While living in New Orleans last winter (sigh, what a nice thought that is!), I worked part-time as a server in a Middle Eastern restaurant. The job could tend to be on the stressful side with the very busy fast-paced environment and very high-maintenance omnipresent owner, but overall I think it’s a pleasant memory. One factor in how pleasant the memory is may be connected to how delicious the food was. Oh my!
At that point in my life, I was totally new to such things as falafel, dolmas, baba ganoush, chicken schwarma, and all other manner of exotic foods which are not exactly common in Alaska. As a server, I was allowed a certain meal allowance each day I worked…. I think it was around $7, meaning any dinner items were off-limits unless I wanted to throw in my own money. And I didn’t. So I usually went with an appetizer, or a pita wrapped “sandwich”, with the most common choice being, yes: falafel.
I’d heard of falafel, of course. I’d also had, once upon a time, a falafel “mix”, but the real thing had intrigued me for some time. I was very interested in trying it, and became somewhat addicted once I had! The problem with this was unforeseen, yet simple. After leaving New Orleans in mid-April last year, and driving back up to Alaska, there was no more falafel.
I admit that I didn’t really notice my cravings until mid-June; they’d been there, a faint growl telling me something was missing, but I hadn’t identified them. The catalyst to this identification was a mid-summer trip into Anchorage, where such novelties as ethnic restaurants can be found. I wondered about the possible foods I could eat, and suddenly it hit me: I wanted Middle Eastern food! I wanted falafel! I really wanted falafel!
So online I went, to look into the possibilities that might exist in Anchorage for middle-eastern restaurants. I was a bit disappointed. It looked like I had two options; one looked over-priced and a bit on the fancy end of things, and the other looked, well, sketchy. I ended up going out for Indian food with my sister, which was amazing & certainly did not feel like a compromise, but also didn’t include the much missed falafel.
Joe & I had been talking about making falafel ourselves ever since being in New Orleans, but had never gotten around to it. We finally gave it a go back in November; my craving was appeased; my addiction was rekindled. Since Joe & I have no blender or food processor, but a hand-powered-veggie-chopper-thing, the making of falafel meant a bit of effort on our parts. This also meant we decided to go all in: make a big batch of falafel, and freeze portions of it (this was what the New Orleans restaurant did), so we’d have it for multiple meals. It’s a good way to feed my addiction, I’ve concluded.
I think we got about 4 meals out of that initial batch, and then, while I was at my parents’ for Christmas, in a kitchen which did have a food processor, I made another, bigger batch, which translates into 8 meals. I love the sound of that. 8 meals of falafel! From one evening’s work! That’s the way to cook.
I know there are many falafel recipes out there, and I actually didn’t do a whole ton of research on the different options before choosing a recipe. There was one reason for this: I found a recipe in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions (which I love, but won’t talk about any more here because this post is already plenty long!) which called for slightly fermented, instead of cooked or canned, chickpeas. Why look any further when you have a fermented option at your fingertips? I can’t claim to know this, but I’m gonna guess that this was the way falafel was made way back originally, before we went and “simplified” things. Even so, the fermenting doesn’t take too long, and certainly isn’t much effort, and is well worth it. Plus, it’s cheaper this way! Dried beans are so wonderfully cheap, and this way you don’t even have to use your stove to cook them! Plus, the health benefits of fermenting things are amazing; fermentation makes food so much more digestible!
The first couple times we enjoyed homemade falafel, we had them with homemade tortillas, which, as I’ve stated, Joe makes wonderfully. But Joe had also been talking about making pita for quite some time, and last week he finally got around to trying it out. They were awesome, of course. I ate, uh, way too much. It was a pretty perfect meal though: pita, falafel, tahini sauce, cucumbers, green onions and tomatoes. I’ll even go so far as to say it was even better than what I had in New Orleans!
Falafel (from Nourishing Traditions)
2 cups chickpeas
4 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar, or whey if you have it
4 cups parsley leaves, loosely packed
4 medium onions
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking powder
Oil, preferably Olive oil. You can, but don’t need to, “deep-fry” the falafel in oil; we always turn ours while cooking so that we can use a bit less oil.
Bring a pot of water to boil and pour it over the chickpeas. Stir in 2 Tbsp of lemon juice or vinegar and let sit in a warm place for 12 hours. Pour off excess water and pour in new boiling water. Add remaining 2 Tbsp of lemon juice or vinegar and let sit for another 12 hours. At this point, you should taste one of the chickpeas – I was pretty amazed at how edible they were with no “cooking”!
Now you’re gonna work in batches, and hopefully you have a food processor to make life easier (and rest your wrist & forearm!). Place 1 cup parsley in food processor and pulse until chopped. Add 1/4 of the chickpeas, 1 onion, 1 garlic clove, and 1/4 tsp each of the remaining ingredients (except oil!), and pulse until “a course paste” – it should be ground enough to stick together, but not entirely smooth. Repeat this process three more times with remaining ingredients. Mix all batches together, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Form into patties, or little balls, using some flour to help them hold together if needed, and saute in very hot oil. Serve with pita, tahini sauce (water, tahini, garlic & lemon juice!), tomatoes, cucumbers and green onion. Be very happy.