As we slide deeper into the holiday season, it's often challenging to think of original winter party recipes, to say nothing of tasty dishes that work for those with allergies and food restrictions. That's why we endorse Mike Isabella's cranberry bean falafel with tahini yogurt sauce from his new Washington, D.C. restaurant, Kapnos. This gluten-free dish is essentially fried finger-food that's perfect for an hors d'oeuvres platter.

Falafel, of course, is a beloved Middle Eastern dish composed of fried pureed chickpeas, and it works well as a meat replacement. But in this version, devised by the former 'Top Chef All-Stars' runner-up, striped cranberry beans--a midsize legume--replace the traditional chickpeas.

To make this recipe especially flavorful, Isabella recommends buying whole spices, and then lightly toasting them and grinding them for an earthier flavor. The cranberry beans bind the mixture, allowing Isabella to avoid using flour, which keeps the falafel gluten-free. The key to the recipe, in his view, is texture. "You need that fluffy inside and crispy outside," he says. To accomplish this, Isabella uses the meat-grinder attachment on a KitchenAid-type stand mixer (not a food processor), and he says that a good deep fryer made for the home should work well (and is better than panfrying), as long as the product has an accurate temperature dial to keep your oil from overheating. Sound advice, given that we should all probably watch our smoke points at joyous holiday celebrations.

Cranberry Bean Falafel with Tahini Yogurt Sauce
(Serves 6-8 as an appetizer)

Ingredients

  • 6 cups canola oil (quantity may vary depending on your deep fryer)
  • 3/4 lb dried cranberry beans, soaked in cold water overnight then drained (or 1 1/2 lb fresh cranberry beans)
  • 1 large bunch cilantro leaves
  • 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 white onion, medium dice
  • 1/2 large leek, medium dice (white and light green part only)
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp harissa paste
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper

Step One
Heat canola oil in an electric deep fryer to 325°F.

Step Two
In a large colander, combine the cranberry beans, cilantro, parsley, garlic, onion, and leek; rinse under cold running water. Drain any excess water.

Step Three
Using a meat grinder fitted with the smallest disc, grind cranberry bean mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Step Four
Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry sauté pan over medium heat for 5 minutes, shaking the pan often to prevent burning. Transfer to a spice grinder and grind into a coarse powder. Add to the ground mixture along with the harissa paste, salt, and pepper. Gently mix everything to evenly distribute the spices. 

Step Five
Roll this mixture into 1 ounce balls. Fry the balls, or falafel, in small batches for 4–5 minutes or until brown and crisp. Drain on a paper towel, transfer to a serving dish, and serve with tahini yogurt sauce.

Tahini Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Greek-style strained yogurt
  • 1/4 cup tahini paste
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and transfer to a serving dish. Can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 3 days.