This little post is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly event started by Kalyn that encourages food bloggers to talk about herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables. I use WHB as an excuse to bring new foods into my kitchen and explore their uses. This week, the host for WHB is Becky from Key Lime and Coconut!
My journey to falafel bliss has been a long winding road! The first time I tasted falafel was in the early years of grad school. At that time, I shared my apartment with a wonderful neuroscience student named Steph (also a vegetarian), and she and I took turns cooking dinner for our little family (and for the assortment of friends and neighbors who dropped in from time to time). We worked long hours and earned little, but ate like princesses, huge hearty gourmet meals cooked from scratch. Well, almost. Every couple of weeks, Steph would make falafel from a boxed mix. It was really quite good (or so I thought at the time), and we would generally enjoy it with some store-bought hummus or plain yogurt. Falafel is a very popular street food in NYC, and I often ate it on the run while out shopping in the city from the little carts on street corners.
What kept me from trying to make falafel from scratch was the fact that I did not own a food processor. Now that I do own one, I wanted to revisit falafel and try making my own. After all, it is a delicious and nutritious sandwich, and a crowd-pleaser at that. So, off I went on a google search for a good recipe and boy, did I strike gold with this recipe! It is called My favorite falafel recipe, and all I have to say is, Mine, too!.
Falafel is the easiest thing in the world to make, but you just need to plan ahead a little bit. The recipe calls for soaked chickpeas, which takes about 8-10 hours if you soak in cool/warm water and 4-6 hours if you use boiling hot water. The idea is get the chickpeas rehydrated all the way through. I liked a tip that I found on this website: To check is the chickpeas are soaked all the way through, cut one open. If the color is even, without a chalky center, then it is fully soaked.
I followed the falafel recipe to the letter. The soaked raw chickpeas are placed in a food processor with other aromatic goodies like herbs, garlic, onion and cumin. A few pulses later, you have a beautiful mixture. Then a bit of flour and baking powder is sprinkled and the mixture pulled together into a ball that rests in the refrigerator for a few hours. This means that you can get all the prep done ahead of time. When you are ready to serve the falafel, heat up some oil and fry them up. I was very impressed by how non-greasy the falafel were, once they were drained onto paper towels! Do keep the oil on medium heat (and not high) so that the outside of the falafel does not get browned too quickly, before the inside gets cooked.
The true highlight of our falafel meal was the tahini sauce. A Mediterranean restaurant around the corner here serves their falafel with a choice of hummus or yogurt sauce. I really enjoyed the yogurt sauce and wanted to recreate it at home. Tahini is probably a staple in many kitchens, and an everyday ingredient for some, but I never really had to buy it before now.
All tahini is, is a paste of roasted sesame seeds. It has the consistency of peanut butter, as one might expect, and is glossy and unctuous. The recipe for the tahini sauce comes from one of the reviewers of the falafel recipe. Thank you, pastagirl9 from cincinnati, whoever you are, for this wonderful recipe:
Whisk together 1/2 cup yogurt (I used low-fat), 1/2 cup tahini, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 tsp cumin powder and salt to taste. Add a few tablespoons of water if the sauce looks too thick.
That's it. When I made this sauce and tasted it, I danced a little jig around the kitchen. It was so good, I knew the whole falafel party was sure to be a success just based on that one sauce.
The final touch for the falafel sandwiches: a simple salad. Cut the following vegetables into small dice: 2 seedless baby cucumbers, 3 plum tomatoes,, half yellow bell pepper, half red bell pepper and half onion. Toss the vegetables with salt, pepper, minced parsley, minced cilantro and a dash of fresh lemon juice.
Finally, to assemble falafel sandwiches, simply toast some pita pockets (I used whole-wheat for the lovely taste, store-bought though). Slip 2-4 falafel into the pita, then garnish with lots of salad and a generous drizzle of the tahini sauce. Serve right away. The taste was so authentic and spot-on! Next time, I'm going to try making my own pita bread.
Falafel is a great option for feeding a crowd, like I did...I doubled the recipe, set everything out and let people assemble their own sandwiches, and everyone enjoyed every bite. The tahini sauce is so delicious, in future I will use it as a dip for a platter of vegetable crudites and pita chips. You can leave the pita bread out and simply serve the falafel with salad and tahinin sauce as an appetizer. I'm so glad I found this recipe!
P.S.: I'm excited to be Bookworm of the week over at The Perfect Pantry. Thank you, Lydia, for the opportunity to share my favorite food-related books! You just made my day!