Josie Mai: Mediterranean bowl features fantastic flavors

A Mediterranean bowl may feature several pieces, but those pieces add up to one refreshing meal that's perfect for the new year. Globe | Josie Mai

This gorgeous, tasty Mediterranean bowl has lots of components, so I’ll be brief.

Carefully pile fresh ingredients on a bed of chopped romaine, and you’re set. Keep the components separate, or have fun mixing elements together before eating.

The variety of textures and flavor combinations are super refreshing — perfect for a new and hopeful year. You’ll even forget this dish is vegetarian (vegan if you omit the feta).

My aspiration for 2021: more veg. Stay tuned.

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Baked falafel

  • 2 (15-ounce) cans low-sodium chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 3 tablespoons smooth, runny tahini
  • Kosher salt and pepper (1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper)
  • 1/2 cup cooked, mashed and tightly packed potato
  • 3/4 cup packed flat leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons water (use a bit more if needed if not using the optional hot sauce)
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons hot sauce

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Drain and rinse your chickpeas.

Spread out evenly on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roast for 25 minutes. This helps them to give more texture to the falafel. It also gives a bit more flavor.

In the last 10 minutes of roasting the chickpeas, add the chopped onion and cook them for the remaining 10 minutes. Place the pan on the bottom rack. Cook your diced potato in the microwave with a splash of water.

Remove pan from the oven. Add the chickpeas to a food processor. Process just until there are no more visible whole chickpeas, but do not overprocess it too finely. It should look ground up but kind of chunky with no remaining beans whole.

Add the garlic, onion and potato as well. Add the cumin, coriander, tahini, salt, pepper, mashed potato, parsley, water and hot sauce (if using).

Process until everything comes together. It should hold together easily when pressed and not be dry/crumbly but pureed, yet with little chopped bits of onion in it. It should easily form into balls. If not, process just slightly longer until it's sticky and holds together.

Preheat the oven again to 375 degrees and line another pan with parchment paper.

Press, form and shape the mixture into tight balls with your hands. They should be about golf ball size and you should get 10 to 12. Place them all onto the pan and press them down to about 1/2-inch thick. The edges may slightly crack a bit when pressing them down, just piece back the edges with your fingers.

If you like a really crispy exterior, you can always spray them with a little nonstick spray before baking if you prefer. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip them over and cook another 10 minutes. If they are not flipping over easily, cook another couple of minutes until they do. This will make sure they hold their shape. They should have nice golden-brown tops.

Recipe adapted from thevegan8.com.

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Tabbouleh

  • 1/2 cup bulgur or farro
  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • 1 cup diced tomato flesh, no seeds/water (1 large)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 3 medium bunches curly parsley (flat is fine, just a different texture)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
  • 1 medium clove garlic, pressed or minced

Cook or soak the bulgur or farro until tender according to package directions. Drain off any excess water and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the diced cucumber and tomato in a medium bowl with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Stir, and let the mixture rest for at least 10 minutes or until you’re ready to mix the salad.

To prepare the parsley, cut off the thick stems. Then, finely chop the parsley and remaining stems. Add the cooled bulgur, chopped fresh mint (if using) and green onion to the bowl of parsley. Strain off and discard the cucumber and tomato juice that has accumulated in the bottom of the bowl (this ensures that your tabbouleh isn’t too watery). Add the strained cucumber and tomato to the parsley mixture.

In a small measuring cup or bowl, whisk together the olive oil, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, garlic, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour it into the salad and stir to combine. Taste, and adjust if necessary — add another tablespoon of lemon juice for zing or salt for more overall flavor.

If you have the time, let the salad rest for 15 minutes before serving to let the flavors mingle. Otherwise, you can serve it immediately or chill it for later. Tabbouleh will keep well in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 4 days.

Other potential bowl components include feta, hummus, lemon tahini sauce, pita chips, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, chopped romaine. Or give these a try:

Tzatziki: In a bowl, stir to combine a cup of Greek yogurt, a small grated/drained/squeezed cucumber, fresh mint and dill, juice of 1 lemon, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a sprinkle of kosher salt.

Baba ganoush: In a bowl, stir to combine the drained, creamy insides of 2 medium roasted eggplants, 1/3 cup tahini, chopped parsley, garlic a bit of cumin, smoked paprika and kosher salt.

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Josie Mai is a culinary artist and in-home chef. See her on Facebook and Instagram as Josie Mai Personal Chef or at josiemai.com.