Operation Lunchbox: Mini baked falafels with cucumber and mint raita

Now, I enjoy a cheese and pickle sandwich as much as the next person, but when you end up eating them ALL THE BLOODY TIME for lunch, they get a bit boring. This is why, every now and again, I decide that Owen and I are stuck in a ‘lunch rut’ and vow to make more interesting things to take to work for lunch. We also happen to be on a bit of a health kick at the moment (contrary to what some of my posts may lead you to believe), so I’ve been thinking of wholesome, healthy things to eat at lunch time to get us through the working day. We do often use up dinner leftovers for lunches, which is nice, but is dependent on what we’ve had the night before and whether there’s any left (which there usually isn’t). I’m not planning on creating any of those bento box masterpieces you see lots of on the internet, I just want something decent to eat in the middle of the day that’s easy to make.

So, I was really pleased with myself when I had an idea for mini baked falafels. I then Googled ‘mini baked falafel’ and realised that lots of people had unsurprisingly already thought of this before me. I still thought they would make a good packed lunch though, and my own recipe for them is below. I did wonder whether these would need an egg or something to bind them together, but they came out okay and didn’t fall apart. They weren’t too ‘mealy’ either, despite being baked rather than fried.

For the falafels:

Ingredients

  • A 400g tin of chickpeas
  • A small red onion (or half a large one), peeled and roughly chopped into chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • A red chilli, halved and de-seeded
  • A tablespoonful of cumin seeds
  • A heaped teaspoonful of ground coriander
  • A third of a bunch of fresh mint, any large stalks or dodgy leaves removed
  • Olive oil

Put the onion, garlic and chilli in a food processor and whizz until finely chopped. Scrape this mixture out into a pan and add a bit of oil and the cumin seeds. Fry until the onion is translucent and the other ingredients are nice and fragrant. Set aside to cool a bit.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and drain thoroughly again. Add them along with the fresh mint into the food processor and whizz until everything is an even crumbly consistency. Scrape the chickpea mixture out into a bowl and add the onion mixture from earlier. Add the ground coriander and season with salt and pepper. Add enough olive oil to bind the mixture together well and use clean hands to squelch everything together until it’s thoroughly mixed.

Use a pastry brush to lightly oil a baking sheet. Roll the mixture into balls measuring about an inch across and place them on the baking sheet. This mixture should make about twenty mini falafels.

Bake them in the oven at gas mark 5 for about 45 minutes, or until they are nicely crispy on the outside without being burned.

Before they went in the oven.

Cucumber and mint raita

Ingredients

  • About two inches of cucumber, halved with the watery seeds scraped out and discarded
  • A third of a bunch of fresh mint, any large stalks or dodgy leaves removed
  • A clove of garlic, peeled
  • Greek yoghurt

Put the cucumber, mint and garlic in a container- I use a blender stick/ wand thing to make this and it comes with its own plastic beaker, but any container with a flat bottom would be fine. Add a couple of tablespoons of yoghurt and whizz until blended. Keep adding yoghurt until you reach your desired consistency. You can obviously adjust the amounts of ingredients depending on how strong you want the flavour and how much you want to make. That one raw garlic clove goes a long way though- unless you want to be breathing garlic all over your co-workers then you might not want to add much more than that.

If you don’t have a blender wand, you could use a food processor or just grate the cucumber and finely chop the mint and garlic.

This keeps in the fridge for a couple of days.

We had the falafel and dip in our lunchboxes with some bulgar wheat salad. As all the mint on my balcony garden has died, I had to buy fresh mint especially for this, but I didn’t mind too much as it got used in the falafel, raita and bulgar wheat salad so there was no waste. I think coriander would make a good substitute for the mint, so I might give that a go too.

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Preserved lemons

I’ve never actually bought ready-preserved lemons, as I decided to try making them myself once and realised how easy it was. Whenever I’m running low, I just do another jar of them so that they’re ready by the time I get round to needing them.

I usually either use these in tagines or chopped up into ‘grainy’ salads (for example those involving bulgar wheat, cous cous or pearl barley). They have a lovely salty, tangy taste.

