Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

Am Yisrael Chai Falafel Fest

Is any Israeli Independence Day celebration complete without falafel?

Well, not for Israelis who celebrate with a “mangal,” a Middle  Eastern-style outdoor grilling feast.

But for us, no food is more Israeli than the golden falafel.

During our last visit to Israel, the most memorable, most delicious, most reminisced-about meal was at a neon-lit falafel stand in the Carmel area of Haifa. The staff handed us heaven in a paper bag: freshly baked pita, crispy falafel balls, lemony Israeli salad, purple cabbage, fried eggplant, french fries, tahini and amba.

History records that falafel dates all the way back to the time of the pharaohs. An early ancestor of falafel is the “ta’amiya,” a fava bean fritter created by the Egyptian Coptic Christians for Lent. It was sold at the port in Alexandria; sailors who docked there took the recipe to their homes all over the Middle East, where it was renamed “mefelfel,” from the Arabic word for spicy. The Arabs living in Palestine substituted garbanzo beans for fava beans. When the European halutzim arrived in the late 19th century, they embraced this simple food that was so different from their culinary traditions. During the years leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Yemenite immigrants set up falafel street stands, giving rise to this quintessentially Israeli street food.

Usually served with sides of chopped salad, cabbage salad, pickled red turnip, turshi, pickles, hummus, tahini and more, the ultimate umami flavor comes from a generous drizzle of intensely yellow, spicy, sour amba, Iraqi pickled mango.

Rachel was inspired to create her own falafel and salads. Fortunately for the rest of us, there are many amazing falafel purveyors in the United States, such as Goldie in Philadelphia; Taim and Maoz Falafel & Grill in New York; and Dr. Sandwich, Ta-eem Gril and Tel Aviv Grill in Southern California.

I blended lemons, limes and mint to make a refreshing limonana, a delightful way to start a celebration.

So let’s raise a glass to salute the amazing Israel on her 72nd birthday.

And if you add a little arak (distilled spirit) to the limonana, we won’t tell.

1 pound dried garbanzo beans, soaked in water overnight
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons flour (or chickpea flour for gluten free option)
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1/2 bunch mint, finely chopped
2-4 tablespoons water
Oil for frying (grapeseed, sunflower, avocado, canola or peanut oil are great options)

Drain soaked beans and set aside.

Combine spices, baking powder and flour. Set aside

In food processor, chop onion and garlic. Set aside

Finely chop all herbs.

In food processor, pulse garbanzos with two tablespoons water, until it resembles a coarse meal, making sure not to over process. If the chickpeas blend is too dry, add a bit more water. Scrape down the sides of food processor and stir between pulses.

Place bean mixture in large bowl.

Combine all other ingredients with bean mixture until well incorporated.

In a deep skillet, heat 2 inches oil to 350-360 degrees.

Using wet hands or small scooper, form balls and, using large spon, place in hot oil.

Fry until golden brown and place on paper towels to drain.

Serve with fresh pita, Israeli salad, cabbage salad, hummus, schug (Middle Eastern hot sauce), amba, tahini and pickles.

Makes about 36 balls.

4 lemons, peeled and seeded
4 limes, peeled and seeded
1 bunch mint, washed, stems removed
1/2 cup sugar or to taste
4 cups water
2 cups ice cubes

Zip all ingredients in a blender.

Serves 6.

Rachel Sheff’s family roots are Spanish Moroccan. Sharon Gomperts’ family hails from Baghdad and El Azair in Iraq. Known as the Sephardic Spice Girls, they have  collaborated on the Sephardic Educational Center’s projects,  SEC Food Group and community cooking classes. Join them on Instagram at SephardicSpiceGirls, or Facebook group- SEC food. 

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Am Yisrael Chai Falafel Fest