Healthy Mexican-inspired Falafel Sandwich

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Here’s why I love Instagram, you follow people for months, years or even a day or two and one day all the stars line up perfectly so that you meet and it’s like you’re old friends catching up over a cup of coffee. Or at least that’s how it was when a couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting one half of the dynamic duo that is SweetPillar.

They were in Dubai for a few days, and Deana reached out. We met up for what was supposed to be a morning cup of coffee at Mirzam the chocolate factory, and it ended up turning into a coffee, chocolate, lunch, dessert, coffee, beach, and art gallery roaming day. It was like meeting up with cousins that I hadn’t seen in a while – so natural, so organic, and so friggin hilarious, man. And I really do feel that if I ever find myself in New York or California, I’ve genuinely got people to visit.

But since we only got to meet for a day, we promised ourselves that we’d have a little cyber get-together to try each other’s recipes and boy am I glad I came across their Cinco De Mayo Middle Eastern Falafel Tacos recipe.

Here’s why this recipe appealed to me so much. After watching the episode where Phil is in Mexico eating a shawarma-like ‘pastor’ in Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil, I vaguely learned about the culinary history shared between Syrian and Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, resulting in a fusion and new take on the traditional recipes that people have grown to know and love.

Because Deana, Nadia and I are all third (fourth) culture kids, bringing our own history and culture to the table when it comes to coming up with new recipes, a falafel taco recipe feels just right.

A warm, crunchy-at-the-sides wholewheat pita bread, topped with a smoked-pepper hummus, crunchy falafel, pickled onions, creamy avocado and a nice cilantro tahini dressing, I mean…come onnnn.


Ingredients:

For falafel*:

  • A can of organic chickpeas, drained
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Cilantro to taste
  • 1 medium-sized red onion
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • 2-3 tablespoons of oat flour (depending on how wet the mixture is)
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil
*based on the recipe from Minimalist Baker

For hummus:

  • 1 can of organic chickpeas, drained
  • 3 tablespoons of tahini sauce
  • The juice of a lemon
  • Half a clove of garlic
  • 1 smoked red pepper (canned works fine)
  • Olive oil
  • Smoked paprika
  • Sea salt
  • Cumin powder

Toppings (everything here is optional, and based on your falafel sandwich preferences):

  • Pickled red onions (pickle the onions by slicing them, and leaving them in some apple cider vinegar and sea salt for a few minutes)
  • Sliced cherry tomatoes
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Wholewheat pita bread
  • Pomegranate jewels
  • Mint
  • Cilantro
  • Avocado

 

Tahini Side Sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons of tahini sauce
  • A handful of chopped cilantro
  • The juice of half a lime/lemon
  • Sea salt
  • And a littttttle bit of water to dilute it.

 

How to Make it:

I know the ingredients may seem like a bit much, but once you get the hang of the flavors and what goes with what, it’s a lot simpler than it seems. The beauty of dishes like this is, there are no rules — just build up, or build down the flavors whichever way you like and practically anything goes.

  1. First, make the falafels by sticking all the ingredients in a food processor except for the olive oil. Make sure to gradually add the oat flour, depending on how wet or dry your mixture is. The falafel mixture should be dry enough for you to form a ball without the mixture sticking to your hand. If it sticks too much, then it’s too wet, add more flour.
  2. Once the falafel mixture is ready, form it into balls and heat a non stick (preferably cast iron skillet) with enough olive oil to coat the pan and fry the falafel balls on medium-high heat, making sure to turn them only once, or they will crumble (since they’re not being deep fried).
  3. In your food processor, mix all the hummus ingredients and blitz until nice and creamy.
  4. With your hand blender or food processor, add the tahini sauce ingredients and blitz together, adding enough water to make the sauce runny and not too dry.
  5. Heat up your pita bread, and start layering the flavors. First, start with some hummus, then pile on the falafel, pickled onions, and all the other toppings you want. I even added some alfalfa sprouts for some extra crunch and nutrients.

There it is, crunchy, healthy and absolutely friggin delicious. This Mexican inspired take on the humble falafel sandwich from the lovely Sweet Pillar Food has everything you’ll ever need.

I know there are a few falafel sandwich puritans out there that aren’t really digging the whole smoked peppers/avocado ensemble, put those rolling eyes aside and give this recipe a try. As Nadia and Deana say in their article:

“As a wannabe food historian, I can’t help but read about the history of food but also pay attention to the present.  With the largest refugee crisis in our lifetime happening before our eyes, I cannot help but wonder what will happen to the culinary world in decades to come. As Middle Eastern refugees begin to settle in Germany, Sweden, Greece, the US, Canada and beyond they will bring their culture and their food and merge it together with the local flavors.  Call it looking at the glass half full, but I am excited to see what culinary creations are going to happen for the years.”

