In my warped culinary world view, there is food that's better left to experts in the outside world (cotton candy, baguettes, sushi) and there is food that's better left to the home cook (a BLT, roasted chicken, apple pie).
Assuming that you're still with me (and creating your own lists), somewhere in between those two parameters is another category of food, one that conjures up restaurant-only connotations because of its perceived difficulty, but if culinary courage were to be summoned could definitely be replicated at home (I'm thinking fish curry, summer rolls, crème brulee). This is the "DO try this at home" category.
Which leads me to falafel.
Deep-fried fritters of fava beans (Egyptian) or chickpeas (Israeli) that typically are tucked into a pita pouch and dressed with tahini sauce, falafel is the ultimate street food, Middle Eastern soul food -- and quintessential snack after a night of bar hopping. Ever notice how those teensy carry-out falafel shops scattered in cities around the globe are often the only thing open at 4 a.m.?
In the spirit of filling one's belly after a long night, I say keep burning the falafel oil in those little shops, but if you're ever curious how those delightfully crispy little croquettes taste at another time of day, consider making them -- YES, at home.
The key here is dried chickpeas, which need to be soaked in water for 24 hours before you get a hankering. After that, it's a simple matter of gathering seasonings and spices and pulverizing everything in a food processor. The resulting "dough" gets shaped into balls, plunged into hot oil and voilà -- you've got a pita-full falafel.
Adapted from Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks
1 pound (2 1/2 cups) dried chickpeas (option: 1 pound fava beans or a mixture of both)
6-8 scallions, minced, or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup fresh cilantro or parsley (or 1/2 cup each), chopped
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for deep frying (I used neutral Canola oil)
• Cover chickpeas in water and soak for 24 hours. Drain and set aside.
• Using a food processor, pulverize chickpeas, but only until they form a paste. Too smooth, and the batter may fall apart when cooking. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the oil) and mix to combine. Batter should be grainy, speckled with herbs, and a shade of pistachio green. Taste for salt.
• Refrigerate batter about 1 hour, until firm.
• When ready to fry, shape batter into 1-inch balls.
• In a deep skillet, heat at least 2 inches of oil (you will use about 1 quart) over medium heat until bubbling, about 350 degrees.
• Fry patties in batches until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels for draining. Keep warm in a low-heat oven while frying remaining batter. Serve with pita and tahini sauce (details follow) and any or all relishes/condiments including raw onions, cucumber, chopped parsley and tomato.
In a medium bowl or a food processor, mix together the following:
1 cup tahini paste, stirred well before using
1/4 to 1/2 cup lemon juice
1 to 2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt or water
• Blend until smooth; add extra water to make a pourable sauce. Keeps in fridge for a few days.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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