To prepare them once they’re preserved, scrape the flesh from the peel with a teaspoon and discard. Rinse the peel thoroughly before chopping and adding to your chosen dish.

Ingredients

  • Unwaxed lemons
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Bay leaves
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Mixed peppercorns

Start by choosing your jars. It’s best to use jars with no metal in the lids or attachments as the salt water will corrode them. Kilner-type jars are therefore not a good idea (trust me on this one- I preserved lemons in a Kilner jar once and the salt water residue corroded the metal lever closure until it just pinged off in the fridge one day). You want the jars to be large-ish, but also small enough to comfortably fit in your fridge as you’ll need to keep the lemons in there once you open them. I usually use 100g size coffee jars with plastic lids.

Sterilize one or two of your chosen jars, using your preferred method. (This article gives more details on sterilizing stuff.) Meanwhile, fill a large jug with boiling water and leave to cool. Tip a reasonable amount of sea salt into a bowl.

Once you’ve got your nice, hot, sterilized jar(s) and your boiled and cooled water, it’s basically just an assembly job:

Cut your lemons in half lengthways, then almost quarter them lengthways but leave them attached at the bottom. Open the cut in the halved lemon and generously pack it with sea salt. Sprinkle some sea salt in the bottom of the jar, then add your halved lemon, squishing it down into the jar. Repeat this process, packing the halved lemons tightly down into the jar and adding bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns and more sea salt in among the lemons. If your jar’s a bit bigger, you can leave the lemons whole and cut a cross lengthways almost to the base, packing the lemons with salt as before. Try to squeeze as many lemons into your jar as you can.

Once your jar is full to the top, sprinkle on some more sea salt and pour the boiled and cooled water into the jar right to the top. Cover with cellophane and a rubber band and then screw the lid on tightly. Invert the jar a few times to distribute the salt and leave in a cool, dry cupboard for at least a few weeks before eating. Invert the jar every now and again to re-distribute the salt. Once opened, keep in the fridge.

The Vegetable Fairy

I used to work with a woman called Di who had an (amazing) allotment, the spoils from which she used to share with all of her colleagues, including me. I actually have her to thank for inspiring me into and guiding me through my first forays into preserving. Di retired a little while ago (lucky her) but still pops in to my work from time to time to say hi. I went into work the other day to be greeted by a selection of veg on my desk- a bag of dwarf beans, a bag of runner beans and a pattypan squash. I recognised this immediately as Di’s own unique calling card (which I suppose makes her a bit like The Joker, but with veg. And with slightly less sinister overtones.)

I’ve never eaten pattypan squash before, so I did a bit of Googling and also asked Di if she had any recipe suggestions. She said I could treat it in the same way I would a courgette, so I ended up roasting it with some other veg (red pepper, red onion, a bit of carrot I had left in my fridge and a few garlic cloves- all sprinkled with fennel seeds, oregano, salt and pepper and drizzled with oil) and adding it to a bulgar wheat salad (cooked bulgar wheat with some added chopped spring onions and finely chopped preserved lemon). I griddled some halloumi to have with it as well:

Ready to go in the oven (gas mark 5 for about 45 minutes).

Bulgar wheat with roasted veg and griddled halloumi.

I usually add chopped fresh mint to a bulgar wheat salad, especially if we’re having halloumi with it, but I didn’t have any left on the balcony garden. Fresh chilli is nice in this as well, but I left it out on this occasion.

As for the other veg- I used some of the dwarf beans in a stir fry and the rest are going in a risotto tomorrow. I’m planning on having the runner beans with a roast over the coming weekend.

Thanks, Di!

Owen’s verdict on pattypan squash

Owen insisted on referring to the pattypan as a ‘pontipine’, which, in case you didn’t know, is a type of creature from In the Night Garden. (I’m not really sure how we even know what they are, considering we don’t have any children.)

He also commented during dinner that he kept imagining the chunks of pattypan were chunks of lemon, and got a bit worried about eating a big mouthful of lemon. He did say it was tasty though, so there you have it. Spoken like a professional food critic.