for a long time, I promise.) Oh, but I digress.

Seriously, though, if you are able to find red curry paste and fish sauce in your supermarket’s Asian section, this isn’t such a tough dish to put together. And you can really add any sort of vegetable combination that you like. Bok choy, eggplant, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and green beans are all wonderful in this dish as is anything you have lying around in your crisper, really. Just add what you like and see where that takes you? Now that I think about it, pineapple chunks might not be a bad addition, too. I might just think about adding that next time.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Bean & Rice Salad

When I first set out to start a food blog and considered what I wanted it to be like and where I hoped it would fit in the spectrum of food blogs that already existed, I wasn’t sure what my expectations were, so I started the blog without a clear idea of my purpose and figured I’d do my thing and discover it along the way.

I never wanted my blog to be purely about food. I hoped that I’d write interesting content, share bits about my life and where food fit into my daily routine, and start meaningful conversations about how cooking, living and appreciating meals and ingredients make our lives more exciting and dynamic.

Now, more than a year after my first post, I think I finally realized what my blog’s purpose is. (That took long enough, no?) I think I was, perhaps, the last person to discover it.

First, Truffle Honey is a place where I document my food experiences, usually within the realm of cooking and baking in my tiny Manhattan kitchen. Blogging about food, one of my favorite things to talk about, gives me the opportunity to experiment with new recipes and ideas, and discover ways to write and share my experiences in a public forum. Second, this blog is really a first hand account of a mid-twenties girl navigating her way through cooking and baking in a way that novice young cooks who are in the same situation as I am can appreciate and learn from. Many of the food blogs that exist today are written by professional food writers, chefs, and seasoned home cooks who can make certain dishes while blindfolded and who work with ingredients in a way that I couldn’t imagine since I just don’t have their level of experience. While I may love reading the blogs of all of those wonderful people, I realize that my blog is on a different level, and is geared toward a different audience. I didn’t always realize this, but I do now.

I think I’ve been looking for a mission statement of sorts that would help me develop my ideas more clearly so that people who come to this space have a solid notion of why my blog exists and what it attempts to accomplish. At the end of the day, I’ve realized that this blog is a way for me to share relatively healthy, budget friendly, time saving meals with some fun treats mixed in for good measure to people who, like me, are learning to use their kitchens in a meaningful way and are excited by the prospect of trying new food, learning new things, and navigating our way through the things that 20-somethings face every day. Because, while life isn’t easy for anyone, I suspect that the confusion that so many of my peers experience at this age is something that is uniquely understood by us. We’re learning to fit into our adult selves, figuring things out, traveling, not knowing what we want to be when we “grow up,” living in tiny apartments, trying to save money whenever possible and learning to enjoy our lives, cities, families and friends all while working less than ideal (or not, if you’re lucky) jobs and exploring our passions. It’s quite a ride.

Now, back to the food. One of my favorite things to prepare for dinner is different variations of rice and beans. I know that might sound boring or lame but I assure you that it’s not. It’s incredibly healthy, is easy to prepare and is, generally, on the inexpensive side. It’s also adaptable and can really contain any myriad of combinations or styles.

My first recipe for rice and beans was simple, unadorned and as uncomplicated as could be. This version? It’s much more interesting, exciting, spicy, contains more ingredients, and is topped with a spicy, smooth vinaigrette. It’s the sort of salad that can be eaten right out of the fridge, or right from the stove or at a picnic, potluck, at the dinner table, or pretty much anywhere you can find a fork. It’s a perfect lunch or dinner, is still inexpensive to prepare, and reminds me, every time I eat it, that sometimes the most simple dishes are the ones I remember making the most.

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Raspberry Clafoutis

I’m the kind of person who goes through serious food phases. I like something, eat it every day for a few months, and then, once I’m tired of it, I give it a rest. This doesn’t bode well when I’ve stocked up on a several batches of whatever it is that I’m currently in love with and then decide to drop it, mid-stash, but it does keep things interesting.(Recent obsessions have been Kashi waffles, red grapes, Annie’s cheddar bunnies (this one is still raging), roasted Brussels sprouts and this sauce.) For this entire summer, I’ve been completely smitten with raspberries. Their tart sweetness and bright red color have made them a must buy item at the store every week and, recently, I decided it was high time to bake with them in a way that allowed them to keep their relative shape and texture rather than have them cooked down to jam since they’re so unique and bright on their own.

