Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Garbanzo Cakes

Or “garbanzo burgers”. But I fear telling you this is a veggie burger, lest you start to conjure images of tofu “burgers” with grill marks painted on them. So I choose to call these cakes.

I am a huge fan of cake. Really any kind of cake, chocolate, vanilla, whatever. Call it by another name: gateau, torte, I’m still in. Even the good old savory cakes, like crab cakes or salmon cakes, get me every time. Get me in trouble, in fact. I blame cake for my pants being tight. That doesn’t make me love cake any less.

I find it appealing to have all the ingredients and flavors in an organized little package, yet not a fussy one. The best cakes out there aren’t the ones that look like works of art; they are the ones that look like cake, shaggy and home made, rich and delicious. In my family, cakes are also symbols of occasion. There was never a cake in our house when I was growing up unless there was a very good reason to celebrate, usually a birthday. Likewise, we weren’t making up crab cakes for Tuesday night dinner. They were a rare treat, reserved for visits to restaurants that had particular skill in the production of the perfect crab cake.

Trouble is, I’m tired of crab cakes. Not the really good ones (can one really get tired of the real thing? I think not.) I’m tired of seeing them on every menu and waiting until I’m a bit closer to the Chesapeake before I take a bite. Or on the rare occasion that I fall for it, spending a meal munching on a mediocre crab cake while plotting how to steal food from my neighbors’ plates.

It is not that we cannot produce a great crab cake in Western New York, it is that the crab cake has become too accessible. Everyone figures that they know how to make one, diners find it comforting and easy to order, and so we all meet at the lowest common denominator. As ubiquitous as the balsamic reduction, the crappy crab cake abounds.

I wanted to make a different kind of cake, one that mixes marvelous flavors together into a neat little gift. I narrowed down on the humble garbanzo bean. The chickpea or ceci bean, so often ignored in the corner of a salad bar or as the forgotten base of hummus, here is more reminiscent of its role as the shining star of falafel. The spices are different though, as is the texture. This flavor combination is one of my favorites: curry, green onion, a nut, and a fruit. Cilantro is optional (but highly recommended for brightness). I recently used this combination to make a curried quinoa dish. I’m telling you, the combo doesn’t fail so long as you balance the flavors.

Make these as highbrow little hors d’oeuvres with a delicate dot of sauce right on top – bite size garbanzo cakes with mango yogurt frosting. Or you can do what we did for a weeknight dinner: serve generous garbanzo burgers on toasted mini-pitas (just the right size!) with a good dollop of sauce. A veggie burger never tasted so good. Cake was never so good for you.

Garbanzo Cakes with Mango Yogurt

For the mango yogurt:
1/4 cup Major Grey chutney
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

For the cakes:
8 oz canned garbanzo beans (or dried beans, cooked)
1 egg
1-1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scallion, chopped, both green and white parts
1/4 cup cashews (about 1 oz), chopped
1/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 mini (3 inch) pitas (optional)

Mix the chutney, yogurt and cilantro together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Mix garbanzo beans, egg, curry powder and salt in a medium bowl. Mash using a potato masher or the side of a fork. The mixture should not be smooth, but should be mashed enough to become moist and stick together. Add the cashews and panko and mix well.

Form the mixture into four patties with your hands to make burgers. If you are making small cakes, shape into 16 mini patties. If the mixture seems dry, mash a bit more until you have a paste that will stick together well.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and fry the patties until cooked through and golden brown on both sides.

Serve the patties on toasted pita with plenty of sauce or serve the mini cakes with a dot of sauce so they can be eaten without a lot of mess.

(Serves 4 for burgers, makes 16 hors d’oeuvres)