Above all else, there is one thing that has defined my twenty-fifteen so far: falafels. Such definition stems from my recent patronage of Tokyo’s finest pitaria – Kuumba du Falafel – followed by Singapore’s finest pitaria – Fill-a-Pita. “Where next?”, you may well be asking. Bangkok? Hong Kong? London? No, no and no. Must be Cairo? No again. Give up.
I opted, of course, for the capital of my world: home. And what better day to celebrate my love for falafels, than on Valentine’s Day itself. Add masterchef M to the mix, and whoever said that three’s a crowd clearly has a somewhat parochial idea of what a healthy relationship entails. Indeed, the ménage à trois has never appeared more platonic! But that does, of course, depend on what you choose to do with those little fried balls of fancy. Or should I say “fantasy”…? Enough skylarking, this is serious.
The main reason – beyond the obvious fact that they taste great – that falafels hold such an esteemed place in my arsenal of favourite foods, is because they so effortlessly straddle the veg/non-veg divide. That is, they are adored by vegetarians and meatatarians alike – even McDonalds has flirted with a McFalafel in some Middle Eastern markets. They are, in sum, a bit like the UN, but in bite-sized portions. And probably a lot more effective at what they do as well.
All this being said, no falafel is an island, not least ours. Instead, we devoured them alongside a motley crew of Levantine side-dishes, the overall effect being nothing short of superb. Here’s what we had…
We appetised our appetites with some saganaki which, in its essence, is fried cheese, Greco-style. Feta, coated in flour and then fried in some olive oil and topped with a dusting of fried basil. Pungent and salty, I will never look at the faceless feta in the same way again. What I liked most about this dish was how the texture evolved from marshmallow gooeyness to a more brittle and robust little morsel of pleasure. And pleasure they were, every last one…
This was my first time trying home-made baba ghanoush, and like home-made hummus, it provided that much more satisfaction once you know the hands that made it. Rich and creamy, it yielded a fantastic quantity from just one medium-sized aubergine. It looked a lot like hummus, but with a lighter texture and richer taste. This stuff should be called “baba vamoosh”, given the speed with which it was scooped from the bowl. Delicious.
The tabbouleh was, dare I say it, made by me, and was a passable effort. I’m a big fan of bulgur wheat – especially its nutty taste, chewy texture and ease of preparation – and eat it quite regularly. I forgot the red onion and (as usual) overseasoned it with lemon juice. But still, edible and always pleasing to the eye.
For me the tzatziki was, along with the falafels, the star of the show. Tzatziki is an immeasurably refreshing yoghurt dip infused with salt and cucumber (both grated and chopped). The cucumber shone through, and made this thing smell and taste like an English summertime. I could eat this stuff by the vat-load.
And finally the falafels, those glorious, glorious falafels. The chickpeas were soaked overnight but not cooked. Instead, they were blitzed together with edamame and onion (and the requisite spices and pastes, notably cumin and tahini) and then lightly pan-fried to retain their texture. The edamame and onion added a subtle sweetness that helped to lighten the exotic warmth of the cumin. And, perhaps most importantly, the edamame also contributed to making the insides of these things green – a nice touch that never fails to please me.
We buried the falafels in some absolutely rubbish (it was impossible to open up the pockets without breaking the sides, annoying) Mission-brand pitas, which were topped up with salad and tzatziki. The standout performer for the salad was the carrot, which had previously been pickled using lemon. Crunchy and zesty, it merged beautifully with the tzatziki to provide some zing to the blanketing warmth of the cumin. Altogether it was magic, in a meal.