The Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Party Season is upon us! Time to don the sparkles and velvet, kiss under the mistletoe and get blitzed (Blitzened?) on hot toddies. And, of course, make fancy-pants appetizers to impress your friends and family.
I’ve already given you a great party guest food idea here: goat cheese crostini served with fig compote or tomato bruschetta topping. It’s fairly easy and a definite crowd pleaser. But I’ve already made that for one of Christine’s parties, and I needed to try something new for the holidays. Something savory and something sweet. The solution was spiced candied nuts and sweet potato “falafel”.
Actually, to be honest, the original solution was cookies and sweet potato falafel. Except, as you may recall, Christine is gluten intolerant, so I tried to adapt a maple-spice cookie recipe to be gluten-free. And guess what? They were AWFUL. I must not be adept enough at baking sans wheat, because all I could taste was the powdery, gritty, chemical-y flavors of xanthan gum and frankenflour. I even tried overwhelming the cookies with a ginger-and-cinnamon-laden glaze, to no reward. Oh well. They’re still in my freezer if anyone has a death wish and wants to eat them.
But thankfully spiced nuts are a pretty straightforward endeavor and I was able to recover my sweet-and-savory contributions. I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen as an inspiration, but I adapted it pretty heavily. And I really like what I came up with:
- 3/4 pound total of raw walnuts and pecans (half and half)
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup (plus an extra drizzle if you want!)
- 2 heaping tablespoons sugar
- 2 heaping tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- dash of cayenne pepper
In a small bowl, blend your sugars and spices well. See where I spilled the allspice all over my counter? Also, secret: I didn’t have any cayenne, so I added a dash of chili powder instead. I know it has garlic and other spices mixed in it, but it worked just fine. Next, in a large bowl, whisk your egg white, water and maple syrup until frothy but not stiff.
Add your nuts to the egg mixture and stir until coated. Then pour in the sugar and spice mixture and toss until well combined.
Spread on a foil-lined AND greased baking sheet (as in, grease or spray the foil) and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. Stir once or twice; the coating will become light and foamy, but you still don’t want any nuts glued to your pan. Stir them again when you take them out of the oven so they don’t adhere to the foil as they cool. And there you have it!
For the next recipe, I didn’t play with it very much because I was so unfamiliar with the flavors. Chickpea flour? Coriander? I’m pretty sure I’ve never cooked with coriander before in my life. I got the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, and it turned out to be a winner just the way it is. It’s also pretty healthy, with protein-rich garbanzo/chickpea flour and vitamin-heavy sweet potatoes, and it’s not fried like traditional falafel. In fact it’s not much like traditional falafel at all, it’s more like a baked croquette of sorts. Or something. Anyway it was delicious. The only thing I’d recommend changing is I’d serve it with spicy chipotle ketchup…maybe I’ll make these again for Christmas and try this recipe?
Baked Sweet Potato “Falafel”
- 3 medium sweet potatoes*
- scant cup of chickpea flour
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups fresh cilantro, chopped (it’ll be more like a cup once chopped)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2-1 teaspoon, I’d say)
- olive oil
- sesame seeds
*The original recipe only calls for two potatoes, but I got over two dozen 1-inch falafel with more potatoes, plus I think the chickpea flour would be too starchy and overwhelming with only two potatoes.
Peel your sweet potatoes and cut them in half lenghtwise (or, if they’re really big like that one in back, cut them in quarters). Place cut-side up in a glass baking dish with about a half inch of water in it, and rub the tops with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Once cooled (I ran mine under cold water to expedite the process), chop and place in a bowl for mashing. Turn the oven down to 375.
I kind of ran the knife through the bowl and started a rough mash before I added the rest of the ingredients. When you feel the potato pieces are small enough to mash, add the chickpea flour, garlic, cilantro, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, lemon and a splash of olive oil and mash all the ingredients together until pretty much smooth.
It took me a while, considering I don’t have a real potato masher so I was just using a fork, but eventually I got it to look something like this. It’s okay if there are a few little chunks of potato left, just make sure you get the big pieces and all the ingredients are well incorporated. Add a little more olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Here is where 101 Cookbooks says to refrigerate the mixture to allow it to firm up, but I didn’t have to do that at all, so I started making the falafel right away (my mix was a little thicker than the consistency of mashed potatoes and not watery at all. This might vary depending on the water content of your sweet potatoes, but this is why I think using less potatoes would make the chickpea flour overwhelming.)
Use two spoons to form the mixture into balls about one inch across, quenelle-style (or close to it – nothing’s perfect). Place them on a greased baking sheet and sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until the tops look toasty and golden (my tops didn’t get too toasty but the falafel set and the bottoms were beginning to brown – still delicious).
Then…serve! Everyone at the party loved them as is, but like I said, I think they’d be amazing with some homemade spicy chipotle ketchup. I’ll post that recipe if I try it. Fun fact: did you know chipotles are just smoked jalapenos? I’ve gone almost my whole life thinking chipotles were a unique type of pepper. You learn something new every day.
Keep learning, keep playing!