What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.
~Salvadore Dali

Nearly peerless Middle Eastern street food, gracing joints, trucks, carts, stands, stalls, markets and kitchens across the globe. Falafel (فلافل) is a fried ball or croquette made from chickpeas, fava beans or both, often pocketed in pita or wrapped in flatbread known as lafa. Whether standing alone or housed in a sandwich, they are routinely served as part of a meze, a mingling of small plate apps.

Of disputed ancestry, these fritters may have originated in Egypt, possibly savored by early Christians called Copts as a substitute for otherwise forbidden meat during Lent. The dish later migrated northward to the Levant (now comprising most of modern Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Israel) where chickpeas often trumped favas. Others posit that falafel was concocted during Egypt’s Pharaonic rule or perhaps even first emerged on the Indian subcontinent. As usual, confused culinary lore. Befuddled history aside, there is no denying the warm spice and crunch of these fried balls and how they play on the soft pita, fresh vegetables and nutty tahini sauce.

FALAFEL

1 1/2 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water

Chicken stock and water, in equal parts
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Sea salt

1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds

1/2 C cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1/2 C fresh flat parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C breadcrumbs
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
1 T lemon zest
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
Flour
Sea salt

Grapeseed or canola oil, for frying

Tahini Sauce
3/4 C tahini
1/4 C Greek yogurt
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch paprika
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Pita bread, warmed
Lettuce, cored and chopped
Fresh tomatoes, cored. seeded and diced
Red and/or yellow onion, finely chopped
Peeled, diced English cucumbers

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the tahini, lemon juice, cilantro, garlic and cayenne. Purée until smooth, and while the machine is running, add the olive oil and about 1/2 cup water. Season the sauce with salt. Taste and season, if needed. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

In a dry sauté pan, toast the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat until they are very aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Pulverize in a spice grinder until they are a powder. Set aside.

Drain the chickpeas from the soaking water and place in a large, heavy saucepan. Toss in the garlic, bay leaf, carrot, celery, thyme and onion. Add equal parts of stock and water to the pan until the chickpeas are covered by about 2-3″ of liquid. Put the pan on high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the chickpeas are very soft and tender, about 45-60 minutes. Drain the chickpeas from the cooking liquid and remove the veggies, bay leaf and thyme and discard. In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas until they look coarse and grainy but are not fully puréed — too smooth, and the batter may fall apart when cooking.

Transfer the pulsed chickpeas to a large glass bowl and add the cilantro, parsley, breadcrumbs, cayenne, garlic, lemon zest, onions and ground coriander and cumin. Gently stir to combine, and taste the mixture to determine if the mix needs seasoning. Form the mixture into balls the size of walnuts (about 1 1/2″ balls) and gently press down some to almost, but not quite, make patties. Lightly dust with flour on both sides and pat off excess. Place the “patties” on a cookie sheet, cover with parchment paper and refrigerate until firm, about an hour or more.

Add about 2″ of oil to a large, deep sauté pan or Dutch oven. Heat the oil over medium high and then add the falafel in batches and fry on both sides until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon or spider, gently remove them from the pan and drain on paper towels. Serve falafel in pitas with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumbers and Tahini sauce.

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Baba Ganoush

August 10, 2011

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.
~Mark Twain

How the simple yet elegant baba ganoush ducked under the radar on this site is baffling. Not really a stealthy dish, as I have made, served and savored it many a time. Maybe it just took a needed, overdue coupling with two dear coastal pollo-pescatarians who have a penchant for hummus coupled with an oversupply of eggplant here to jump start the needed synapses. Just seemed natural to re-create a close cousin to, but in lieu of, sweetly addictive hummus. Breaking through that gateway hummus habit may prove brutally painful, but baba ganoush is a substance to consider. A methadone of food.

Baba ganoush or baba ganouj (بابا غنوج) is an iconic purée of eggplant, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and herbs. A protean dish—regional names, versions and services may vary across the Middle East and Mediterranean basin. But, whether served as an app, salad or side, the eggplant always remains front and center.

