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.
There were signs this week of life slowly beginning to return to some sort of normal. Cafes and terraces are set to open once again in Almaty from next week and the streets are busier. We’re not planning on changing too much at the moment and, in the meantime, we’re content to continue our armchair culinary travels.
Greece has been in the headlines this week with the news that its beaches are reopening and it’s preparing to open its borders to tourists next month. This news brought back memories of holidays in the Greek islands and the great food in the tavernas. One of our favourite dishes is briam (pronounced bree-AM) – a delicious stew of oven-roasted seasonal vegetables.
As usual, we’ve taken a few liberties with the recipe, omitting aubergines (usually a key ingredient) as they are not quite in season in Almaty yet, so foodie purists please look away. We’ve added carrot and spinach to the usual potatoes and courgettes and then cooked it slowly in a tomato sauce. We’ve also topped it with some breadcrumbs to enclose our briam.
The name briam has an interesting history – it is a borrowed word – there is no letter ‘b’ in the Greek alphabet, instead this sound is represented by combining the letters ‘μ’ (m) and ‘π’ (p) – ‘μπ’. Many Greeks call this casserole tourlou tourlou (all mixed-up), so briam could have come from Greeks who lived in Anatolia until the mass population exchanges in the early 20th century.
In the Ottoman era, there was a word biryan, spelt büryan in modern Turkish, which refers to a side of lamb cooked slowly over charcoal in a pit in the ground – a speciality of Siirt in the Kurdish area on the borders with Iraq and Syria. This in turn could come from Persian, where biryan means roasted (notice the similarity with India’s biriyani). Whatever the name’s origin, it tastes great!
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the bake:
Two courgettes (approx 300 g)
Four potatoes (approx 300 g)
One carrot (approx 100 g)
200 g spinach
75 g breadcrumbs
For the tomato sauce:
One red onion
250 g tomatoes
One bunch of parsley
25 ml olive oil
One teaspoon mustard seeds
250 ml vegetable stock or water
Make the tomato sauce first. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop add the chopped onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. After five minutes reduce the heat and add the chopped tomatoes. Stir and simmer for ten minutes then add the stock, chopped parsley and capers. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
Cook the spinach for a few minutes until it is beginning to wilt and then set aside. Cut the potato, courgette and carrot into 1 mm slices and put a layer of potatoes, then courgettes and then carrots into a greased baking dish. Add the spinach and pour half the tomato sauce over the vegetables. Add another layer of potatoes and courgettes and then pour the remainder of the tomato sauce over the layers. Spread the breadcrumbs over the top.
Cover with tin foil and bake in an oven at 180 c for around 1.5 hours. After an hour, remove the foil and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the breadcrumbs go start to go a golden brown colour. Keep an eye on it to make sure the breadcrumbs aren’t burning. Serve immediately with a fresh salad – it’s also great when it’s cooled down a bit.
Welcome back to Knidos Cookery Club, or KCC to those in the know. This time we’ll be whipping up some hummus spiked with the super-spice turmeric – it’s easier than you think and once you’ve tasted homemade hummus we’ll be surprised if you settle for a shop bought one again.
There are a lot of claims around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea as to where hummus originated, but ownership of this dip has now become truly international – we first came across this turmeric-infused version in Mexico earlier this year.
Toasted sesame seeds
Add olive oil, and you have tahini
You’ll need some tahini (sesame seed paste) to make this recipe, but don’t worry if you can’t track any down – it’s simple to prepare your own batch of this nutty-tasting spread. Toast 50 g of sesame seeds in a frying pan (without oil) over a low heat and shake continuously until they turn from white to a golden colour. Then mix with 50 ml of olive oil in a blender and, hey presto, you have tahini. Add more oil for a runnier consistency.
Ingredients (makes around 300 g)
250 g cooked chickpeas
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons tahini
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of a lemon
25 ml chickpea water
1 teaspoon turmeric
0.5 teaspoon cumin or caraway seeds
1 teaspoon paprika or chilli powder
Place all the ingredients into a bowl, except for the paprika and cumin (or caraway) seeds. Mix with the blender setting or with a hand blender. Keep mixing until you have a creamy, smooth paste. If needed, add more of the reserved chickpea water or lemon juice to achieve a smoother consistency.
Allow to chill in the fridge for a few hours then mix in the cumin (or caraway) seeds. Sprinkle the paprika over the top and serve with slices of cucumber and carrot.