Baked Butternut Squash and Chickpea Falafels
Portion/Yield:Serves 6 as a starter or serves 4 as a light lunch
I am fond of butternut squash and have featured many recipes on this website that include it. I suppose my love for all squashes and pumpkins comes from my mother. She too has a special affection towards this fruit (botanically it’s a fruit, not a vegetable), cooking it often when I lived at home with her when I was younger. Mum usually adds sugar, lots of cinnamon, some nutmeg and a great lump of butter to peeled, deseeded and diced squash or pumpkin, then cooks it all together in a saucepan with about 4 tablespoons cold water over a very low heat for about 30 minutes. The result is slow-cooked squash or pumpkin with slightly caramelised sweet and savoury notes – delicious! It’s ideal served with roast leg of lamb, roast potatoes and plenty of gravy. Just the thought of it makes make me long for Mum so many miles away.
I have borrowed Mum’s combination of spices with the squash, but instead of cinnamon and nutmeg, I have used another one of my favourites and that is ras el hanout, which also contains these spices in the blend. It has a slight spiciness that works perfectly with the chickpeas in my version of falafels.
I like falafels and have made many versions with roasted puréed vegetables added to the ground chickpea base, to add interest and flavour, but the idea of deep-frying them has always put me off a bit. By baking them in the oven you still get a crispy outside, not as crisp and crunchy as if they had been deep-fried, but it’s definitely worth the sacrifice as they’re far healthier and in my opinion the flavour is saved.
Ingredients & Method
For the baked butternut squash and chickpea falafels
- 1 tablespoon rapeseed oil 500g (prepared weight) butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and roughly diced
- 1 teaspoon ras el hanout
- 300g canned chickpeas (rinsed and drained weight)
- 150ml vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- 1 tablespoon chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as thyme, chervil and chives) 120g dried breadcrumbs (preferably panko) 50g linseeds sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the butternut squash purée
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 300g (prepared weight) butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 100ml vegetable stock
- finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
For the salad
- 500g butternut squash, skin left on, cut into 5mm-thick slices, seeds removed
- 1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon ras el hanout
- 150g canned chickpeas (rinsed and drained weight)
- a small sprig of fresh thyme, leaves only
- seeds from 1 pomegranate, to serve
First, prepare the falafels. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper and set aside. Heat the rapeseed oil in a saucepan, add the butternut squash, ras el hanout and salt and pepper, then cover and sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes or until just before the squash starts to colour. Add the chickpeas and stock, cover the pan and cook over a low heat for a further 10 minutes or until the squash has started to break up and the mixture is thickened and fairly dry.
Remove from the heat and add the tahini, then mash to form a coarse paste. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, stir in the herbs, then cover and chill for 2 hours. (The falafel mixture can be made in advance up to this stage and will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Mix the breadcrumbs and linseeds together in a bowl. Scoop the falafel mixture into walnut-sized balls and roll each portion in the crumb mixture, then shape each one into a ball. Place the coated balls on the prepared baking tray and keep chilled until you are ready to serve.
While the falafels are chilling, make the purée. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the butternut squash, cumin and salt and pepper, then cover and cook over a medium heat for 8 minutes. Add the stock, then cover and cook for a further 8 minutes or until the squash is completely soft.
Remove from the heat and add the lime zest and juice, then purée in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside. When you are ready to serve, reheat the purée in a saucepan over a low heat for 3–5 minutes or until it is hot.
In the meantime, prepare the salad. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Place the butternut squash on the prepared baking tray, season with salt and pepper, then drizzle over the rapeseed oil and sprinkle with the ras el hanout. Roast in the oven for 20–22 minutes or until the squash are tender. Bake the falafels in the oven at the same time for about 12 minutes or until they are crispy on the outside and hot all the way through.
Remove the falafels and roasted squash from the oven, then stir the chickpeas and thyme leaves into the roasted vegetables to complete the salad.
To serve, spread a spoonful of the purée on each plate, then arrange the hot falafels and warm roasted squash salad on each plate, scatter over the pomegranate seeds and serve.