Baba ganoush can be refrigerated for up to 5 days prior to serving. Like most things, it improves after nestling overnight.

BABA GANOUSH

3 medium eggplants, halved lengthwise
1/2 C tahini (sesame paste)
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Small pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 C lemon juice
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t sea salt, or to taste

Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro leaves, for garnish
A drizzling of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 F

Place eggplant with cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil. Prick in several places with a fork, place in oven and roast until soft, about 20-25 minutes. Cooking time varies depending on size and ripeness. A paring knife should easily slide into the eggplants. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

When cool enough to handle, scoop eggplant pulp into a bowl, discarding the skins. Add tahini, garlic, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Then gently stir together. Empty the mixture into a food processor fitted with a steel knife and purée in pulses until fairly smooth. Season to taste with more salt and/or lemon juice, if neccessary.

Garnish with parsley and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Serve with roasted bread slices or wedges of warm pita.

Pourboire: Adding a slight pinch of dried cumin or some seeded and diced fresh tomatoes are pleasing detours. Also, consider serving with a few fine cured olives.

Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.
~Cicero

Store bought hummus begone.

Hummus comes from comes from the Arabic word (حمّص‎) for “chickpeas,” and is alternatively spelled hamos, houmous, hommos, hommus, hummos, hummous or humus. Chickpeas are the most consumed legumes in the world.

The chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is a versatile, edible legume of the Fabaceae family. Chickpeas have a long culinary history—they graced tables in ancient Egypt, were savored in old Palestine, and were cultivated in Mesopotamia as a food crop. The English word chickpea traces from the French chiche which was derived from the Latin cicer from which the renowned Roman orater, linguist and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), received his personal surname. Authorities differ on the origin of Cicero’s chickpea cognomen…some suggest that it came from his oft maligned rural heritage, bereft of ancestors, breeding, or background; others opine that he bore a rather obtrusive wart on his nose which resembled a chickpea; and another school hypothesizes that he was born with an imperfect nose with a likeness of the curled up bean.

In Spain, chickpeas are called garbanzos, in Italy, ceci, in Portugal, grao-di-bico, in Greece, revithia, and in India, gram.

Chickpeas are a nutritional blockbuster, providing hefty doses of dietary fiber that help lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and magnesium and folate that protect against heart disease. Much like other legumes, they are rich in carbohydrates and protein.

Hummus with tahini (sesame seed paste) is buttery and creamy, with a nutty flavor that offers hints of lemon and fresh grassy notes from the parsley oil.

HUMMUS

1 16 oz can chick peas or garbanzos, drained and rinsed
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, minced and smashed to a paste
1/2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 t sea salt
1 T tahini, well stirred
Juice of one lemon
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

Parsley oil
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves

Pinch of paprika
2 T pine nuts, toasted lightly

Smash the minced garlic to a paste with the salt. In a food processor, purée the chick peas with the garlic paste, cumin, tahini, lemon juice, cayenne and olive oil, scraping down the sides, until the hummus is smooth; add salt to taste. If necessary, add water to thin the hummus to the desired consistency and then transfer to a bowl.

Clean the food processor, then purée olive oil with the parsley until the oil is bright green and the parsley is minced. Transfer the parsley oil to a small jar.

Drizzle hummus with the parsley oil and then sprinkle it with paprika and pine nuts.

Pourboire: the longer (and more authentic) version of hummus entails 1 cup dried chick peas soaked overnight.

Rinse the soaked chickpeas well and drain them before putting them in a saucepan and covering them with ample cold water. Bring to a boil, skim off foam, adding 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook over medium heat until the chickpeas are very soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain the chickpeas, reserving their cooking liquid. Follow the remainder of the recipe above except increase the portions of tahini paste to 1/2 cup and fresh lemon juice to 1/4 cup.