Falafel, figs and fatoush – I go foodie for a bite

Food doesn’t really rule my world.  I am married to the biggest foodie of all time yet I tend to exist on muesli and grapefruit. Some days I barely even bother with those. However, has to be said, my week in Israel got me eating.  How could it not?
We got taken to the most fabulous restaurants…to this place…Machneyuda (apparently the most popular restaurant in Israel) at the souk in Jerusalem…and this…Noa Bistro in Jaffa (one of my favourites – sandwiched between two old buildings in the ancient port of Jaffa) – it’s part restaurant, part informal art gallery… And many many more.  I could go on and on (and maybe I will at a later date).. 😉   But how I miss fresh falafel.  How I miss pitta bread strewn with sesame seeds, served piping hot straight from the oven, served with a gazillion little pots of mezze (humus, aubergine dip, spicy beetroot etc).

One of the many presents we were given (truly, we were spoiled rotten) was a lovely cookbook called Fresh Flavors from Israel, featuring recipes by leading Israeli chefs.  I barely had time to glance at it while I was away but now, back home with an empty fridge and a palette that has become accustomed to delicious fare, I am browsing through and feeling hungry.

Check it out – it’s a great book.  In the meantime, I’ll give you a few recipes from the cookbook to give you a taste of how I ate in Israel… These are all vegetarian, cos that’s how I eat, but the cookbook includes some great meat and fish dishes alongside to-die-for puddings.

Falafel (makes 10-12 generous servings) – yeah, that’s a lot but, hey, it’s picnic/party season right?

1kg (2lb 4oz) dry chickpeas soaked in water overnight
I large onion
2/3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds
5-6 small hot green pickled peppers (Shipka) or 1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper
1 1/4 tablespoon ground cumin
pinch of ground cardamom
Salt to taste
1 level teaspoon baking power
2 tablespoons flour
1 level tablespoon baking soda
4-5 tablespoons water
Oil for frying.

1. Drain the chickpeas and rinse thoroughly.  Grind them with the onion, garlic, parsley, coriander and peppers in a food processor but don’t puree – keep a slightly coarse texture.  Season with the spices, salt and black pepper.  Add the baking powder and flour, mix well and bung in the fridge for an hour.
2. Dissolve the baking soda in the water, add to the mix and mix well.
3. Moisten an ice-cream scoop and form patties – or simply roll out walnut-size balls with moist hands.
4. Heat the oil to medium heat – fry the ball in small batches on both sides until they turn golden-brown.  Remove and drain.
5. Serve promptly with pitta, spread with humus.  Add some salad and drip tahini on top.

Orange and Olive Salad (serves 4-6)

Salad is huge in Israel – you get several varieties served with every meal. Israelis delight in flavour clashes and this one is a fresh, sweet, hot and piquant mix.  It improves with keeping so you can make it the night before.

50g (2oz) black olives, halved and pitted
1 orange, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon harissa (see below)
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1/2  teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped

Combine the ingredients and let stand for at least two hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge. Serve at room temperature.

Yes, you can make your own.  This is piquant rather than fiery hot.  Use it to give a bit of blast to sandwiches or some oomph to salads.

1/2 kg (1lb) dried sweet red peppers
2-3 dried hot red peppers
10 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
juice of 2 lemons

1. Grind the peppers and the garlic with a mortar and pestle (rather than a food processor).
2. Stir in the olive oil, salt, cumin, lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Cantaloupe and Carrot Salad (serves 3-4)

An unusual pairing that works brilliantly.

Half a cantaloupe melon
2 carrots
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup mint leaves
4 tablespoons pine nuts

1. Slice the melon very thinly. Slice the carrots using a peeler.
2. Mix the honey and lemon juice and pour over the salad.  Toss with mint leaves.
3. Lightly toast the pine nuts and sprinkle on top. Serve at once.

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