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A falafel frenzy. July 27, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Forget Waffle House. Our friend Ben and I want to see a chain of Falafel House restaurants spring up across the U.S.* We simply love falafel—the crunchy little patties or balls of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and spices  that are served across the Middle East—and I can’t make them at home. Falafel Houses would give me and OFB a chance to indulge regularly, both close to home and when we go on road trips.

Falafels don’t seem too hard to make: You grind cooked chickpeas (and sometimes fava beans), add tahini, olive oil, garlic, ground cumin, coriander, cayenne or other hot pepper, salt, onion, parsley, and cilantro to make a thick dough. Then you shape the dough into balls or patties and deep-fry it in vegetable oil until it’s heated through and crunchy outside.

Little did I know. While on a recent trip, OFB and I were staying at a hotel that actually had television reception, unlike our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven. I began shrieking that I wanted to watch the Food Network. Poor OFB abandoned hope of  seeing a baseball game or movie and dutifully obliged, bless his heart. And so it was that I happened to catch two episodes of Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” where he attempts to outdo a chef who specializes in a certain signature dish, beating them at their own game. And incredibly, the second show was on falafel. (Google “falafel recipes” and you’ll not only find Bobby Flay’s falafel recipe, but a video of the episode. Not to mention falafel recipes by Emeril, Guy Fieri, and other celebrity chefs.)

Whoa! Turns out that cooking falfel is anything but easy. Getting the outside appropriately crunchy while the inside is hot and creamy takes the skill of a master. Bobby Flay interviewed two experts on the show, then tried making his own with his test kitchen team and still admitted that his didn’t measure up. (He compensated with an assortment of interesting sauces.) This reminded me of similarly challenging dishes from my own Southern upbringing, including fried chicken, corncakes, fried grits, and fried okra. Even French fries and onion rings. It may seem simple, but getting the outside of fried foods perfectly crunchy and the inside perfectly tender is anything but. Deep-frying is an art all its own.

And it’s an art I stay well away from. I love fried food done right, unhealthy as it is. But I hate grease. I don’t want to touch grease, clean dishes that have held grease, dispose of grease, have grease spatter on my clothes or my hands. Grease is gross. Period.

So I’m dependent on restaurants and Middle Eastern stands at farmers’ markets for my falafel fix, and they’re few and far between in our part of scenic PA. Which brings us at last to the point of this post.

The other day, I was shopping at our local Giant when I saw cartons of falafel next to the endless tubs of hummus. FALAFEL!!!! They were produced by a company called The Falafel Republic, based in Needham, Massachusetts. Check ’em out at www.falafelrepublic.com.  Of course, I had to try out both the Traditional Falafel and the Spicy Garlic Falafel. Oh, yum. But would they be suitably crunchy and delicious?

Once home, I put some Spicy Garlic falafel balls in the toaster oven with a couple of  pitas on top and heated them up. Traditionally, falafel is served in pitas (my current favorite is Toufayan Bakeries Multigrain Pita) with tahini sauce, shredded lettuce, and sliced or chopped tomatoes (and sometimes chopped cucumber).

I didn’t have tahini sauce, but I did have yogurt “cheese” (the thick yogurt I make by draining plain yogurt until it’s as rich and creamy as cream cheese) and crumbled feta cheese. So I stirred the feta into the yogurt cheese, sprinkled on some Trocamare (a hot seasoned salt with herbs), and created a kind of minimalist tzatziki sauce to put on my falafel. Then I made a bed of mixed chopped Romaine lettuce and arugula, added sliced tomatoes, chopped scallions (green onions), and the falafel balls, and topped it all with the yogurt-feta “tzatziki” sauce. And scooped it all up on hot pita wedges and ate it.

How was it? Yummy. True, the falafels weren’t as crunchy as they’d have been served straight from hot oil. But the pitas crisped up beautifully, which made up for it. And the combination of flavors was fantastic.

Next time, I’ll add some minced crushed garlic to the “tzatziki” sauce. And maybe some pickled Moroccan lemon to the lettuce and tomatoes.

I’ll also make one of my favorite Greek salads by crumbling hot falafel patties onto a salad of crunchy Romaine lettuce, red, yellow, and orange cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, diced red onion, sliced scallions (green onion), diced red bell pepper, and crumbled feta, and topping it all with balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, a splash of lemon juice, salt (we like RealSalt) and fresh-ground black pepper or lemon pepper.

Looks like it’s time to head back to the store for more Falafel Republic falafels! And hey, out there: If you want to start a Falafel House franchise, please let us know when it’s up and running. We’ll be there!

           ‘Til next time,


* Oops, did my research after I posted: Apparently there are a few Falafel House takeout places in the U.S., but sadly the online reviewer didn’t think much of their falafel! House of Falafel restaurants also exist on the West Coast (sigh) and got better reviews. Er, Falafel Hut, anyone? Kentucky Fried Falafel? Dunkin’ Falafels? Um…



1. Jen - August 6, 2010

Brilliant solution – yum! OK, it is definitely lunchtime. Would you believe that when I moved from Florida to NYC almost 25 years ago I had never had a falafel? Couldn’t even pronounce it correctly! Needless to say I went on a bit of a binge when I finally discovered them. MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village is a good falafel district!

Yum! I’ll keep that in mind next time we’re in New York! And yes, of course I believe it. Nashville wasn’t exactly big on falafel back when we lived there, either…

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