RYMFB4ZQPTT6 Falafel, in the Middle East, is a stealth vegetarian meal. Everyone likes it (at least, everyone I’ve met), it’s the perfect street food, it’s so tasty that no one misses the meat, and it’s a great way to get extra vegetables into your diet.
There’s an ongoing argument about the provenance of falafel – a fried, seasoned ball of ground chickpeas – and who owns the original idea, but it’s a basic staple of the eastern Mediterranean. Some of the best falafel is found in grittier areas of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The concept is thus: you order a whole or a half sandwich, and choose from toppings to stuff precariously into your pita. Those toppings include a rainbow of shredded or chopped salads, fried eggplant, chips (in the British sense), tahini sauce, and a super-hot Yemeni condiment called zhug, which I think you have to be Yemeni to pronounce correctly.
Oh, the memories. No, I won’t tell you how old those memories are, but I did live in Israel for 10 months in my early 20s so you can do the math if you have the right additional info.
The international chain Maoz, now in big cities in Europe and North America, is very, very good, but it’s fun and possible to have a real falafel experience at home, from scratch. (That said, I tried making falafel recently when I was cooking for myself – I’ve done it before, I swear – and dangit! they fell apart. It is a bit of a stretch to try and nail fresh pita bread AND fresh falafel AND two or three toppings by one’s self in a few hours. The pics are from a more relaxed and successful attempt.)
Here are the elements:
Tahini sauce – tahini from a jar (the Lebanese kind is best), thinned with water and lemon juice and with some chopped garlic mixed in, like hummous without the chickpeas
‘Israeli salad’ – simply chopped cucumbers and tomatoes
Pitta or pita bread – Worth making yourself, I swear, and surprisingly easy. Try this recipe if you’re used to working with cup measurements, and this one if you prefer weights and have a gram scale; I’ve had good success with both. Whether or not you make them in advance, wrap them in a towel as they come out of the oven to keep them soft.
Chips or french fries – not a requirement, but I love them, and they are a traditional falafel stuffing in Israel
Falafel – ah. Here’s where I have to be a bit bashful and confess that I tend to use a mix, as falafel made thus are quick, tasty, and reliable. I promise that I will continue to work toward my own recipe for falafel from scratch. Watch this space! Update: Here is a post from Zeb Bakes full of super-useful tips on rolling your own, from dried fava beans. I think that means I’m next!
Zhug – it really does help set off the flavours to include something spicy. Here is a legit one from The Atlantic so as to avoid linking to one out there that seems to have been ripped off without permission.
Eggplant – thin, fried (or oven fried) slices are a very nice addition.
You can also look around for vinegary pickled cucumbers or other vegetables, and maybe throw together a salad of shredded carrots or beets.
Enjoy and let us know how it goes!