My first trans-Atlantic trip was to Israel and Palestine in 1999-2000. I was on a journalism internship with the American Jewish Committee. We visited a variety of newspapers and got to see the majority of both countries within 3 weeks. It was a trip I won and the beginning of a life-long love affair with international adventure.
One of the things I remember most clearly was the new array of foods we were introduced to. Traveling with a dozen other student journalists, we were immediately taken to a restaurant in Tel Aviv upon arrival and the best of Israeli cuisine was showcased. This was long before I’d be introduced to Pita Jungle, my local Tempe haunt, or even hummus for that matter. There were so many interesting and colorful things to try, including falafel.
We soon learned the chickpea is a staple in Israeli cooking because most restaurants keep kosher. No dairy and meat on the same plate or even at the same meal. Imagine how shocking this was to a Christian girl who grew up on cheese burgers? Or even more sacrilegious for my new Jewish friends — bagel sandwiches with cheese, eggs, and sausage.
My love of Middle Eastern food began with gusto. Falafel stands on the streets were far more appealing to me than hot dogs anyway. Falafel — or Israeli meatballs — are fried balls of chickpeas and spice. They were wrapped in warm pita, with salty pickles and a dash of hummus that made your mouth dance. It was just so very good. When I came home, similar to my exuberance after living in Mexico, I wanted to recreate the adventure through food for my family and friends.
It’s taken ten years, but I’ve finally gotten around to making a falafel recipe worth sharing. My one beef, so to speak, with falafel is that they are typically fried. I don’t do well with fried food. My stomach cramps and I pay for the indulgence for days to come. So, when putting this recipe together, I knew baking would be crucial.
Yield: 18 large falafel
2 cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 handful of spinach (about a cup)
1 handful of parsley (about a cup)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup pepitas
juice from 2 lemons
dash of paprika
dash of cumin
dash of garlic salt
dash of pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add all ingredients, minus the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is grainy — not runny. Scoop onto greased baking sheets in uniform shapes (an ice cream scoop works well.) Lightly brush tops with remaining olive oil. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden, turning at minute 8.
Serve with quinoa, hummus and a nice glass of white wine. These are incredibly healthy and tasty!