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Thailand itinerary–Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Yao Yai

I don’t know why it took us so long to finally visit Thailand, but I’m glad that we did and will take advantage of any opportunity I have to go back–there’s just so much to see, experience and taste!

Here’s a look at our 11-day itinerary to visiting Bangkok, Phuket (Panwa and Patong) and Koh Yao Yai.

Day 1

We arrived in Bangkok late at night and had booked a relatively cheap, but clean hotel. We were heading out to Phuket the next morning and so we just needed a shower and a clean bed to sleep on. At 100 AED a night with breakfast and a 20-minute drive from Don Mueang Airport, D Varee Xpress Makkasan Hotel was a very convenient choice. The location was good for getting a taxi to Don Mueang International Airport early the next morning so that we could go straight to Phuket. So there wasn’t much we got to see in Bangkok then, but we did get to stay a few extra days towards the end of our trip.

Day 2

We woke up at the butt-crack of dawn, had breakfast, checked out and headed towards Don Mueang Airport to catch our flight to Phuket via Air Asia. At the airport, we booked a day full of activities (the Monkey Temple, ATV, ziplining, river rafting, lunch, and take services for our entire stay at Phuket and an elephant ride) for about 180 USD for two. To be totally honest, the convenience of having a taxi driver waiting for you at each hotel and dropping you off the piers and whatnot is worth the investment alone.

We arrived in Patong and checked into our hotel. It was clean, cheap and the location was perfect for exploring the hustle and bustle of Patong–plus it was right underneath the night food market which is a win in its own right in my book any day! The Crib Patong checked all the boxes when it came to cleanliness, budget friendliness and good location. I mean, it’s not secret that food in Thailand is incredible, so the being right next to the night market, that night we had about 13 courses! I kid you not, I tried absolutely everything they had to offer–from grilled crocodile to whole shrimp to fried grasshoppers.

Day 3

Our driver came to pick us up in the morning and to take us to our full day of activities. I’d recommend you do your research well when it comes to these things. Some travel agencies get commission based on your purchases and so will cut your actual activities short to take you to some random snake-fight arena so they can get commission on every ticket bought. When we got back to Patong, we headed out to the night market for some grub then hit the infamous red district for a walk into the unknown.

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Day 3

Breakfast. Beach. Massage. Taxi to paradise.

Up until this point, I really wasn’t too sure how I was feeling about Thailand in general. Once we headed for Panwa Beach, I knew I had fallen in love. I totally different vibe than anything in Patong, Panwa Beach is the quietest area with serene beaches–so serene, it feels like your own personal beach. We stayed at Dream Sea Pool Villa and I couldn’t recommend the estate more. If you’re looking for a pause from life, for a place where everything just stands still and is just so beautiful it leaves you speechless, in Phuket this is where you want to be. We got the room right next to the beach, with our own private pool. It was heaven. Pure, utter heaven. I couldn’t believe that just a 30 minute drive away from all the hustle and bustle of Patong, this serene setting existed.

Day 4

We woke up to the crisp sea breeze, and went straight to breakfast. I spent three days in Panwa and my diet solely consisted of fresh coconut water, seafood and sunshine. I didn’t have to wear shoes for three whole days and never realised how liberating that feeling would be. We spent the day lounging around the pool and the beach. Took a few walks. And steps away from the hotel on the beach side, there are only 2 places in the entire area. Lucy’s massage and the little restaurant right next door. Her deep-fried bananas and lemongrass and ginger stuffed prawns were a killer! After your meal, you can go right next door and enjoy a Thai massage right on the beach. I got 4 in three days and fell asleep on the massage bed all four times.

 

Day 5

Last day in Panwa and we spent it eating, getting more massages, kayaking and lounging around the pool. The hotel even arranged for a scrumptious romantic sunset dinner. Absolute bliss.

 

Day 6

I was absolutely heartbroken to have to leave Dream Sea Pool Villas, but alas Koh Yao Yai awaited is and so did our driver. He drove us to Bang Rong pier about 20 minutes away from the hotel and we hopped right on to the tiny, but beautiful island of Koh Yao Yai a mere 30 minutes away from Phuket.

And then it happened. The moment I’d been waiting for my entire life, but didn’t know it. A predominantly Muslim village of fishermen this island is as beautiful as it gets. A handful of hotels inhabit and it’s villagers are kind, loving and simple people that welcome you with open arms.Our hotel, however, was exactly what I’d imagine heaven to look like. 5 months later, and my heart still hurts every time I think of Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort and Spa. It was like walking into a dream that you never want to end.