I did a little searching, and what I found was a perfect raspberry clafoutis recipe that jumped off the computer screen and, surprisingly, turned out to be wonderfully easy. Since easy is one of my cooking mantras (probably in order to prevent the severe claustrophobia that would inevitably set in if I was to spend more than an hour at a time in the tiny confines of my kitchen), I clicked print and had my plan.

This recipe was wonderful. It was so simple, required few ingredients, and took such a short time to prepare. I wound up with a beautiful, light, creamy cake that was bright and full of tart, bold raspberries that dotted the neutral colored cake with bursts of color. Each bite was perfumed with lemon zest and the smooth cake left a place for the raspberries’ texture to really play the main role, which is exactly what I wanted.

I realize that berry season is pretty much completely behind us, but in case you’re craving one last fresh berry hurrah before the cold sets in and berries disappear from markets, this clafoutis would be perfect.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Brown Sugar Chocolate Ganache Bars

When I think of decadence, chocolate ganache is one of the first things that comes to mind. Not only does it involve melted chocolate, which is a revelation in itself, (I’m talking spoon in the bowl while standing over the stove good, if you know what I mean.) it also includes heavy cream and is simmered until the two to meld together and the mixture becomes shiny, warm, sweet and strikingly rich. The first time I made ganache, I was a bit scared of what might happen to it, but it turns out that it’s really hard to screw up.

Ganache is great by itself, but imagine it sandwiched between squares of brown sugar blondies. Now that’s awesome. The light, sweet squares help offset the ganache and create an easy treat that has contrasting flavor and texture in each bite. When you sink your teeth into these bars, the first thing you taste is a slightly dense, very sweet cake and, as you continue, you meet the ganache, which hardens as it dries and has the consistency of a slightly melted chocolate bar. The way these two layers complement each other is unique and completely addictive. You may start popping them like…whatever people pop these days and you may be startled at your lack of self control when you’re faced with a batch of them and need to leave the kitchen. And not eat any more. Until later.

I did make a stupid mistake with these, though. I was cutting the recipe in half and managed to remember to reduce the amount of every ingredient except the eggs. I added too many. The only thing affected by this was that the cake was a little less dense and sweet than it should have been, but the bars actually didn’t turn out too badly. I was so mad at myself as I poured that extra egg in, realizing my mistake a second too late, but decided that instead of scrapping the whole thing, I’d follow through and see how they’d turn out.

When you think about it, though, how can you go wrong with brown sugar and chocolate ganache? I’m pretty sure you can’t.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mediterranean Lentil & Israeli Couscous Salad

When

I arrived in Hilton Head last month, my family, who had already been there for a few days, said they’d gone to a wonderful restaurant called Roastfish & Cornbread which had many vegetarian options and where the food was fresh and plentiful. They were also raving about the chef who spent time cooking in the kitchen and outside by a huge smoker. They had fallen in love.

The second to last night of our trip we went to the restaurant so that I could try it and it was so amazing that we went back again the next night for our last dinner before heading home. (You can imagine if they repeated the same restaurant this many times that most of the other options in the area were nothing better than mediocre.)

Roastfish & Cornbread was incredible. The wide variety of food items on the menu, the focus on preparing fresh, healthy, natural foods and the friendliness of the servers and head chef and owner, David Young, offered this restaurant an incredibly warm, local vibe that’s perfect for when you’re on vacation and simply want to enjoy yourself.

Some of the stand out dishes we had there were the sweet potato hummus, blackened buffalo shrimp po-boy and, my personal favorite, the Ethiopian lentils with Israeli couscous which was served on a bed of greens with fresh fruit, seeded crackers and pickled whole jalapenos topped with a pomegranate vinaigrette (Yes, it was absolute heaven.). It was bright, refreshing and I was shocked that lentils, couscous and fruit would match so well and make me feel so good.

When I came home, I didn’t necessarily aim to recreate the dish, but I knew I wanted to make a salad with French lentils, Israeli couscous and vinaigrette to remind me of vacation. Since summer has been winding down these past few weeks, these light, fresh salads will soon be a distant memory and I’ve been trying to keep them on my plate as often as possible until chili starts simmering on my stove.

This homemade lentil salad, which is Mediterranean-inspired, does what summer salads do best; it combines texture, lightness and simplicity in a way that’s fresh and interesting. The tenderness of the lentils and slight bite of the couscous are lifted by the light vinaigrette and the simple vegetables that are scattered throughout. This salad isn’t exactly like the one I had in Hilton Head, but it’s similar in all the ways that made that salad stand out as one of the best meals I had in the course of that week.

