Last week I visited a little restaurant called Sababa. I have driven by this place several times and have always wondered what it would be like. There is a large sign outside which reads, "Falafel and Gyros."
Yummy. I have been a huge fan of falafels since I was a little girl. We used to have a little falafel stand near my house in California. It was a tiny place with a walk-up window. My mom and I would order falafels and eat them in the car. They didn't have any place to sit. The falafels at this little shop were delicious. Then, in high school, my boyfriend was Lebanese and we used to go to an amazing Mediterranean restaurant, which served some of the best falafels I have ever eaten.
Falafels are really simple. Basically they are balls of mashed up garbanzo beans with spices, which are fried. You can eat them on their own and just dip them in hot sauce, tahini (sesame sauce), or tatziki (cucumber yogurtsauce). Often they are served with rice and salad. You can also place them into a pita and eat them as a sandwich.
Falafel pita sandwich.
Chickpeas ground up and formed into patties.
Chickpea patties fried in oil.
So, I finally went inside Sababa to try out their falafels. I imagined I would find some Middle Eastern people in there cooking up some amazing tabouleh, cutting up the gyros, and preparing the falafels. Well, I discovered something different. The first thing I noticed was that all of the men wore yamakas on their heads. Then, I saw a hand washing pot and a pitcher of water on one end of the room. I realized this was a kosher restaurant. I don't think I have ever been to a place like this. I was instantly excited. I love learning something new. I was a little nervous because, like the time I visited a Buddhist temple to learn about meditation, I didn't want to do anything offensive to all of the Orthodox Jewish people surrounding me in there.
I decided I would just be my usual polite self and go with the flow as best as I could. After a careful review of the menu on the wall behind the counter, I ordered the falafel hummus plate. The man helping me asked if I would like hot sauce. Duh! Obviously, I wanted the hot sauce. I didn't really say this though. I said, "Yes, please. I would love to try the hot sauce."
He left for a second to prepare my plate. Upon his return, he handed the plate to me and it looked amazing. There was a large green salad, sliced pickles, slices of cucumbers and tomatoes. My mouth watered while I looked at the hummus with little falafel balls sitting on top. Next to all of this was a teaspoon of green hot sauce.
Time: 30 minutes
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup bread crumbs
oil (enough to have two inches deep in a frying pan)
hot sauce (optional)
tatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce) (optional)
1 tomato, sliced
4 pita bread halves
Place onion and garlic into a food processor and blend well. In a large bowl mash the garbanzo beans with a potato masher or fork. Mix in the onion and garlic mixture. Add salt and pepper, oregano, cumin, baking powder, paprika, cayenne, and egg. Mix together well. Add breadcrumbs and mix well. Roll into balls and mash down into about 1 inch circles. Heat oil to just about smoking. Carefully place the falafels into the hot oil. Cook until crispy and brown, turning once. Take out and place on a paper towel. Cut the pita bread in half and place the falafel inside a pita half. Add hot sauce (if using), tatziki (if using), slices of cucumbers, and slices of tomatoes. Serve warm.
I dug in with gusto. Oh my goodness, this food was too good to be true. The falafels were light and tasty. The hummus was so creamy and don't get me started on that green hot sauce. No wonder I only received a teaspoon full of that stuff. It was like fire. I enjoyed every bite of this dish.
When I got home, I rushed to the computer to look further into what I just experienced and to learn how to make falafels. A kosher restaurant serves food that complies with Jewish dietary laws. Kashrut is the set of Jewish dietary laws. One example of a kashrut law is that people cannot eat "unclean animals" such as pork or shellfish. Also, a kosher restaurant does not combine milk and meat. Often the restaurant won't have any type of dairy if meat is served. There are also specific rules as to how the animals must be slaughtered for a kosher restaurant. Most of the reasons behind the laws are designed to be philosophical, hygienic and practical. Once I had a basic understanding of what kosher means, I moved on to learn more about falafels.
I didn't realize how easy falafels were to make at home. They are so simple and easy to prepare. You just mash up the beans, add spices, breadcrumbs and an egg and form balls. Then, you fry them up. It is so simple.
This weekend I decided to make some for my family to eat. I placed the falafels out on the counter on a plate along with sliced vegetables and pita bread. I made some tatziki sauce and hot sauce to go with it. These sandwiches were so tasty. I have to admit, the chefs at Sababa made them to perfection. I will have to practice more to get to their level of deliciousness but these satisfied my falafel craving until I can get back there.