Monday, February 1, 2010

Turkey at the Wall

Back in the 1980s my son Drew and I spent some time in West Berlin. We lived in the Internationales Begegnungszentrum in Wilmersdorf and Drew went to the John F. Kennedy School.

Germany is not so different from America, but living behind the Wall we were constantly reminded of WWII and the cold war, from the lines of tanks rumbling down the street in front of Drew's school to the guards armed with machine guns in the center of town. Both sides of the city were still rebuilding forty years after the end of the war and even in the West there were areas that had not yet been scrubbed of the evidence of the Battle of Berlin.

Berlin, like London, is a collection of small villages that were gradually knitted together, with the districts retaining their unique character and atmosphere. We especially liked Kreuzberg, a working class neighborhood along the Wall where the buildings were still pockmarked with bullet holes and the population was more immigrant, more radical, more punk.

At the time we lived there Berlin was the second largest Turkish city in the world, right after Istanbul. Our favorite destination in Kreuzberg was the Turkish Market, a lively, exotic mashup of German and Turkish culture on Maybachufer. The market offers everything from socks and yard goods to spices and produce, and we bought olives, feta, hot peppers, chick peas, tahini, grape leaves and all the other ingredients for the Turkish and Lebanese food that we love so much, including delicious fresh, soft pita bread.
Because of the large Turkish population, döner kebab and falafel have joined the ubiquitous currywust as favorite Berlin fast  foods. We had a falafel shop right on the corner and we'd send Drew down the street to pick up the delicious sandwiches -- warm, fragrant pita filled with crispy falafel patties, lettuce and onions, and dressed with a creamy tahini sauce.

I'll never be able to make falafel as good as what we got at the corner shop, mostly because the pita available to us here in Pittsburgh is the same dry cardboardy imitation pita that's sold in every grocery store. But making homemade falafel definitely beats the mixes you can buy in grocery and health food stores and it's not hard to do. You just have to think ahead.


2 cups dry chick peas, soaked in water to cover for 24 hours

Drain soaked chick peas and put in food processor with:
1 large onion, cut in chunks
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
2 tsp. salt
2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne

Pulse until the chick peas are coarsely ground and everything is mixed, but don't overprocess. You want the mixture to be somewhat crunchy. If you grind the beans too much you end up with a mushy texture and you might as well have bought the mix.

Turn into a bowl and stir in:
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp. baking powder
about 1/3 cup flour
black pepper

Stir until well mixed, then squeeze a handful and see if it holds together. If not, add a little more flour. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.

Heat a couple of inches of oil in a wok or deep fryer. Falafel comes in all shapes and sizes from round balls to patties. I use about 1/4 cup of the mixture and form it into a flattened ball, kind of a small rounded puck.

Fry in oil, turning once, until a deep mahogany color. Drain on paper towels.

Wrap pita in a clean dishtowel and microwave for 30-60 seconds, just until softened and fragrant. Cut pita in half. Fill each half with as many falafel as you want, depending on the size of your pita and falafel. Add sliced tomatoes, lettuce and onions and tahini sauce (tahini, lemon juice, crushed and minced garlic, salt, thinned to taste with water) or for a lighter sandwich, yogurt sauce (yogurt, lemon juice, cilantro, crushed and minced garlic, salt.)

1 comment:

  1. That looks so good!!! I love falafel! I bet you could easily whip up some awesome pita bread at your house!