Friday, November 12, 2010

Falafels Rock!

This week, ELTW traveled to Israel.  Research showed that they enjoy a combination of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern recipes, which would make sense given their location near the Middle East and the Mediterranean.  This week also showcases some of the food of my father's family heritage -- firmly Long Island Jewish...if that's a race or species or...hmm, I can hear flame-mail coming my way.  Anyway, I was introduced to matso and bagels and lox at a very young age.  Gefilte fish, too.  Eeyuck.

So we opened on Monday with what several (okay, at least one) website has called the national dish of Israel:  Falafel.  I thought I knew what these were, but it turns out I was completely ignorant.  I'd thought that they were kind of like a gyro -- meat, veggies and sauce in a pita.  Turns out...nope.  They're essentially, well, hummus hush-puppies, deep-fried and served in a pita shell with tomato, cucumber and Tahini sauce.  There's more to it than that, but basically, there you go.

Evie Rolling Falafel

Boxed Falafel Mix. Ecch.

So, Angel made falafel from scratch, and she also got a boxed mix and made that, too.  And as if that weren't enough, she made her own pita bread from scratch.  To go with the falafel, she made a wicked fruit salad called "charoses."  By fruit salad, I mean apples and nuts soaked in red wine.

Well, dinnertime comes around and we load the table with all the stuff.  I cut one of Angel's homemade pita in half and it formed a perfect pocket...but not thick and flatbread-y like storebought pita.  This was more like a shell, thin and chewy and fairly resistant to liquid.  I layered in some tomato and cucumber slices, three falafel balls (scratch, not boxed) and drizzled the tahini sauce over it.

Falafel Fixin's

Oh.  My.  God.  Falafel rock, they one-hundred-percent rock.  Savory, with crispy cucumber and tart tomato, and a sort-of-musty sauce, on that chewy pita?  Holy Potatoes, they're freaking good!  My second one, I tried the boxed-mix falafel, and they were as ashes in my mouth compared to my wife's home-made ones.  I suppose if I'd tried them first I'd have liked them -- there was nothing really wrong with them, they were just way more herb-y and less savory than home-made.

Charoses and Falafel

And the Charoses was (were?) all right.  We used a really sweet red wine to complement the apples.  The kids loved it, actually.  We had to resist the urge to let them eat all they wanted and hope they went to bed really early -- we were good parents and restricted the amount of wine-soaked apples they could have.

After Monday, we had a couple of busy days where we skipped on Israel.  Thursday was the next night in Israel, and the menu was what my dad calls Jewish Penicillin -- chicken soup with matzo balls.  Big shock to me:  Jewish chicken soup has no actual chicken in it.  When I found this out, I was despondent.  I like meat, and I like nice, chunky chicken soup.  Angel informed me that this soup was supposed to be a clear, tea-like broth.  Only.  Everything else is prepared in separate pots to avoid thickening or clouding the broth.  Carrots, noodles, both made in their own pot and combined with the matzo in the bowl, and the broth is poured over it all.

So, Angel made this all from scratch.  She boiled chicken all day to make the stock.  She made the matzo from scratch, not a mix, and enlisted the help of Evelyn, our oldest girl, to help mix and form the balls.  We had an excess of the stock, so we froze a couple-three baggies of it for later, and then we sat down to our meat-less chicken soup dinner.

And after two bites, I apologized for being grumpy about my misguided desire for chicken chunks.  This soup was flavorful and wonderful, and the matzo were not only excellent, but very filling.  A half-hour after dinner, while I did the dishes, I realized just how much they expand and become little lead balls in the belly -- happy lead balls, but lead balls nonetheless.  Still, it was a darn tasty soup.  The kids all liked at least some part of it, if not all things for all kids.  And better yet, I combined a bowl of soup and let it sit overnight in the fridge, and ate it for lunch today, and the flavors had combined nicely.

This weekend, I think we sacrifice a goat.  (What?  Israel doesn't do that?  You sure?)  Stay tuned, anyway.

Jewish Chicken Soup w/Matzo



Note: This recipe involves hot oil. Adult supervision is required. Many grocery stores now sell prepared felafel in the deli section.


  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, well-drained
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper
  • ⅔ cup fine breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • Oil for deep frying, enough to fill the pot about 3 inches
  • Pita bread


  1. Mash the chickpeas in a large bowl.
  2. Cut the garlic into tiny pieces. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, and bread crumbs to the chickpeas. Mix the ingredients together.
  3. Add the eggs and oil to the mixture and mix thoroughly.
  4. Heat oil in the pot until little bubbles rise to the surface.
  5. Shape the mixture into 16 balls, each about 1-inch across.
  6. With the mixing spoon, gently place a few of the balls in the oil—do not drop them in because the hot oil may splash.
  7. Fry a few at a time until they are golden brown—about 5 minutes.
  8. Remove the felafel with the slotted spoon. Drain them on a plate covered with paper towels.
  9. To serve, cut pita bread in half to make pockets.
  10. Put two or three felafel balls into each pocket and drizzle with tahini sauce (see recipe).
Serves 6 to 8.

