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Make savory food-cart falafel at home
After having lived in New York City for 40 years and then returning to York, I was asked by many friends if I missed the fine dining of the big city.
Part of me wanted to pass myself off as a sophisticate and rattle off all the 5-star restaurants I had tried.
In truth, though, I went to very few restaurants when I lived there.
Street food was another story. I couldn’t pass up a food cart without trying its offerings. Unlike restaurants, which I sometimes found pretentious, street food was down to earth and transparent.
Because the food was cooked in front of you, what you saw was what you got.
Street food is usually ethnic and not something you would make at home. Arepas, pupusas, gyros, banh mi – they were all available within a few blocks of where I worked.
My favorite was falafel, savory chickpea fritters stuffed into a pita bread with lettuce, tomato and a tahini dressing. It was not the neatest sandwich to eat, but the food cart vendors always had an ample supply of napkins.
With a little searching, I found a falafel stand in York at Central Market. Going downtown is not always convenient, so I am happy to have a recipe I can employ whenever a falafel craving strikes. One cup of chickpeas makes quite a few falafel, so I fry up a batch and either freeze some or pig out on them during the week.
Making falafel isn’t difficult, but you do need a food processor to grind up the chickpea mixture.
Don’t be tempted to use canned chickpeas. It won’t work to make falafel.
If you don’t want to make the tahini dressing, plain yogurt is a good substitute.
11/4 cups (8 ounces) dried chickpeas (soaked overnight)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 scallions, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
11/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Vegetable oil, for frying
Drain the chickpeas. In a food processor, combine chickpeas, garlic, scallions and parsley. Add coriander, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, salt and baking soda. Process until ground to a coarse paste-like consistency.
Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
Shape rounded tablespoons of the mixture into small-size balls. Fill a cast iron frying pan with about 1/2 an inch of oil. Turn the heat to medium-high and wait until the oil is hot, about 5 minutes. Place the falafel balls in the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd. Cook in batches, turning to brown evenly, about 6 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels.
To serve, cut a pita in half and fill with chopped lettuce, chopped tomato and about two falafel balls sliced in half. Spoon tahini sauce over each addition.
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, pressed
Whisk the above ingredients together. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more water.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.