When Nathan and I decided to make Falafel we had no idea that the delicious little fried brown balls of pureed chickpea are so rife with political and social turmoil… or that the Falafel ball could be considered a culinary symbol of the unrest that exists between Israel and Palestine. I simply wanted Nathan to try a tasty ethnic treat he had never had before. Who am I Kidding? I just wanted to eat Falafel… I haven’t had any since living in Israel for 3 months when I was 13…far, far too many years without Falafel.
It wasn’t until we delved deep into the sordid and varied history of the Falafel that we discovered that the true origin and ownership of the Falafel are the topic of much debate and resentment. Falafel is believed to have originated in Egypt and can be found as far as Morocco and Saudi Arabia. However, both the Jewish and Arabic cultures take credit for creating it. (Apparently, Israeli’s even consider it to be their national snack!)
We have no desire to get in to politics and the complicated and tragic situation between Palestine and Israel here at Rampant Cuisine but we do need to say a few words for peace and unification: Falafel has a past but let’s be honest, don’t we all? Let’s leave the past of the Falafel ball in the past and look to the future… a future full of eating tasty Falafel Balls together in brotherly love. TO THE FUTURE OF THE FALAFEL!
Here is an exhaustive and lengthy article from the New York Times on this very subject:
And for those of you who are Wiki fans here is the Wikipedia entry for Falafels:
In the spirit of our post, Nathan and I both picked Lebanese drinks to pair with our Falafel. However, the selection of Middle Eastern wine is not so good in Northern Va. We chose between only two Lebanese wines and selected this mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. To me there is something about mixing wine varieties that cheapens the product and interferes with the purity of the wine…therefore I would consider this a ‘wine mutt.’ However, that is not to say this is not an enjoyable and drinkable wine.
How could I go wrong with a beer that has a giant Diamond on the front?! If it has a diamond on the front it has got to be awesome, right? Meh, it was OK. Pretty typical light pilsner without much flavor. Good lawnmower beer to drink on a nice hot day out on the porch. Anyways, it was the only beer that we could find from the middle-east area to pair with our Falafel.
No, no, don’t thank me… I consider it a civic duty to drink all of these mediocre beers so that you don’t have to.
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1/2-1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper
4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon baking powder
4-6 tablespoons flour
Soybean or vegetable oil for frying
Chopped tomato for garnish
Diced onion for garnish
1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then drain.
2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed.
3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.
4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.
5. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes, onion, tzatziki, and pretty much anything else that floats your boat.
1 cup greek yogurt
1/2 of a medium-sized cucumber, finely chopped.
1/4 cup of finely chopped mint
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (depending on how much you like garlic!)
1 teaspoon lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Chop cucumber, mint, and garlic and stir into yogurt. Add lemon, salt, and pepper and stir until combined.
Note on Tzatziki Recipe: This recipe is actually a little different than what we actually made. We used whole milk yogurt which wasn’t quite thick enough. Thick Greek yogurt is best for this recipe but if you don’t have Greek yogurt then the whole milk yogurt should be strained. Also, the cucumber should be chopped, de-seeded and allowed to drain and the tzatziki should be refrigerated for about 2 hours before serving. Doing all these little extras results in a thicker, more tangy sauce…ours was pretty thin and definitely could have had more flavor.
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
2 1/2 cups tepid water (80 to 90 degrees)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Stir the yeast and water together in a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon and stirring in one direction, stir in the whole wheat flour about a cup at a time; then stir until the mixture look smooth and silky. This is the sponge and it needs to rest, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 30 minutes. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and then stir in the olive oil and mix well. Add the flour about a cup at a time, mixing until the dough is too stiff to stir with a spoon. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes (adding more flour as needed.) The dough will be smooth and firm.
Clean the mixing bowl, dry it, and coat it lightly with oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl, turn the dough around to oil its surface, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or until it doubles in bulk. Turn the dough onto the work surface. Divide it in half and keep one half under plastic or cloth while you work with the other. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces and, with lightly floured cupped hands, form the pieces into tight balls; keep the balls under plastic as you work on the others.
On a well-floured surface, flatten the balls of dough with your fingertips and then, using a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into a circle around 8 inches in diameter and less than 1/4-inch thick. Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat and lightly oil the griddle. Bake 1 rolled-out circle at a time on the griddle, putting the pita top side down on the griddle and cooking for 15 to 20 seconds before turning the bread over. Cook for another minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the bread again and cook until it balloons. (This is the coolest and most fun part of the process!) Pressing a towel on those areas where bubbles have formed will push air into the flat areas. The breads should bake for no more than 3 minutes. Oil the griddle after every 4 to 5 breads.