Baked Panko Falafel with Cucumber Fennel Raita

Baked Panko Falafel I won't make this a healthy eating thing. They're baked! They've been lightened with panko, not bread crumbs or flour! That doesn't really tell you how delicious they are. There are few foods I love more than deep-fried falafel on a plate of cold mezze, but when you're in the mood for something different, there's this.

With baking, you'll get a cookie-like texture similar to a French sablé, not the crackling outside and supple inside of a fried falafel. Plus, panko takes out the guesswork of lightness. A falafel lives and dies by its lightness. Too much flour or breadcrumbs, and the thing turns into a matzoh ball (which is fine, but not what you're doing here).

Bonus brightness comes from lemon and sumac. Who knew that falafel tasted good a little a sour?

RECIPE (adapted from how sweet it is)Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a food processor, grind 2 cans of rinsed chickpeas, 6 garlic cloves, 4 scallions, 1 egg, the juice of lemon, 2/3 cup of soft herbs (parsley, cilantro, dill, mint), 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of aleppo pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of sumac. Process until you have a 50/50 mix of chickpea chunks and a hummus-like mixture. Add 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of panko crumbs, enough to get the dough to cling to itself. Form into patties and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, until golden.

For the raita, slice and salt cucumbers and fennel. Drain. Add yogurt, salt, pepper, and olive oil. You can add cumin and red pepper flakes, but I prefer to keep the raita pure when paired against something so aromatic.