Middle Eastern, The Weekly Menus and Recipes, Vegetarian

Cooking the (Im)Possible: Recipe 9.1: Homemade Pita and Falafel

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“‘There’s no use trying,’ Alice said.  ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’ ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'” –Alice and Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

It’s easy for us to be “Alices” in the kitchen: to believe that we are faced with many impossibilities and limitations. This is my entry for PFB’s 2nd Challenge, which asked me to do an “impossibility” – step outside of my comfort zone and cook a meal in an unfamiliar cuisine. I knew that if I wanted to be succesful on this challenge that I needed to quickly shift my thinking and start believing a few “impossibilities”.

I weeded out many cuisines because I felt that they wouldn’t be enough of a challenge, and narrowed it down: Thai or Middle Eastern, two impossibly “impossible” cuisines. Thinking I would go with Thai, I planned a shopping trip to an Asian market; by the time I was ready to shop, I knew Thai was the wrong decision because it would be untrue to Blackboard Kitchen. Cooking a Thai meal would go against my philosophy in a few ways: 1. I would need lots of ingredients that I (and my readers) did not have on hand, which would make it difficult to work into the weekly budget; 2. a specialty Asian market could be inaccessible to some readers; and 3. it would be more “watch me cook!”, rather than “you can cook!”.

With all this in mind, I made the final decision: I would cook a Middle Eastern meal. A good amount of research and planning went into this meal: I had to figure out how to be successful myself, and also how to work it nicely into the Blackboard Kitchen concept! After looking at many recipes from many sources, I decided to create a classic meal: I would make homemade falafel, tahini sauce, and pita bread and I would serve it alongside a salad with a Mediterranean twist. It would be challenging for me, as I’ve actually only eaten the meal once and I’ve never made bread. Many flavors and ingredients used in the cuisine are not ingredients that I am accustomed to using. I would be stretching my culinary horizons, while staying true to Blackboard Kitchen.

The recipe that you’ll read below is my invitation to you: I hope you’ll join me as we vanquish our inner Alice and allow the Queen to be our kitchen role model.

Pita Bread:

3 cups white bread flour

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbs. honey

1 pkg. yeast

1 1/4-1 1/2 cups water, room temperature

2 tbs. olive oil

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour with the salt, honey, and yeast; add water. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for three minutes, then stir in remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The dough should be a rough ball that will clean the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too moist, add a small amount of additional flour. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll into balls, dust lightly with flour, and cover with a damp tea towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. Flatten each ball with your hand, then roll with a rolling pin. You want your dough to be round, about 6 inches wide and 3/16″. Place each circle of dough on a square of foil, and carefully place 3 or 4 of the rounds directly on the oven rack. Bake until puffy, about 5-7 minutes.

Mediterranean Viniagrette:

3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup and 1 tsp. sherry or red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. each garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil, pepper, salt, onion powder

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Combine spices, mustard and vinegar. Mix well, then slowly pour in oil, mixing constantly until emulsified.

Tahini sauce (taken from epicurious.com):

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup well-stirred tahini

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (3 lemons)

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Mince garlic, then mash to a paste with sea salt. Whisk together garlic paste and remaining ingredients until combined well.


Falafel:

1 cup dried chickpeas

1 onion, chopped (1 cup)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

4 tbs. fresh parsley, chopped

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. coriander

1 tsp. baking powder

around 3 tbs. all-purpose flour

3 tbs. olive oil

1/2 tsp. cayenne, to taste

You’ll  soak your chickpeas for 24 hours. To do so, place them in a bowl, cover with a few inches of water and soak overnight.

On cooking day, heat the oven to 350. Drain and rinse chickpeas. Place in food processor, along with onion, lemon juice, salt, cumin, garlic, coriander, cayenne and parsley. Pulse until chunky and a bit pasty. Use a spatula to scrape the mixture into a bowl and stir in baking powder. You’ll add the flour, just a bit at a time – you just want the mixture to be able to form into a ball. Roll mixture into small balls (the size of a meatball).

Heat oil in a medium skillet, over medium-high heat. Brown each side of the ball to create a crispy exterior, 1-3 minutes for each side. Roll balls in the pan to brown all sides, and do not burn! Once sides are browned, move into a glass baking dish. Bake 10-15 minutes, until insides are cooked through.

Toppings:

1/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced in half

1/4 red onion, sliced thinly

2 cups lettuce, washed and sliced

4 tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup dill pickles, sliced

Top pita with 2-3 falafel balls, drizzle with tahini sauce, pickles and tomatoes. Layer lettuce with olives, tomatoes, red onion, and vinaigrette.