Blazing Salads


My how times have changed. It was over 40 years ago that I started working at United Engineers and Constructors, Inc. in downtown Boston. At the time, I was married to one of those United Engineers. We would travel to and from 100 Summer Street each day, sometimes by car, sometimes by train and sometimes by motorcycle. I worked on the 24th floor and had a gorgeous view of Boston Harbor. In 1976, the American Bicentennial year, we came in on July 4th and watched the Tall Ships arrive. He worked on the 26th floor on the downtown side with a view of the Boston Common and the State House. Everyone at United Engineers had the same lunch “hour”, 12:15 to 1:00. Needless to say, with 1000+ employees on floors 23 to 27, the elevators would get very busy. It was not uncommon to spend a third of the lunch “hour” waiting for one to arrive with enough room to squeeze into. Still, there was a feeling of needing to get out of the building at midday. Breathe real air. Escape the cubicle. Find something good to eat. There were a few restaurants, several taverns and a good number of coffee shops and delicatessens close by. The food court at Faneuil Hall’s Quincy Market was within range, but only if you got a “good” elevator. We had our favorites and visited them often, but I was on the lookout for something different.


I had read an article in the Boston Globe about a glorified food cart that had just started rolling in the Financial District, called Blazing Salads. The name was a take on a current popular movie, Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles”. Aside from an intriguing name, some of their menu items inspired both my imagination and my taste buds. First of all, almost anything on their menu could be stuffed into pita bread. Pita bread? In the mid-70s, it was a novelty. As an avid cookbook reader, I had knowledge of their cuisine, but no actual experience. Hummus, tabbouleh, falafel. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce them, but I knew I wanted to try them all. It was not to be. Let me share something about Mr. United Engineer. He was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. By meat and potatoes, I mean just meat and just potatoes. Corn was okay, but only OFF the cob. No fruits, no veggies, no salad and definitely NO weird sounding who-knows-what. Onions were okay, if they had been battered and crisply fried. :::sigh::: I sometimes managed to stay out of the (for him, very comfortable) meat and potatoes rut during our lunches, and one of my all-time favorite ways to do that was the Greek salad from the Superior Deli.


Crisp lettuce, wedges of tomatoes, cucumber, large rings of green bell pepper, lots of red onion, giant chunks of feta with a couple Kalamata olives and….the best part…..two anchovies, with a fennel seed and oregano vinaigrette on the side. Oh. So. Good. That salad made me happy and that vinaigrette has inspired every dressing I have made in the last 40 years. Mr. United Engineer would order a cheesesteak, large, extra cheese, no onions or peppers. To each his own.

Fast forward 20 years. I am no longer with Mr. United Engineer and I am the master of my own taste buds. My cookbook collection has reached epic proportions, I have a collection of Gourmet magazines going from 1982 to the final issue (sniff, sniff) and I am a cooking show-a-holic. I have dabbled in almost every cuisine and got my first taste of falafel when I made it myself. I am newly (23 years!) married to a different Mr. Engineer---do you see a pattern?---but the similarity ends there. This Mr. Engineer is also a foodie and a talented cook and loves to try new cuisine. My BAKED FALAFEL AND TAHINI SAUCE is just as delicious as the fried in oil version, and my GREEK SALAD WITH OREGANO FENNEL SEED VINAIGRETTE always takes me back to the Superior Deli. Be the master of your own taste buds. Try something new, as often as possible. Bon appetit!

BAKED FALAFEL AND TAHINI SAUCE

Makes 10-12 patties

FOR THE FALAFEL:

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or approx. 3-1/2 cups homemade)

1 cup red onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

OPTIONAL: 1 cup cooked beets, chopped

For serving:

Pita bread

Lettuce, tomato, sliced radish

Alfalfa sprouts

FOR THE TAHINI SAUCE:

¼ cup tahini

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2-3 Tablespoons water

Salt and pepper to taste

To Make the Falafel:

In a food processor, combine chickpeas, red onion, garlic, cilantro and parsley (and optional beets, if using). Pulse until broken down, but still somewhat chunky. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, salt and baking soda. Mix thoroughly.


Form the falafel mixture into patties. Smaller, thick patties will make them hold together better and also make them easier to flip.


Place the patties on a tray or plate, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. This will also help them keep their shape. Alternately, you can put the patties in the freezer for 20 minutes.


When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400°. Place chilled falafel patties on a sheet tray lined with parchment and sprayed with cooking spray.


Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully flip each patty with a spatula. If they do not fully hold together, use the spatula or your hands to gently mold them back together. They will firm up again as they cook the rest of the way.


Bake another 10-15 minutes until they are well browned and firm.


In the meantime, make the TAHINI SAUCE.


Mix the tahini, lemon juice, 2 Tablespoons of the water and salt and pepper in a small bowl. If needed, add more water, a little at a time, until your tahini sauce reaches “drizzling” consistency. If it is TOO drizzly, add a little more tahini to thicken.


When the patties have finished cooking, remove the sheet tray from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes on the tray. Serve in the pita with lettuce, tomato and sprouts. Drizzle the tahini sauce over all.

GREEK SALAD WITH OREGANO FENNEL SEED VINAIGRETTE

Makes 8 cups of salad, 4-8 servings

For the Vinaigrette:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1-2 teaspoons fennel seed, roughly chopped

1-2 teaspoons dried oregano (or 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped)

Pinch of sugar

For the Salad:

6-8 cups crisp salad greens, torn (romaine, iceberg, etc.)

2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks

1-2 green peppers, seeded and cut into rings or strips

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled

¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted

OPTIONAL: Anchovies, whole (to taste)

In a glass jar with a lid, add all vinaigrette ingredients. Secure lid and shake thoroughly until well blended. Continue shaking, off and on, as you assemble salad ingredients.


Assemble salad ingredients in a large bowl, or on a platter, or on individual salad plates. Chill. When ready to serve, pour OREGANO FENNEL SEED VINAIGRETTE over all. Toss to coat.




The Southern Yankee Kitchen