Jerusalem’s Best Taste: Homemade Falafel and Shakshouka
by Lauren Kay Weber
This past Christmas, there was really only one thing on my wishlist. You see, now that I have my two front teeth and the love of my life, I haven’t quite known what to wish for at Christmastime. But, then, oh boy, did my envy become ignited. You see, the blogs were all abuzz with the coming of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s new cookbook Jerusalem. I happen to be a student of both Biblical and modern Hebrew and I have quite the love for mid-Eastern cuisine, so it was love at first sight between me and this tome of bishul yerushalmi – cooking as fashioned by the unique amalgamation of cultures and peoples found in Jerusalem. I was fairly specific with Josh about my preemptive love for this cookbook and, being the wonderful husband that he is, its softly cushy cover could be felt through wrapping paper underneath the Christmas tree this past Christmas.
As soon as we got home from Arizona, where we spent Christmas with Josh’s family, I made a laughably big spread of recipes from the book. Probably too much food, if I’m honest. It was really great, though, and both Josh and I found favorites (and some things that we didn’t quite love as much).
MorningAll-day sickness was in full swing then, though, so no more Isreali culinary escapades have been taken since then, despite my frequent thumbing through the cookbook’s pages, running my eyes and hands over its large, glossy pictures. Josh is taking a modern Hebrew class at the moment, though, so we had some external motivation to break the monotony of our normal dinner routines. As part of BYU’s Hebrew program, students have to complete cultural activities in order to broaden their horizons and connect with the culture of the people who speak Hebrew. Usually, there are lots of events during the semester for us to experience – putting those events on was my job as the Hebrew Club president this past semester – but, since it’s spring term, the students have to get a bit more creative to complete these cultural activities. So! We decided to make some falafel and shakshouka together for dinner last night.
You may or may not have had – or even heard of – falafel or shakshouka, so let me give you a quick introduction to these mm mm good foods. Falafel is a blend of chick peas (also known as garbanzo beans), onions, fresh herbs and lots of savory spices, which is processed together and fried. It’s then eaten in a kind of sandwich with hummus and veggies. Shakshouka is a tomato/egg dish that is probably one of my absolute favorites come summer time. Basically, it’s eggs poached in a fresh tomato sauce on the stove top. It sounds weird, perhaps, but it is absolutely bursting with fresh tomato flavor. And, it’s simple! Go figure.
Anyway, I thought I’d share my versions of these recipes. I’ve changed them significantly, which I believe is the best way to cook – make the recipes your own. Still, I highly, highly, highly encourage you to check out Jerusalem.
Both of the recipes serve 2.
1 can chick peas, drained
1 small handful of parsley, chopped finely
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 Tbls. cumin
1/2 teas. cayenne pepper
1 teas. coriander
2 teas. baking powder
enough flour to thicken the dough so it doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl
salt to taste
Blend the first three ingredients in the food processor until slightly chunky. Mix in the rest of the ingredients in a bowl with a spoon. Once mixed completely, put a saute pan on a medium-hot burner with a 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in the bottom. Let it heat up until it sizzles vigorously when a few drops of water are dropped onto the surface. In the meantime, form the falafel discs. Ours, pictured above, were just under 2 inches in diameter and, instead of balls, we flattened them to be like little patties. Tip: If you wet your hands as you make the patties, they won’t stick to your hands. Once the oil is hot enough, slip the falafel into the pan. It should bubble up immediately and take about 3 minutes for each side. Be warned that if you put too many of the patties at once, the oil temperature will drop and it will take longer for them to brown. If the oil drops low enough, you may notice that the underside of the patties start to disintegrate. Remove them once golden brown (like pictured above) and put them on a plate lined with a paper towel.
Serving suggestion: Traditionally, falafel are eaten on pita with tahini sauce (made of ground sesame seeds), a salad made of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, and something pickled. Since I don’t particularly care for the bitterness of tahini, we swapped out the tahini sauce for hummus and made the rest of the meal prep simple by just using spinach and sliced tomato with sliced cucumber for crunch.
2 beefsteak tomatoes (or similarly seedy tomatoes)
garlic to taste
cayenne pepper to taste
heavy dash of cumin
just a dash of salt
Grate the tomatoes into a bowl on the largest grating section of a box grater. It will look vibrant and slightly frothy and, if your tomatoes are ripe, fragrant… the essence of summer. Heat a small pan (we used an individual egg pan, but a small sauce pan will do) on medium high with just enough oil to slick the bottom of the pan. Once warm, slip the tomato puree into the pan with the remainder of the ingredients except the eggs. Let the flavors really come together as the tomato starts to bubble around the edges. Once the tomato is steaming and almost coming to a rapid roll, crack the eggs into the center of the pan and cover with a lid. Don’t disturb the eggs as they poach. Traditionally, these are cooked until the whites are done and the yellows are still runny. However, Josh doesn’t like runny yolks, so I cook them until the yolks are just set. The upside is that the gentle cooking method really results in silky yolks instead of their usual almost powdery-dry consistency.