The salad is pretty easy to put together, too. You boil the lentils on the stove, let the couscous simmer, chop up a few vegetables, mix together the vinaigrette, and then, after just a few minutes of preparation, you have a great looking salad to enjoy.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Baked Falafel Salad

A few months ago I noticed that by the end of each day, as I’d walk home from work, I was completely and utterly exhausted. My brain was foggy, I was always tired and annoyed and, above all, I was almost always hungry. I also noticed that every time I’d go out for a run in the evening, I’d always get an annoying stitch underneath my ribs. Sometimes I’d have to stop running completely and walk the rest of the way home.

I’d managed to ignore these feelings for months and then one day I couldn’t do it anymore.

At that point, I knew I needed to take a look at my diet and exercise routine and figure out what wasn’t working because, clearly, something was amiss. And what I realized was, despite the fact that I led a seemingly healthy, nutritious existence, I wasn’t completely giving my body the nutrition and fuel it needed to perform the tasks I’d ask it to do every day. I found myself eating far too little protein, not giving myself necessary energy before an intense workout (hence those aforementioned running cramps), and not listening to my body when it was telling me that I was hungry or that I was full or that I needed some fat or some protein or some fresh fruits or vegetables. I was kind of just coasting through each day planning meals here or there and then sort of faking it, too.

Some days I’d go totally overboard. I decided that Fridays would be the day I’d let myself open my beloved candy drawer at work. Instead of being a moderate, normal human being, I’d down tootsie rolls and M&Ms like they were going to fly away.

I decided, after all this, that I needed to take stock. That it was imperative I consciously eat more fruit, vegetables and protein. I knew that on splurge days (which, for me, are generally on the weekend) I needed to eat with more intention instead of just eating whatever I felt like eating because I’d deprived myself too much during the week. (Gotta fit into those skinny jeans, you know.)

So, I’ve been re-vamping my diet a bit. I’m writing things down, looking at the big picture of my day, thinking a little bit more about what I eat. I’m consciously stocking healthy, life giving snacks in the apartment and in my purse when I leave for the day so that I can avoid hunger pangs and to keep my metabolism going all day.

I’ve also started adding more weights and muscle exercises to my work out routine. I feel stronger, more energized, and healthier since making this change.

I won’t go into every detail of my diet changes because they’re not all that drastic and because I’m still trying to navigate this path as best as I can. Also, this blog is about the food, not about the diet, right? I’m not perfect at this, nor do I ever think I will be, but I’m learning more and more that listening to my body and making appropriate and thoughtful food and exercise choices are essential to making this work. Eating more whole foods, more protein and more organic items, when possible, is something I’m striving for, and I’m feeling better about it every day. It’s very expensive to do this, though, and lately my grocery bill never ceases to amaze me. Why does organic produce have to be so expensive?

In case you are interested, my recent discovery of almond butter, LARA bars, kale chips and the brilliance of eggs or egg whites on an Ezekiel tortilla have me quite excited. I can only wonder what new, interesting foods I’ll incorporate into my routine next. I thought I’d share all this with you because it felt like something I needed

Of course, no food will be completely off limits. I love baking and I don’t particularly like making substitutions since I don’t bake often. I love beer and wine and will just keep them in moderation, as I have always done. I go weak at the knees for chocolate and French fries and falafel and bagels and, well, it wouldn’t be life if I didn’t have these things on occasion.

Speaking of falafel…

It’s one of my favorite foods and another reason why I think chickpeas are the absolute most versatile, brilliant food. I thought about making falafel for a while but was kind of scared off by the whole frying thing. I pictured a huge pot of hot oil and me in my TINY kitchen and knew that whole thing couldn’t possibly end well. Instead, I decided to do the “responsible” thing and bake the falafel in the oven. And it was very good.

The particular falafel recipe I used, which I found on one of my favorite sites, In Praise of Leftovers, uses a wonderfully aromatic blend of spices that neither overpower the chickpea flavor nor leave it so bland that you want to douse your falafel in sauce because it doesn’t taste like anything. The falafel is hearty and rich, full of bright cumin and a fresh burst of cilantro parsley, a winning combination. Baking the falafel instead of frying it only had one huge difference for me, which was that the baked falafel was a bit more dense than fried would be. If you’re interested in frying your falafel, you can check out the site where I found the recipe for Sarah’s instructions.

I decided that instead of making a falafel sandwich, I’d feature the falafel on top of an arugula salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, and a lemon yogurt tahini dressing. If you’re into salads that are hearty and textured, this is definitely a recipe to try.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post! I know it was a long one. Now, go make some falafel!

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