This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be taking an armchair culinary tour to the Middle East and looking at the origins of the humble falafel. Arguments abound as to where this street snack par excellence originated, but most likely it was Egypt according to the evidence.
The Egyptian version of this tasty bite is usually made with fava beans, known as fūl in Arabic, which is thought to be the base for the name falafel , whilst in other parts of the Mediterranean region chickpeas are preferred.
With both chickpeas and fava beans in short supply in Almaty at the moment, it was back to the drawing board to look for an alternative base for our falafel. While stocking up during lockdown in our local shop we came across a pack of millet and a spot of googling revealed that this would work just fine as the base for our take on the falafel.
We baked them in the oven rather than deep-fried them as it’s a lot less hassle. Be sure to use plenty of parsley, cumin, coriander and chilli powder to spice up the millet. The resulting falafel were crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy in the centre, just as they should be.
Be careful when cooking millet as it has a tendency to stick to the pan if you don’t keep an eye on it and stir regularly. We found it best to rinse and soak it for a few hours before cooking as this reduces the time needed to cook it.
Ingredients (makes 12-16 falafel)
150 g millet
300 ml water or vegetable stock
one garlic clove
one bunch of parsley
one teaspoon cumin
one teaspoon coriander
one teaspoon chilli powder
Sesame seeds to coat the falafel
Rinse and then soak the millet in a pan for four hours. Drain the millet and cover with water or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Stir regularly as the millet will stick to the bottom of the pan if not watched carefully.
Finely chop the parsley, both leaves and stalks, mince the garlic clove and add to the cooked millet. Add the spices – if you want to give your falafel more oomph, double the amount. Mix well and then form into balls. Roll the balls in the sesame seeds and then place on a tray and oven bake for 20 minutes at 200 c, or until the falafel turn a golden-brown colour.
Serve in pita bread with salad and sauces of your choice or as part of a salad – we made one from cucumber, tomato, spring onion, celery, red cabbage and radish. These falafel will keep in the fridge for a few days so you can cook a large batch at the same time.
We’re heading towards the end of the second week of serious lockdown here in Almaty. Our local shops remain well-stocked with basics (we’re not supposed to go further than 500 metres form home) and the greengrocer’s reopened after closing for a week, so fresh vegetables are readily available.
For this week’s Lockdown Lunch we’re making kısır, Turkey’s bulgur wheat salad answer to the Middle East’s tabbouleh salad. Kısır is one of those dishes that everyone has their own recipe for, but the basic ingredients are fine bulgur wheat, onion, chilli pepper, tomato paste, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and pomegranate sauce.
We’ve added some radishes, tomatoes, spring onion and black olives to the standard package above that can be eaten as a main meal (you might want to add some nuts or beans for a protein punch) or as a side salad. If you are on a gluten-free diet, then you can use millet in place of bulgur wheat.
Kısır is easy to prepare and it benefits from sitting in the fridge overnight – leaving more time for all those Zoom parties and, of course, the Tajik football season, which kicked off last weekend.
Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)
100g fine bulgur wheat
200 ml vegetable stock or water
One medium onion
One medium tomato
One medium radish
One spring onion
One garlic clove
Ten black olives
Two tablespoons tomato paste
25 ml olive oil
25 ml pomegranate sauce
Few sprigs of parsley
One teaspoon chilli pepper flakes
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon sumac
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds and fry until they start to sizzle. Add the finely chopped onion and mashed garlic and cook for a few minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chilli pepper and sumac and stir.
Add the fine bulgur wheat and stir to cover the grains then add the stock or water, Add the tomato paste, pomegranate sauce and the juice of half the lemon. Stir and bring to the boil. When boiling, turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave to stand for 30 minutes or so until most of the liquid is absorbed.
Fluff up the grains with a fork and add the grated radish, sliced spring onion and chopped parsley. Mix together and put in a salad bowl. Before serving, garnish with lemon and/or tomato slices and black olives.
Knidos Cookery Club has just arrived back at its home base on the Datça Peninsula in Turkey. We’re going to soak up some more culinary inspiration from the place where the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas meet around the ancient Greek settlement of Knidos.
To celebrate being back in Turkey, we’ve prepared a piyaz salad, one of the classic dishes of Turkish cooking, that combines small white beans with some readily available staples of the local kitchen; namely tomatoes, onions, green peppers, parsley and lemons.
Turkey’s çarliston peppers aka banana peppers
The secret of this dish is in getting the beans just right – not too mushy but not too firm either. They need a good, long overnight soak and some slow cooking to achieve the required consistency.
The dressing used varies across Turkey from the basic lemon, olive oil and apple vinegar one favoured in Istanbul to the tahini-infused one from Antalya, paying tribute to the Arabian influence from the Middle East on the city’s cuisine. We have opted for the creamy, nutty taste of the latter.
Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)
200 g dried haricot beans or other small white beans soaked overnight
1 medium-sized plum tomato
1 long, green pepper (e.g. çarliston pepper – see photo above)
1 small onion
Small bunch of parsley
50 ml olive oil
50 ml apple vinegar
25 ml tahini
2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
Optional: Two boiled eggs or one avocado
Cook the beans over a low heat until tender but not starting to go mushy. When cooked, drain off the cooking water, reserving 100 ml to make the dressing. Pour the vinegar and sprinkle the thyme over the beans and leave to cool.
After leaving for a few hours, add the vinegar the beans were soaking in to the reserved bean juice and then blend with the olive oil, tahini and the juice of one lemon to make a smooth sauce.
Finely dice the tomato, slice the pepper and onions into rings and chop the parsley finely. Add these to the beans.
Cover the salad and put it in the fridge for a few hours. Serve with wedges of the second lemon and sprinkle the red chilli flakes over the salad.
Just before serving, pour the dressing over the bean salad and season with black pepper and gently mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
You can garnish with quarters of boiled egg if you wish or, for a vegan twist, you can garnish the salad with slices of avocado.