ISLAMABAD: Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern food, and is one of the earliest fast foods. The golden fried fritters are one of the world’s most favoured street foods, and are commonly used as a substitute for vegetarian meat in wraps and sandwiches.
It is high time for Islamabad to catch up with the rest of the world and fall in love with the vegetarian friend of shawarma.
Though there are many varieties, falafel is, primarily, deep golden fried patties made from ground chickpeas.
To make falafel, chickpeas are soaked overnight, sometimes with baking soda. They are then ground with spices, usually salt, pepper, chilli, garlic and coriander. The mixture is then shaped into patties. Flour may be used for binding, if needed.
Traditionally, the patties were shaped into balls. Recently, however, most restaurants have taken to flattening the patty, much like a cutlet.
The patties are then deep fried. Care must be taken that the oil is preheated to ensure that the falafel don’t get oily from inside, but instead turns a crispy golden brown from the outside.
To get the snack just right, the chef at Fattoush, a Lebanese restaurant in the Centaurus Mall food court, said he fries the patties for eight minutes each.
He said Pakistani diners preferred their falafel to be a bit drier than how it is served the world over.
If you prefer yours to be not as dry, the chef will let your order fry for just four minutes. Sometimes, he said, peanut butter is added to the mix to ensure the balls are soft and gooey from inside.
The croquettes are then stuffed into hollow pita shells along with seasonal greens and sauces, like a Middle Eastern take on the sandwich. Or they are served on a platter with pickled turnips, cucumber and yogurt sauce.
At Fattoush they use traditional lafa bread to swaddle the patties in. Made from white flour, lafa bread is perfect for sandwiches because it is chewy and does not tear easily.
Falafel is also served on a platter at Fattoush. The patties are sprinkled with sesame seeds and come garnished with pickled vegetables, salad and hot sauce. Tahini is drizzled on top, peaked with thinly diced cucumber slivers.
Tahini is a Middle Eastern sauce that is served both as a dip and as a spread in sandwiches. The tangy, creamy sauce pairs well with all fried foods and meats. It is made with sesame paste, garlic, salt, olive oil, parsley and ground cumin to make a thick paste. Lemon is added to get a tangy kick.
Chefs at Babagoosh, at the Safa Gold Mall, press the falafel patty with their finger to form a small dimple for the sauce to sit in.
Babagoosh also serves Falafel in a mezze of sorts. Mezze is a selection of small dishes served as appetizers. Though they don’t have as many dishes as a mezze usually does, the falafel at Babagoosh comes flanked with garlic sauce and traditional Fattoush, a bread-based salad.
Fattoush is made of seasonal greens and other vegetables, including lettuce, radish, mint, tomatoes and lemon juice, all drizzled with olive oil. Bite sized pieces of either toasted or fried pita bread are then added to the mix and tossed before serving.
Moez Shah, who was enjoying falafel at Babagoosh, said falafel sandwiches were a great substitute for his mother’s homemade shami kebab sandwiches.
“I prefer taking my own lunch to work and my mother usually makes me sandwiches from some kebab or another. Falafel is a great substitute and I usually place in a takeout order as well when I come to eat here.”
The origin of falafel is unknown. Some say it dates back to Pharaoic Egypt, and that it spread to the rest of the world from the port of Alexandria. The name is thought to be derived from the Arabic word ‘melfelfel’, for ‘spicy’.
The croquettes are usually eaten as part of mezze, and are also a popular Iftar dish in the Middle East.
Until the ‘70s, falafel was mostly found in Middle Eastern and Jewish localities in North America. Falafel has since become exceedingly popular, so much so that McDonalds at one time was serving a McFalafel in some countries.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2016