Mediterannean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—Falafel, oh yes!
BY: Linda Dalal Sawaya/Contributing Writer
Oh, yes, falafel! A vegetarian and vegan’s favorite Arabic food; and they may not even know it is Arabic.
falafel and condiments © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Yesterday I was out in the garden in search of my inspiration for writing this week, and the cilantro that had amazingly overwintered and had started to bolt, caught my eye. My snippers handy, I harvested a handful of aromatic sprigs in hopes that the plant will keep sprouting more greens while the weather is cool.
garden fresh cilantro © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Cilantro is challenging to grow in the summer, as it so easily bolts with any bit of heat. I had no idea when I did a fall planting of this with other greens, that it would actually overwinter and I would be able to enjoy snippets of it in my Asian, Lebanese, and Mexican meals all winter long. In a wonderful Thai cooking class that I attended with some friends, I learned the value of cilantro root to flavor soups and sauces, and that I had this in my garden to harvest fresh was enchanting.
multiplier onions with Persian cress in the garden © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Of course, in the fall planting days, I had no way to know how harsh the Pacific Northwest winter would be. Surprisingly, my fava beans did not make it, but cilantro, multiplier onions, chard, kale, and even tender Persian cress made it through to the last week of winter. Spring is on the horizon. Beautiful and fragrant blossoms grace the city and surrounding areas, and my garden.
birds’ eye view of my garden with tulip tree © linda dalal sawaya 2016
The minute I saw the cilantro, the idea came to me to make falafel. It’s been awhile since I’ve made it, and I’ve been longing for it. Oh, yes! And somehow, in my mind it is harder to make than it really is. I remember this with surprise when I make it—sometimes the idea of doing a project is bigger than the actual doing of it; has that ever happened to you?
My little mini-food processor makes it simple. And since I thought of the idea yesterday, there was plenty of time for the beans to soak overnight before grinding them. Also it was a good time to make ahead the taratour tahini sauce, that to me is essential to falafel.
soaked garbanzo and fava beans expand double overnight © linda dalal sawaya 2016
In my pantry there were two types of dried fava beans: one package contained small split yellow fava beans, which when covered with water to soak overnight, clouded the water, even after several rinses. The other packaged had whole small fava beans, that most likely had not had their outer skins removed like the other beans. I knew the small split beans would be more tender, but wanted to make a definitive comparison. The smaller beans were much more tender after grinding them, so this would be the first choice to use. Both types had been purchased at a Middle Eastern grocery, rather than being my homegrown beans.
ground beans and greens © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Once the beans are ground, I used the processor for mincing onions, garlic, and the greens: cilantro and Italian parsley, both from the garden.
falafel ready to mix and fry or bake © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Everything transfers to a mixing bowl, the spices and sesame seeds are added, flattened balls are formed and dropped into the hot oil to become golden. Spices included salt, black and cayenne peppers, cumin, coriander, paprika, and baking soda.
falafel frying in coconut oil © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Instead of deep frying these, as they are made commercially, I prefer to use a shallow sauté pan and enough oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan. A recent purchase of refined coconut oil seemed like the perfect frying medium. It has a high burn point, and doesn’t have any flavor. Another option is to bake or broil them.
As you can see, they came out perfectly. From the frying pan, they’re placed on a paper towel to absorb oil.
homemade falafel © linda dalal sawaya 2016
from frying pan to paper towel © linda dalal sawaya 2016
The best falafel I ever tasted was in Beirut at a street stand. The pita pocket was stuffed with fresh Italian parsley, spearmint, tomatoes, and lemony tahini sauce along side the falafel croquettes. Optional onions marinated in sumac and pickled turnips (lifit) and cucumbers make excellent condiments to accompany this popular Middle Eastern street food and now most devoured Portland street food.
mini pita pocket with falafel with and without tahini taratour sauce © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Portland has food carts galore, many of which serve falafel. Since tomatoes are not in season, I prefer using organic canned tomatoes that have much better flavor than others now available. The falafel recipe in Alice’s Kitchen makes about 26 patties, so I froze some for when guests are coming, and I need a quick peppery flavorful addition to the mezze.
IQF (individually quick frozen) falafel patties © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Even though I cannot eat falafel “dry”—I require lots of aromatic mint, parsley, tomatoes, and tahini sauce—one had split open in the sauté pan, and it was most tasty even on its own.
I didn’t grow up eating falafel, as my mother and grandmother never made it; but I ate the best falafel ever in Lebanon, full of parsley and mint. Many Mediterranean countries claim it as their own. At this point, I’d rather enjoy it than debate it’s origins. I hope you make some at home and enjoy it, too. Happy cooking and sahtein!
Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”
story and all photos © linda dalal sawaya 2016