Street food is a beautiful thing. Walking up to a food cart on the street and grabbing a quick lunch can be a gamble but more often than not, it’s a gamble that pays off.
There’s not too much of it in Surry County, excepting the occasional hot dog cart, and that’s a shame.
Street food varies tremendously around the world with some of the best coming from the eastern mediterranean. Falafel is basically dried chickpeas, sometimes called garbanzo beans, that have been soaked, drained, ground up, mixed with herbs, onions and spices and then deep-fried.
The pinto bean dinner has been a local favorite for a century or more so why not try another bean? And deep frying is always a plus.
Falafel is usually eaten as a sandwich made with pita bread and stuffed with greens, tomatoes, onions, green pepper, cucumber and sometimes other things. Tahini sauce holds it all together and a dash of hot sauce is usual.
Israeli falafel is made with chickpeas only and is what you’ll usually find on American city streets. Egyptians use a mix of chickpeas and fava beans.
The good news is that falafel can be made at home. Middle easterners do it all the time. With a food processor, it’s actually quite easy and once the chickpeas have been soaked, it’s quick and easy. For a fried food, it’s pretty healthy with all the fresh salad involved and best of all, chickpeas are inexpensive. Especially when bought in bulk.
The only specialty ingredient necessary is tahini for the tahini sauce. Tahini can be homemade from sesame seeds and is available locally at Lowes Foods. It’s with the peanut butter. Tahini doesn’t keep very long but you’re going to be making so much falafel, you’ll use it all up pretty quickly.
To garnish your falafel Israeli style, try adding one or several of the following condiments: harissa hot sauce, pickled turnip, mango amba (pickle), or sauerkraut.
Yield: About 20 balls
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp. salt
1/2-1 tsp. dried hot red pepper
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. baking powder
4-6 tbsp. flour
Soybean or vegetable oil for frying
Chopped tomato for garnish
Diced onion for garnish
Diced green bell pepper for garnish
Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts, or use a falafel scoop, available in Middle-Eastern markets. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper, and pickled turnips. Drizzle with tahina thinned with water.
Quick and easy tahini sauce but it must be used immediately. It will separate.
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup water
In a blender or small food processor combine the tahini, the garlic, the salt and the lemon juice. With the machine running, slowly add the water and continue to mix for another five seconds. Use immediately.
Building the Sandwich
Of course you can pile on any toppings you want, but for a first try, start with a large pita and slather on a few tablespoons of tahini sauce. Then add a handful of mixed greens and some chopped tomato.
On top of all of that, place four or five falafel balls and several glugs of hot sauce. Then wrap it up and chow down.
Alternatively, you can use a smaller pita as a pocket for a couple of falafel.
You can also use this tahini sauce as a dressing for salads, a sauce for vegetables and meats, a spread for sandwiches or a dip for just about anything. It’s very simple to make.
Makes about a 1/2 cup of sauce
1/3 cup well stirred tahini
1 garlic clove minced very finely into a paste
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 to 6 tbsp. lukewarm water
Pinch cumin, optional
Pinch cayenne, optional
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, optional
Whisk tahini, garlic paste, lemon juice, olive oil and the salt in a bowl until combined — the mixture will thicken, don’t worry about this.
Add the water, a tablespoon at a time and whisking well after each addition until desired consistency. If making a spread, look for the consistency of peanut butter. If making a sauce, add enough water until the consistency of runny yogurt. Stir in the optional cumin, cayenne pepper and parsley. Taste for seasoning and adjust with additional salt or lemon juice.
Store covered in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
How to Make Garlic Paste: Since garlic is used raw, it is best to add it as a paste. To do this, peel and finely mince the garlic clove. Sprinkle the garlic with a pinch of coarse salt then use the flat side of a knife to drag it over the garlic, scraping it across the surface of the cutting board. Pile up the garlic again then repeat a few more times until the garlic is a smooth paste.
Tzatzika is a Greek variation that is more often served as a sauce with meat, (gyros for instance) but is also delicious with falafel.
1 pint plain yogurt (whole milk or low fat)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled and seeded
1 tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp. Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
1 tbsp. good olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh dill
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Place the yogurt in a cheesecloth or paper towel-lined sieve and set it over a bowl. Grate the cucumber and toss it with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt; place it in another sieve, and set it over another bowl. Place both bowls in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours so the yogurt and cucumber can drain.
Transfer the thickened yogurt to a large bowl. Squeeze as much liquid from the cucumber as you can and add the cucumber to the yogurt. Mix in the sour cream, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, dill, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. You can serve it immediately, but I prefer to allow the tzatziki to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to blend. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Nominate your favorite cook to share their love of food with readers of The Mount Airy News.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.