Tahini Sauce

Some grocery stores stock tahini sauce, already prepared, or packaged tahini mix.


  • ¾ cup tahini (sesame seed paste; can be purchased in stores that sell Middle Eastern foods)
  • ⅓ cup lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ⅓ cup water


  1. Mix tahini, lemon juice, and garlic powder in bowl until you have a smooth sauce.
  2. Add the water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until sauce is thin enough to pour.
  3. Pour tahini sauce over pita sandwiches; can also be used as a dip for raw vegetables. 
~ from the Food By Country website

Pita Bread


  • 1 package of yeast, or quick rising yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water


Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until water is frothy.

Combine flour and salt in large bowl.

Make a small depression in the middle of flour and pour yeast water in depression.

Slowly add 1 cup of warm water, and stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until elastic.

Place dough on floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. When the dough is no longer sticky and is smooth and elastic, it has been successfully kneaded.

Coat large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough in bowl. Turn dough upside down so all of the dough is coated.

Allow to sit in a warm place for about 3 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Once doubled, roll out in a rope, and pinch off 10-12 small pieces. Place balls on floured surface. Let sit covered for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 500 deg F. and make sure rack is at the very bottom of oven. Be sure to also preheat your baking sheet.

Roll out each ball of dough with a rolling pin into circles. Each should be about 5-6 inches across and 1/4 inch thick.

Bake each circle for 4 minutes until the bread puffs up. Turn over and bake for 2 minutes.

Remove each pita with a spatula from the baking sheet and add additional pitas for baking.

Take spatula and gently push down puff. Immediately place in storage bags.
~ from


    What You Need:

    2 red apples
    1 cup of sweet red wine or grape juice
    1 cup chopped walnuts (you can buy them already shelled and
    chopped into pieces)
    paring knife for peeling apples
    wooden bowl
    metal chopping blade
    measuring cup
    large spoon for stirring

    What You Do:
    1. Carefully peel the apples (ask an adult to help you) and cut them
    length-wise in half and then in half again. Discard the peels and

    2. Put the peeled and cored apples into a wooden bowl. Ask an adult
    to show you how to use the chopping blade to chop the apples into
    pieces the size of your thumbnail.

    3. Add the chopped nuts to the bowl with the chopped apples.
    Measure one cup of red wine or grape juice and pour it into the
    apple and nut mixture.

    4. Stir the mixture until it becomes the color of the wine or juice.
    Now the charoses is ready to eat—or you can sprinkle it with
    cinnamon before serving.
    • 1 1/2 kilo chicken parts: bones, wings, thighs, feet, gizzards, hearts, skin in any ratio
    • 2 large carrots, washed, unpeeled, broken into coarse pieces
    • 1 large onion, peeled, cut into quarters
    • 2 celery stalks, cut into quarters
    • 1 medium parsnip, washed, unpeeled, cut into three pieces (or parsley root)
    • 6-8 sprigs fresh Italian parsley, whole
    • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, whole or 2 tsp dry thyme
    • 1 Tbsp salt
    • 1 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorn
    • matzo balls (recipe below)
    Place all ingredients in a large stock pot and add water to cover (3 to 4 liters). Bring water to boil over medium heat but watch the pot so water never comes to rolling boil (to avoid clouding the soup). When water is just about to boil, turn heat to lowest setting so only a few lazy bubbles break the surface. Cover pot and let simmer for 4 hours. (Longer simmering will not hurt soup.)
    Remove pot from heat, fish out most of the chicken parts and vegetables and discard. Strain the liquid through a fine strainer and defat soup if necessary (see defatting suggestions above). Adjust salt to your taste.
    Makes about 3 to 4 liters of chicken stock.
    For soup body, take about 1/4 cup dry vermicelli (broken into matchstick lengths), 1/4 cup peas (fresh or frozen) and 1/4 cup thin carrot slices per serving. Cook vermicelli in salted water, blanch peas and carrots in boiling salted water until cooked but still crunchy. For garnish, coarsely chop fresh Italian parsley. Add these with matzo balls into individual soup bowls.
    • 2 eggs
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
    • 3 Tbsp parsley, finely chopped
    • 1/2 t ground black pepper
    • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
    • 3/4 cup matzo meal
    • 2 Tbsp soft butter, oil or chicken fat
    Scramble eggs, blend in salt, ginger, parsley, pepper and garlic. Slowly mix matzo meal and butter (or oil or fat) into egg mixture until it forms a dough. This will be a stiff dough, to lighten it add water slowly until it is workable (about 1/4 water).
    Shape dough into neat, round 14 to 18 walnut-sized balls, lower them into simmering stock (using chicken bouillon), cover pot and sgently for 10 minutes. Drain stock.

    ~ From the website.

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