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' Recipe
- One (14.4 ounce) can chickpeas beans, drained
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro leaves
- 2 scallions, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, from 1 lemon
- 1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, chopped fine (optional)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and grated on microplane or passed through garlic press
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 pound fresh picked lump blue crab meat
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 fennel bulb, cored, and thinly sliced on a mandoline
- 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 12 slider-sized potato rolls, toasted
- 1/2 cup harissa aioli (recipe follows)
- 5 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons harissa paste
- 1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon
Place chickpeas, baking powder, cumin, cilantro, scallions, lemon zest, jalapeño (if desired), garlic clove, and flour in bowl of food processor. Pulse until mixture holds together, but chunky bits of chickpea still remain, about 8-10 one-second pulses (do not process into paste). Transfer mixture to large bowl and gently fold in crab meat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix again until homogenous.
Toss shaved fennel with lemon juice and olive oil in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Form crab mixture into 12 equal portions and form into patties roughly two inches across. Refrigerate crab cakes and fennel until ready for use, up to 8 hours.
Heat remaining oil in heavy-bottomed 12-inch non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Carefully add crab patties (if oil continues to smoke after crab patties are added, reduce heat to medium). Cook, gently shaking pan occasionally until deep golden brown, 2-4 minutes. Carefully flip using tongs, and continue to cook, gently shaking pan occasionally, until golden brown on second side, 2-4 minutes. Transfer cooked patties to plate lined with double layer of paper towels.
spread harissa mayonnaise evenly over bun tops and bottoms. Place a small pile of shaved fennel over each bun bottom. Top with crab patties, close sandwich, and serve immediately.
- makes 1/2 cup -
Note: Harissa is a spicy North African condiment made with chiles, spices, and vegetables. It can be found in cans or jars in the international aisle of many supermarkets, or is available online. I recommend DEA brand harissa, which balances out chile heat with complex vegetal flavors, and comes in a resealable metal tube.
Mix all ingredients in small mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Store in airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.