Naming these was a bit of a challenge, as they were originally meant to resemble meatballs but experimentation with cooking them proved that the easiest method was lightly frying them in a flatter shape. Still, shape and function wise, the world is your oyster with these ugly, high protein, vegan delights. I consumed them as you might an inauthentic falafel in a Pret A Manger salad, with avocado, roasted carrots, rucola and tahini dressing – plus of course a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds for the full Ottolenghi experience.
The ease of preparation depends on you. I cooked my black beans from scratch, which added a fairly substantial amount of time to the process, but using tinned ought to work and would be much quicker. Also, I have my beloved food processor, which cuts down the effort involved, but I believe this would also be possible with a hand / normal blender, or even a potato masher, depending on your arm strength.
Makes a generous amount – I’d say enough for 6 as a source of protein / part of a mezze.
400g cooked and drained black beans (equivalent of ca. 200g dried)
400g sweet potato (equivalent of ca. 1 large)
3x massive garlic cloves (or several more small ones)
1 large echalion shallot
Neutral oil, for baking
Spray balsamic vinegar (or just toss veggies in 1 tbsp)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
50ml water (depending on the wetness of your mixture)
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp maggi sauce (optional, not very goop, but it’s got a great umami kick)
Salt, to taste
If the Asian store hadn’t been out of stock I’d also have added a bunch of coriander, stalks and all, at the blending stage, but alas, they were out of stock. So do this if you wish.
Advance step – if you are scratch cooking the beans, you’ll have to soak them a good 6+ hours then cook them for about an hour, so possibly soak them the night before and cook them before putting the sweet potato in the oven. I like mine quite al dente for these purposes.
1- Turn on oven to 180ºc fan.
2- Peel garlic (but keep whole), peel & quarter shallot, cube sweet potato (I scrubbed but kept skin on – more fibre this way, but your choice).
3- Mix together garlic, shallot and sweet potato in a large roasting tin with your chosen oil, top with salt and spray with balsamic (or just toss veggies in 1 tbsp). Place in oven and set a timer for 45 min, or until sweet potato is soft and shallot and garlic are caramelised.
4- Meanwhile, drain your tinned or self-cooked black beans. Reserve some of the liquid for blending if you want, I find it adds to the taste quite nicely but this may be a gross concept to you. Place in food processor (or blender / bowl from which to mash / hand blend, but henceforth I’ll just say food processor) but don’t blend yet.
5- Once the roasted veggies are done, allow them to cool for a bit before adding them to the food processor with the beans. Pour over lime juice, maggi sauce, ground coriander and cumin. Blend!
6- Depending on how well it is blending, add water / bean juice in order to reach the right texture, as below. You may also need to scrape the sides to get everything blended up. You want them to be mouldable into ball / pattie shapes. If your mixture is too watery, add a tbsp of polenta or flour.
7- Once your hideous mincemeat-looking creation has reached the perfect mouldable texture, cease blending and remove by the tbsp (or just eyeball it as I did) and shape into your chosen form. This is where we introduce an element of choice – baking or frying. A guide below…
To bake or to fry?
I suppose it depends on what you have time for and your personal preferences. I personally preferred the softer inside, crispier outside outcome of frying, and found that the patties held their shape better when I did so. Baking does enable you to take a less hands-on approach, but the outcome is a drier patty (which – warning – had a slight tendency to stick to the baking dish). Health-wise, I used similar oil quantities for both, so that’s not an issue.
All in all, I would recommend frying for both balls and patties, though patties will make your life easier for flipping purposes, and baking mainly for the meatball shape, as patties became quite dry. You are also welcome to try BBQ-ing and grilling – pls revert to me with your results.
If frying –
Heat a couple tbsps of vegetable oil to medium-high heat in a non-stick frying pan. Drop a couple of patties / balls in at a time and fry, turning fairly frequently with a pair of tongs, until seared on every side (you’ll see at this stage why patties are a bit less effort). Place on a separate plate to cool and continue in batches.
Back at it with the hideous photos…
If baking –
Set the oven to 200ºc fan. Generously oil two large baking dishes. Place your shaped balls / patties in the dish, ensuring enough distance between them. Place in the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, they should be browning on the top, so flip them over (but use your judgement – they may need a bit more time) so that both sides can cook for a further 20 minutes. Once finished, place on a plate to cool or consume hot.
Tom charmingly commented that these look like the protein bars served to the proletariat in Snowpiercer (film, not series). He did say they taste good though, so not a total L.
Serving Suggestions / Swaps / Tips
As I mentioned at the ingredients stage, I’d ideally have blended in a bunch of fresh coriander, so feel free to do that if it doesn’t taste like soap to you. Also feel free to add some chilli / jalapeño slices for a spicy kick. If your mixture is too dry, add some water, and if it’s too wet, add some flour or polenta. As ever, onion can take the place of shallot, I just have a weird and irrational fear of onions cooked by me (weirdly don’t mind them cooked by others – I think I partly just hate the process of chopping them etc., not that shallots are much different. Anyways, I digress). I also thought it might be nice to roll these in sesame seeds before cooking as one might do a falafel, but haven’t tried so cannot recommend.
As mentioned above, I served these as Pret A Manger would, in a salad with leftover roasted carrots, half an avocado, tahini-lemon dressing, and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. Flowers randomly placed beside optional. Like an extremely inauthentic falafel – pls don’t cancel me. If not vegan, feta or tzatziki would be a nice addition. Given their black bean, lime, cumin and sweet potato content, I’d imagine these would also be fantastic with a Mexican-themed spread – I’m thinking grilled sweetcorn salad, guacamole, etc. I also plan on trying to make a courgetti with meatball type thing, and will post the results to instagram. If made in the correct shape, these could take the place of a burger patty for a vegan / vegetarian guest. Essentially, I treat these as a versatile protein source for use in various dishes.
Leftover rating – 3/3, these keep well, but you may want to refrigerate after blending then mould and recook later so that the fried / baked patties keep their shape better.
Enjoy your protein rations, comrades!