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How Chef Nyesha Arrington Makes Falafel Without Chickpeas

When beans became grocery stores’ hottest commodity in the pandemic, the chef turned to cauliflower for her homemade falafel

When the pandemic first hit and lockdown orders across different cities began to loom, beans were among the first food items to sell out in many grocery stores. That’s when Eater video producer McGraw Wolfman had the idea to challenge chef Nyesha Arrington to make a chickpea-less falafel. “[Cauliflower] was the only thing I could get you, there were no chickpeas,” McGraw says of the surprise box of ingredients that he sent to Nyesha for this challenge. “And I feel like cauliflower gets a bad rep.”

First, Nysehsa makes some dough for homemade pita bread, and sets it aside to rest. Then, after looking up recipes for traditional falafel which requires almond meal, she decides to grind toasted walnuts as a substitute. “The walnuts are great because they’re a little bit dryer,” she says, also noting their “meaty” quality, both of which will help bind with the watery ground cauliflower. “I’m going to pulse down the rest of the cauliflower and squeeze out all of the liquid and I think that’s going to give me a similar texture to chickpeas. ...I don’t want a lot of water in the falafel because what’s going to happen is it’s going to be too gummy, and I want it to be light and fluffy.”

Having a can of butter beans on hand in her own kitchen, Nyesha decides to add those to the mixture. “I think it’s going to give it a little bit of starchiness, and a kind of tender texture. The beans are going to act like a binder.” Then Nyesha adds chopped garlic, flour, olive oil, baking powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, black pepper, lemon zest, egg whites, and tons of fresh parsley, cilantro, thyme, and spinach. “I’m always kind of trying to find ways to add vegetables to things that I cook, and I think it will also just give it a nice light airy texture,” she says.

After testing out her first falafel ball, Nyesha heads back to the mixture, deciding it needs more egg white, lemon zest, cumin and cayenne pepper. “All the flavors are there, I just really want to amplify them.”

Now it’s time for Nyesha to make the sauce. As a former saucier at two-Michelin-starred Mélisse in LA, this is a task she takes seriously. Combining roasted garlic, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, salt, oat milk, tahini, and oil, Nyesha makes a light and tangy topping for her falafel.

After cooking her pita dough in a cast iron pan, and frying her falafel balls, Nyesha puts it all together adding lettuce, feta, and tomatoes. “This is so freaking good!” says Nyesha, happy with her results. “My personal thoughts are I freaking nailed this recipe, an epiphany to my soul.”

“I had my doubts about cauliflower falafel but I think this came out great.”


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