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Day 7

Once you’re on the island, the only things you really can do are discover the grounds of the hotel, or walk outside of the hotel and rent a motorbike and discover the small island. Within 30 minutes, you’re able to get from one side of the island to the other. We lounged around in our private hot tub and in the room the first day. Just thinking about Santhiya brings a lump to my throat.

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Day 8

We woke up early, went for yoga, had breakfast and then went to explore the island and have (a much cheaper option) lunch.

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And then just like that, it was time to leave again. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t tear up. And I’m not going to pretend that we didn’t try to come up with ways to stay on the island forever. But Santhiya will always have a special place in our hearts and I’ll be back soon–I have to.

Day 9

It was time to head back to Bangkok so we took Santhiya’s ferry straight to Ao Po Grand Marina where we were taken by shuttle bus to Don Maueng Airport. The whole ride took no more than an hour and a half. And then we were in Bangkok again–just like that, a total different world! We checked into our hotel Thee Bangkok Hotel on Sukumvit 20. The red light district, restaurants, markets–all within walking or tuk-tuk distance. Bangkok really is totally different from the islands and it can get to you at times. The plethora of homeless people, prostitution and children begging for money in the wee hours of the night is truly heartbreaking. It kills me to know that modern tourism has exploited their destitution. We arranged for a tour to the Floating Market the next morning.

Day 10

Woke up again at the crack of dawn to go to the floating market. And boy, was that an experience in itself. I highly recommend it–it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before! Old Thai grammies pulling boats closer with her stick so you can buy her fresh coconuts! AMAZING!

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You’ve got to try everything they serve you. Fresh coconut ice cream, deep fried bananas, sticky rice and mango–do not eat before going, because you have to pig out once you’re there.

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Day 11

We explored Bangkok some more and then checked out of the hotel and grabbed a cab to Suvarnabhumi Airport. Give yourself a good 1 and ten minutes to get there, Bangkok’s traffic is tricky.

And just like that our Thai trip was over. There’s only two other trips that I went through a travel withdrawal after–Thailand and Morocco. I can’t wait to go back to both!

2-bean Vegan Chili

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Meatless Monday Vegetarian Chili dish.jpeg

So I love me a good bowl of chili as much as the next person, but how do you change this heavenly Mexican comfort food so that it is healthy, quick and easy to make? First, start by making a vegetarian version of it for Jamie Oliver’s famous Meatless Monday movement. Second, by making it so effing good, you won’t even mind that it’s not it’s normal fatty cheesy self.

I did just that by trying to pinpoint what it is about a good bowl of chili that I love so much. I love the creamy avocado, I love the pickled spicy jalapenos, I love the meaty, chunky flavor of the actual chili sauce–now how can I translate that to veg, low fat and all around healthy chili goodness? Well, here’s how

Ingredients:

  1. 2 cans of organic diced tomatoes
  2. 1 bunch of fresh spring onions
  3. 1 bunch of fresh coriander
  4. 4 cloves of garlic
  5. 1 cube of Kallo’s organic mushroom stock bouillon cube
  6. 1 can of organic cannellini (white beans)
  7. 1 can of black beans
  8. water as needed
  9. 1 teaspoon of cumin
  10. Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  11. 1 chopped jalapeno pepper
  12. Chopped bell peppers (whatever colors you can find)

 

Here’s how to put this bad boy together:

  • First, chop up your bell peppers and place in a large non stick skillet with no oil on a high heat and let the bell peppers get all char-grilled (let the skin get nice and black so it has a nice charred flavor).
  • Then, add your garlic and fry off until golden.
  • After that, add the rest of your ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Once the sauce is boiling, lower the heat to a medium-high and cover so it can cook.
  • That’s it! Can you believe how simple that was?

I served my chili with some mixed quinoa, ripe avocado, more spring onions and coriander, shredded iceberg lettuce and a dollop of labneh and some nice crumbly cornbread. You can add whatever the heck you feel like adding. Make some toasted corn tortillas? Queso fresco or sharp cheddar cheese on top? All hell to the yes! Mmm…I think I’m going to try that with the leftovers right now!

Brb going to go do that.

In the meantime, go straight-up bananas with me and give this recipe a shot and let me know if you have any of your own twists to add!

Oh, and follow me on Instagram by clicking here!

 

 

 

Dimsum aplenty, dimsum galore! Thank you @shangrilahotel for the lovely Chinese New Year celebration.

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