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Small Plates: Crabby Falafel 'Sliders'

This post is part of our Small Plates series, which is brought to you by California Pizza Kitchen.

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Falafel sandwiches with crab, fennel, and harrissa mayonnaise. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

I admit it up front: this is one of those wacky dishes that comes from a lot of places in general, and nowhere in particular. A plate that Archie Bunker would describe as "one of them things that's got a little too much of both, and not enough of neither."

Fortunately, we're all a bit more open-minded than Archie, especially when it comes to deliciousness.

I'd never considered the prospect of a non-vegetarian falafel—particularly not one that combines falafel with seafood—until I read Cathy and Tony Mantuano's Wine Bar Food. In it, Tony Mantuano, chef at Chicago's Spiaggia presents Mediterranean-inspired small plates ranging from the highly involved (Crispy Lamb Shoulder with Peas and Mint), to the exceedingly simple (Baked Caciocavallo Cheese).

These crab and chickpea "sliders"* start with a slightly streamlined, miniaturized version of Mantuano's Falafel Crab Cakes (I use canned chickpeas, tweak the spice blend to make it more sandwich-friendly, and add a tiny bit of flour to help the patties hold together more easily during the frying stage), which he describes as from "southern Spain, which owes many culinary inspirations to the Moors of Northern Africa."

* I've included quotes, because around these parts, it's dangerous to call anything a slider.

While he matches his North-Africa-via-Spain crab cakes with Greek tzatziki in an odd but delicious combination, for my New England palate, a tangy, mayo-based sauce is the perfect complement to fried seafood. In another nod to the Moors, I spike my mayo (store-bought does just fine) with a heavy does of spicy harissa, the chile-based North African condiment that lends merguez, Moroccan cous-cous, and lablabi their characteristic complex heat.

For crunch, a good Bibb lettuce would be fine, but I like the crispness and slight aniseed scent of shaved fennel. Flatbread or a North African-style roll might be good, but Martin's continues to prove itself and the King of all sandwich breads. Their party-sized buns have a soft, mild sweetness that goes perfectly with the naturally sweet crab meat.

Plus, as my diminutive wife will attest to, all the best things come in fun-sized packages.

Crabby Falafel 'Sliders'

About the author: Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments. After graduating from MIT, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt spent many years as a chef, recipe developer, writer, and editor in Boston. He now lives in New York with his wife, where he runs a private chef business, KA Cuisine, and co-writes the blog GoodEater.org about sustainable food enjoyment.

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