This week, instead of heading out for some soggy camping over the May Day holiday weekend, I had the girls over for dinner. Estrogen was in the air: a bottle of champagne was popped, announcing the start the evening. There was the intention to watch Memoirs of a Geisha (my second viewing in a week), but instead we sat 'round the table having a 'chin wag' (Irish for 'social chat') until midnight. We calculated that by the end of the evening, the four of us had each spent over an hour talking - wow.
Some seriously good food makes its appearance when we get together, and it's almost always vegetarian and home made. We're all members of the amazing local CSA and each week are happily inundated with some the best organic produce around. Perhaps we'll make our own version of Sex and the City entitled 'Veg in the Country'. I'm sure it would be a sensation: 'organic chic!'
Dinner included a loaf of fresh bread baked with sultanas, walnuts and home-grown wheat; warm puy lentil, leek and dill salad; field greens with vinaigrette and toasted pumpkin seeds; falafel made from scratch with tahini sauce; and gluten-free rhubarb crumble for desert.
Middle eastern food is one of my absolute favorite cuisines. The smoky, deep flavors and colorful ingredients feed my love of exotic things: it's the kind of food you'd eat on a good adventure in a country where you really feel like a foreigner. It lends itself so well to finger food, as if you could lay it out on a big wooden platter in the middle of the table and pick it clean. Personally I quite like to stick my finger into the tahini sauce or hummus, or when I'm sharing, I'll use a falafel patty or dolmade for my flavor vessel. I like spices, herbs and a lot of variety in flavor and fresh produce, and middle eastern food delivers.
Exploring the culinary arts keeps me on my toes, learning new techniques and exploring endless flavor combinations. In this case, it was working with raw chickpeas (gasp! - are they digestible??) and deep frying. But it's not hard to make falafel from scratch. The trick is getting it to hold together while frying but I haven't had any problems so far, so hopefully you won't either. Basically, you soak your chickpeas overnight at least, dry them on a towel, then throw them in a food processor with everything else, blend until pasty (a couple minutes), form little patties and drop those into a heavy-bottomed pot with oil you've heated on medium/medium-high and fry until golden brown. You don't even need an official 'deep fryer'.
Falafel Patties with Tahini Sauce
Don't use canned chickpeas here, they're too wet and mushy.
1 3/4 cups dry chickpeas
two big garlic cloves
small/medium red onion or two shallots
1 big handful flat parsley leaves
1 big handful cilantro (fresh coriander) leaves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon (or a bit more!) harissa paste
1 teaspoon paprika powder
4 tablespoons flour (I used white spelt)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
sunflower oil to a depth of 1 inch or a bit more in a medium, heavy-bottomed pot
1/2 cup light tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water
small garlic clove, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika powder
a few parsley leaves, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoon salt or more to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste
The night before making the falafel, soak the chickpeas in filtered water (cover by an inch or so: they will swell up) so that by the time you make them, they've soaked for a whole day.
Roughly chop the garlic and onion and rinse the fresh herbs to remove any dirt.
Drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas, lay down a towel and pour them out onto it. Roll them around and pat to dry. Then put them into the food processor along with everything except the oil. Process until you have a thick paste: at least one minute, probably a little more than two minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides. Taste for salt and seasoning: if you want it spicier, add more black pepper, cayenne pepper powder or harissa paste. It's nice to have several different kinds of 'spiciness' in a dish: it adds interest. Blend again to incorporate anything you've adjusted. Have a plate ready; take out small handfuls of falafel paste and form little patties: 1 1/2 - 2 inches across, patted down to a thickness of less than 1 inch.
Meanwhile, pour the oil into your pot and heat over medium, medium/high heat for about 5 minutes, until hot enough that a bread crumb fries to golden brown in 1 minute when tossed in.
When your falafel patties are ready, gently drop them in to your heated oil. The first one may bubble and splatter; use caution if your hands are wet, as water droplets landing on the hot oil (it causes quite a commotion). Fry as many at once as will comfortably fit on the bottom of the pan. Turn them over with a spoon after 30 seconds or so. Have a plate with a paper towel ready, and when the falafel are golden brown, take them out and drain on said towel. It only takes a little over a minute to fry them. Continue until all your paste is used up.
Now prepare the tahini paste: in a bowl, with a fork, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice and water. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk again to mix well. Taste for seasoning and serve with the falafel.
Falafel are usually eaten in a Pitta bread pocket with salad and dressing, but I like them on their own, dipped in the sauce, or maybe served over spicy greens like rocket (called arugula in the USA) with tahini sauce as dressing.