On a recent visit to Sharjah, I was treated to falafel served pocketed in pita bread covered with sesame seeds, nestled in a bed of finely chopped lettuce, mixed greens, rocket leaves and heavily laced with hummus and tahini. To give the setting a Lebanese touch the centre table was laden with large bowls of rocket leaves, pickled cucumber, green olives, black olives, hummus and lettuce. One complimentary bowl of salad was passed, out of which one could take as much as one wanted but any wastage was frowned upon.
Falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty (like kebab) made from chickpeas or fava beans or a combination of the two. It is believed that fava beans were part of the original recipe but since they are not readily available everywhere they have been acceptably substituted by chickpeas. The word ‘falafel’ means hot pepper in Arabic, but paradoxically falafels are not spicy. Generally accepted to have its origin in Egypt, falafel is eaten in most Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, etc.
Though often eaten on its own, falafel is usually served in pita bread which acts as a pocket or wrapped in a flatbread known as lafa. The falafel balls are topped with salads, pickled vegetables and hot sauce; it is often accompanied by tahini. In some places it is sold like bun kebabs by vendors in kiosks and now, owing to its popularity, an international burger franchise has added it to its menu.
The chickpeas are not cooked prior to use. Instead they are just soaked with baking soda overnight, and then coarsely ground with various ingredients; spices such as cumin and coriander are often added to the beans for added flavour. To make balls a paste is formed. Instead of adding egg to bind the paste like we do when our minced meat kebabs don’t bind, if falafel breaks a bread slice soaked in water is used. One enterprising lady here makes falafel with split moong dal, much like the pakoras and though it loses its originality, it has a delectable taste.
In the West, traditionally thought of as being used to make veggie burgers, falafel has now become popular among vegetarians as an alternative to meat-based street food. In some countries it is sold in pre-packaged mixes in health food stores. Even non vegetarians use it as a source of protein.
Falafel is usually served with hummus and greens like parsley, rocket leaves and coriander. These add to its nutritional value and make this delicious snack into a dieters’ delight. When made with chickpeas, falafel is high in protein, carbohydrates and fibre. Chickpeas are also low in fat and salt and contain no cholesterol. Key nutrients are calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, Vitamin C, thiamine, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B, and folate. High content of soluble fibre has proven to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol.
To reduce the high fat content associated with frying, falafel also can be baked; though it alters the texture and flavour, it is a preferred preparation technique for heart patients and diabetics.
Ingredients 225 gm chickpeas One medium onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 3 tbs parsley, finely chopped 1 tsp ground coriander 1 tsp ground cumin 2tbs flour Salt and pepper to taste Oil for frying Tomatoes, parsley and lettuce for garnishing
Method Soak chickpeas with baking soda overnight. Grind with all the dry ingredients in a food processor. Make golf size round balls and flatten into patties. Fry till brown. Cut pita bread in two. Make a pocket and fill with hummus, tahini, chopped lettuce, finely diced tomatoes and parsley. Add falafel and serve.
Ingredients 500gm chickpeas 1/2 cup tahini A few cloves of garlic Salt to taste A little olive oil
Method Grind all the above ingredients with a little olive oil. Pour into a bowl and polish with olive oil. It can be kept for a week in the refrigerator.
Ingredients 1 cup roasted sesame seeds 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
Method Combine both and blend till a fine paste is obtained. Pour into a bowl. Let it settle, and then add olive oil to cover.
Tahini is a nutritional pearl, rich in Omega3, calcium, iron, protein, vitamin A and thiamine. It is also said to have anti depressant effect.