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Toasted Falafel in Pita Pockets with Tzatziki

It is such an amazing feeling, to face the end of finals and look forward to my first holiday season (bar an academic paper up for submission) in two long years. After doing some mental math, I realized that I have been working without respite for the past two years. Some may argue that I took a break last summer also but then, I would beg to differ. Carrying a live person in the stomach for nine odd months and popping one fine day in summer is not my idea for a vacay (plying the mom card here). And that’s exactly what I did last summer.

Although this year is going to be as tricky as last year, I am taking solace in the fact that I would not be learning something as challenging as being a mother and breastfeeding an ever hungry baby. Yep, I am up-to-date with all of Miss Kohlrabi’s tricks. Nothing, I repeat, nothing will frazzle me. But I really do hope she gives me an easy time, mommy deserves a holiday. So I have all the time until mid-August until my next (crazy) semester commences and I have all the time in the world until the last week of June to plan a party (Kohl’s first), pack for the India trip and wonder how we are going to manage this then-one year old in a confined space for 24hrs.

I guess I will come to that later. So until then, I have quite some time and I have planned to do a whole list of stuff while the baby will be away, having a great time at the daycare for three days in a week. It is cleaning time! Everything starting from the refrigerator to the door knobs are scheduled to get deep-cleaned, thanks to a huge bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a big bag of baking soda and Costco-size dish liquid. Yes, I am channeling all my energy into the 1050 sq.ft. that is the house.
baked falafelI also have plans to cook wholesome, healthy meals, which would be balanced by those unhealthy ones at good intervals. So before I go and revel in all the awesomeness that is the end of this academic year, let me tell you what I made recently. I cannot call it a falafel since it doesn’t involve frying and mixing in egg into the batter. But it is loosely based on this Mediterranean chickpea ball. Okay, I know that this is the second chickpea recipe in a row. Since pulses, beans and lentils are the primary source of protein in a vegetarian diet, we use all of the above quite frequently.
baked falafel2This recipe is also a super-loose interpretation of Zoe’s Kitchen’s Greek Chicken Pita. Although I don’t eat meat, I know what goes into this sandwich and I just subbed the chicken part with my toasted falafel. I didn’t see anyone complaining!

Toasted Falafel in Pita Pockets

Ingredients:
For the falafel-
15oz can garbanzo beans (or one and a half cups dried beans cooked)

Four garlic pods finely chopped

One and a half tsp cumin powder

Quarter cup chopped cilantro leaves

Salt

Pepper

Half tsp Chili flakes

One Tbsp olive oil

For the sandwich-
Two heads yellow onion sliced

One Roma tomato cut into rings

Lettuce

Haalf a carton Feta cheese

One cup Greek yogurt

Half hothouse cucumber finely shredded

One tsp dried dill

One small garlic pod finely minced

Salt

Pepper

Six Pita pockets

Method:
Falafel-
Coarsely blend all the ingredients, except for the oil, together. Add enough water to make a dough-like consistency. Shape into balls (I was able to make 12). Heat a pan. Pour enough oil to grease it lightly. Flatten the falafel balls. Working in batches, toast them until golden brown on both sides (it took me four minutes for each side on a medium flame). Set aside.

For the sandwich-
Caramelize the onions with a pinch of salt on low flame. Blend the Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic, salt and pepper with a fork to make Tzatziki. Cut the Pita pockets into half and loosen the flaps. Fill it with a leaf of lettuce. Put in a couple of falafels. Gently press the sides of the pita to crush it. Add the tomatoes and top with some caramelized onions. Drizzle with the Tzatziki and a tsp of Feta cheese.

It might sound like a complicated sandwich to make but burgers require the same number of steps. And exactly like a meaty burger, this Pita sandwich is so worth the trouble!

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Quick Three Cheese Pasta Bake with Homemade Marinara

Time seems to be flying these days! It seems like just yesterday that I updated the blog but here I am, ten days later, wondering where all that time went. Although I am supposed to be reveling in the joy of spring break, I am stuck at home, working on yet another paper. This means that little A is back at daycare, something I was looking forward to avoid for a weak at least. I completely miss spending all my daytime with her and was very pumped about the prospect. But it was not to be.

So, after two days of exclusive mommy-baby time, she went back to her auntie for the major part of the day. Not that she complained. I suspect that she was secretly pleased to run away from boring ol’ me to a place where she can play, laugh and have fun with her friend-ish kind of people. Although I am home alone and all that, I hardly find time to cook. The only thing that pushes me to get on with it is the fact that surviving on water and other liquids is not a diet we are interested in doing at the moment. Hence, I plan my menu a few days in advance and stick to one pot meals as much as my conscience would allow me. Since K is not the complaining kind, I take advantage of him a lot more than I want to admit.
Ricotta Pasta2Yesterday was pasta day. I had a can of diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic sitting in my pantry. I bought some ricotta a couple of days ago and a nice ball of fresh mozzarella on dairy run yesterday. I decided to whip up some of my favorite double-duty marinara sauce to make a cheesy (albeit healthy) pasta bake that kind of edged extravagance while managing to be healthy. It was on the higher side of carbs, but with moderation, I knew that I could have my dinner and eat it too (cliche alert!).
Ricotta PastaQuick Three Cheese Pasta Bake

Ingredients:
One can diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic

Three pods of garlic, minced

3/4 box of medium-size pasta like Penne or Rigatoni, cooked al dante, drained and a cup of pasta water set aside

One cup part-skim Ricotta cheese

Half a ball of fresh Mozzarella (or one cup of the shredded kind)

Two Tbsp Parmesan Cheese

Half an eggplant diced

Quarter cup frozen peas

One large egg (optional)

Salt

Pepper

Crushed red pepper

Quarter cup Olive oil

Method:
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Heat a saucepan with half the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the minced garlic until it releases flavor. Pour the can of diced tomatoes and let it cook for ten minutes. When done, add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Transfer to a large salad bowl.

Pour half of the remaining oil in the same pan. Saute the diced eggplant on medium-high heat until it browns and starts to cook. meanwhile, add the ricotta and egg (if using) to the marinara sauce. Mix the peas in with the eggplant before you switch off and add this to the ricotta mixture. Blend in some of the reserved pasta water if you find the sauce to be thick. Fold in the Parmesan cheese.

Mix the cooked pasta with the sauce. Grease a baking dish with the remaining oil. Transfer the pasta mixture and top with the Mozzarella cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly. I broiled it for a few minutes to brown the cheese but this is only an optional step.