My first encounter with this tasty treat was in Houston, Texas of all places! I was, briefly, the pastry chef at a very large hi-volume “upscale ” french cafe on Westheimer Blvd. When I was hired it was to be assistant pastry chef to a woman named Jane. She eked out her mise en place in a miserable space, back by the pot sink as the kitchen had at least 12 people working from the chef, sous chef, 2 line cooks, prep, 2 garde mangers , 1 pot scrubber, 1 dishwasher, plus a floater who jumped where ever was needed. Throw Jane and I into the mix and it was a nightmare. Jane commandeered 1 out of 3 ovens leaving the line cooks to flounder w/ only 2. What a peach. All the while taking her sweet time (no pun intended). Since she was the owners best friend no one called her out. Though I am sure a few choice words ran thru their heads.
I do have a point & there is a Falafel story coming. Be patient grasshopper. After my first day on the job it became obvious to me that Jane didn’t know how to bake. I did. It took less than 2 days for the line cooks to start showing me respect. I tried to stay out of their way but when you do 250 covers at lunch one is hustling. The beginning of my 2nd week I started coming in at 5 am when the cleaning crew for the front of the house arrived. This way I could use all 3 ovens & have my main baking done by 9 ish with just finishing work & decorating, mousses, etc left to do.
When Jane strolled in that monday at 9 am & saw a bakers rack cooling with a goodly amount of product she blew her stack and ran to the owner. Who happened to be very well known in Houston food circles and was also no dummy. The events of the past week opened her eyes maybe a little wider than she really wanted, seeing as this was her friend but business is business and making money & delivering a quality product is the bottom line. By mid afternoon I was Executive Pastry Chef & Jane was my assistant. She lasted 2 more days before quitting. Geez, what took her so long? I got a nice fat raise. Sweet.
Now the problem here was space, so genius me I decided to try night production just to see how it worked. Come in at 11pm to bake and make my desserts. The kitchen staff was gone by 11:30 and waitstaff by 12. I would let in the cleaning crew at 6 am and then the kitchen staff at 7. Then go home. In no one’s way & vice versa. Well it worked beautifully! I had the entire kitchen to myself to create whatever. There were a few old french standbys but for the most part wherever my imagination took me. The pastry walkin was huge & had been 1/2 empty. I soon changed that.
During this time our Ex Chef a hoity toity can’t get my hands dirty type quit. Best thing to ever happen at the Cafe’. The owner hired an amazing Chef, Monceff. He was brilliant. Very well versed in all types of cuisine. We adored each other. He was from Egypt. I had only ever worked under old school French, German or Dutch chefs. What a vast difference. This guy could have written a book called the Zen of the kitchen. Nothing, I mean nothing got him flustered, he never yelled, never threw anything, total inner peace. So of course his kitchen ran that way.
Now to Falafel. Monceff’s brother was a waiter who asked me out incessantly. He was a good looking guy, dark smoky eyes, quiet, deadly sexy. But our schedules were not compatible. I left at 12 noon on Saturday, long day yes, and had the rest of the day & Sunday off. Well Hesham got a Saturday night off & asked me out I said yes. Went home & took a nap! We went to the movies and then for a bite. It was to this little tiny place, now usually these turn out to be Mexican holes in the wall, albeit great ones. This was different. We walked in and my first thought was wow what smells so good! Spices, enticingly exotic. Not to mention no one spoke english.
Hesh ordered for us & me being a newbie to this type of food he got me a falafel sandwich. I was in love with the first bite! The whole grain pita was made fresh and served warm, crisp romaine, tomatoes chopped fine small crusty delectable balls of fried whatever they were, I didn’t ask because I was to busy inhaling it. Hummus & Tahini came on the side. I ate 2. Hesham was delighted. The evening ended on a high note.
Now at work on Monday Chef Monceff came in with a big grin on his face and asked me if I had a nice time. I was quick to reply oh, yes. Though I can’t stop thinking about that sandwich! So he made us coffee asked me to hang for bit. Turns out as I was soon to learn that Falafel was originally from Egypt & made w/ fava beans! That they are basically a seasoned fritter or croquette that is deep fried and served w/ different accompaniments depending where you are in the Middle East. It has roots in Arab, Iraqi, Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian cuisines to name a few. In Egypt there is even a McFalafel served at McDonalds that is supposedly quite tasty. Who knew!
So without further ado here is the recipe that Monceff gave me oh so long ago. From Egypt to a Texas kitchen.
Now he used to soak dried chickpeas for about 6 hours drain, rinse and cook til tender on the stove w/ a small whole onion & some spices tied up in cheesecloth which was later removed & discarded. I have adapted this to todays ‘we got no time” lifestyles.
1 can drained & rinsed organic chickpeas
1 large white onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
Big handful of fresh parsley, stemmed
Squirt of 1 fresh lemon
2 Tbsp flour ~ 1/4 tsp Baking powder
Cumin~ Corriander ~ Sea or Kosher Salt & Fresh ground black pepper ~ adjust the seasonings according to taste.
Place all in cuisinart and process until smooth just a few minutes. Place into container and chill for at least 1 hour.
Heat Canola or Vegetable oil in a deep saucepan or fryolator. Drop in Tbsp size balls turning to make sure they brown evenly.
Place on a warm whole wheat pita spread w/ hummus & julienned romaine or arugula ( gives a nice bite) chopped tomato, red onion, cucumber optional. Or serve w/ a side of a cucumber ~ yougrt sauce known as tatziki. They can also be baked in the oven.
Just a note: one last request please under no circumstances use that crap out of a box. There is no excuse. It takes mins to make in a food processor. Or the old fashioned way with a mortar & pestle and lots of elbow grease! Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Now imagine biting into that magnificent sandwich w/Omar Sharif by your side. Haha! ( I love the movie Doctor Zhivago). Enjoy.
P.S. If you can get fresh fava beans when they are available, I urge you to make a batch with them! Stellar.