Have I ever told you about my stint as a busgirl at an Egyptian restaurant during high school? That job involved a lot of firsts.
First time working for someone other than friends of my family.
First time (and only time since) I was asked to belly dance at my job.
The regular belly dancer would drive up every Saturday evening in her maroon Ford Mustang, make a grand entrance, hug me, pour herself a glass of wine, and get her little clackers moving. She shook it pretty well for a woman in her 50s.
No, it wasn’t that kind of place. It was a higher-end restaurant (for little Idaho Falls, ID) and the dancing was really tasteful and interesting to watch.
And no, I didn’t.
It was also my first exposure to Middle Eastern cuisine. The owners were real-life Egyptians and they made everything from scratch, including the falafel. Every night after I worked I made myself a falafel pita with cucumbers and feta. I’ve had a special place in my heart for falafel ever since.
I noticed a fun twist on falafel in this month’s issue of Food Network Mag where they dredged chicken tenders in dried falafel mix and baked them. Because I had an extra head of cauliflower in my crisper, I used that instead. You can find falafel mix either in the bulk section of a grocery store or boxed in the ethnic food aisle. If you can’t find it (or don’t want to buy it) I added ingredients for a good substitute in the recipe notes. That’s what I used, actually, because I didn’t have falafel mix myself.
Too bad that restaurant was only open for 4 months. That gorgeous old building was later converted to a cute cafe. Then into a wedding reception center… where we held our wedding reception.
Funny how things work out.
Falafel-Crusted Cauliflower Pitas
Yield: 6 stuffed pita halves
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
For the pitas:
1/2 of a large head of cauliflower
2 T heat-safe oil, like coconut or grapeseed
1/2 cup falafel mix (if you don't have this, see note below)
3 cups coleslaw mix (or a mixture of shredded cabbage & carrots)
5-6 radishes, sliced thinly
Sliced cucumbers & crumbled feta, for garnish
3 whole wheat pitas, halved
For the dressing:
6 T prepared hummus
Grated zest and juice from 1 small lemon
Dash cayenne, if desired
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Remove leaves and main stem from the cauliflower head. Slice it in half (storing half in the fridge). Place the other half, stem-side down on a cutting board. Slice the cauliflower into 1/4-inch pieces. (Not florets. Cut it like you would a head of cabbage.) Not all of it will stay in tact and you'll have pieces of all sizes. Just make sure all of them are the same width (1/4-inch) so they cook evenly.
Place the sliced cauliflower in a medium bowl and drizzle with oil. Toss to combine. Pour the falafel mix into the bowl and toss, to ensure the cauliflower is completely coated. Spread cauliflower out on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until they are tender and golden brown.
Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the dressing, plus 3 tablespoons of water in a large bowl. Remove about 3 tablespoons of the dressing and keep in a smaller bowl for later. Add coleslaw mix and radishes to the large bowl with the dressing. Toss to combine.
Assemble pitas by adding a few pieces of cauliflower to each pita half, followed by the coleslaw, then add sliced cucumbers and feta for garnish. Drizzle some of the reserved dressing over top.
1. If you can't find dried falafel mix (I didn't have any), mix 1/2 cup chickpea flour, 1/2 tsp cumin, and 1/4 tsp each onion powder, garlic powder, and salt. I wouldn't try to make falafel with this mixture, but it gives the cauliflower a falafel-y flavor. If you can't find chickpea flour, use regular flour, for a slightly less falafel-y flavor.
adapted from Food Network Magazine, Jan/Feb 2012