Falafel is a Middle Eastern food with a long history in Arab countries, as well as ancient Israel. The word falafel may descend from the Arabic word falāfil, a plural of the word filfil, meaning “pepper.” These fried vegetarian fritters are often served along with hummus and tahini sauce (known as a “falafel plate.”) They’re also great served with opens in a new windowtoum, a Middle Eastern garlic sauce.
So just what is the history of this tasty little fritter? Legume fritters have existed in the Middle East for thousands of years. According to opens in a new windowThe Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks, “The first known appearance of legume fritters (aka falafel) in the Middle East appears to be in Egypt, where they were made from dried white fava beans (ful nabed) and called tamiya/ta-amia (from the Arabic for ‘nourishment’); these fritters were a light green color inside. Many attribute tamiya to the Copts of Egypt, who practiced one of the earliest forms of Christianity. They believed that the original state of humankind was vegetarian and, therefore, mandated numerous days of eating only vegan food, including tamiya.”
Traditional falafel is a great vegan source of protein for people who have cut meat out of their diet. It’s relatively low in fat and has no cholesterol if you fry it in a heart-healthy, cholesterol-free oil. And if you top it with veggies in a pita, it becomes a filling and nourishing meal!
In Israel, falafel made with chickpeas is wildly popular. Falafel stands are as numerous and plentiful in Israel as fast food restaurants are here in the U.S. Falafel is also fast and easy, but more nourishing and better for your heart than burgers and fries. The idea of stuffing falafel into pita pockets is actually an invention of Yemenite Jewish immigrants to Israel. The introduction of pita sandwiches made falafel portable, which expanded its popularity and made it into the number one “fast food” in Israel.
For tahini sauce
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
4 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup dried chickpeas, refrigerated overnight in water to cover by 2 inches, then drained, or 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
About 6 cups vegetable oil for frying
5 to 6 pita breads, top 1/3 cut off each
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 small onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
Mango amba (pickle)*
Harissa hot sauce
*Available from ethnicgrocer.com
Make tahini sauce
In food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and 1/4 cup water. Process into smooth paste. (DO AHEAD: Sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.)
In food processor, combine chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, cumin, coriander, salt, red pepper flakes, and baking soda. Pulse just until finely chopped and crumbly (mixture will resemble wet bread crumbs; do not overprocess into paste, or balls will be heavy). (DO AHEAD: Mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.)
In large shallow skillet over moderately high heat, heat 3 inches oil until thermometer registers 350°F.
Using 2 teaspoons or falafel scoop, form mixture into approximately 1-inch-diameter balls or disks. Working in batches of 5, lower carefully into hot oil and fry, turning occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat to fry remaining falafel, returning oil to 350°F between each batch.
Divide falafel balls among pita pockets. Tuck in diced tomatoes, onion, pepper, and cucumber, pickled turnip, and mango amba. Drizzle in tahini sauce and harissa sauce. Serve immediately.
If you’ve never tried it please make sure to ask for it when you travel to Israel
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