Recipe: Falafel, Pita Bread, and Yogurt Cucumber Sauce

I think anyone who successfully recreates a popular restaurant or cuisine dish for the first time is a happy camper but then there are exceptions such as today's dish of falafels.

Don't get me wrong- the results were excellent, if I do say so myself. The falafels have a crusty exterior that locks in the moist and fragrant crushed chickpeas and herbs inside. I taste tested it with two friends too (including one friend who had never tried falafels before) and they gave a huge thumbs up. So I have no hesitation to put my seal of approval on this dish. But the process- oh man, the process- is pretty laborious and I think this is one of those times in cooking where you have to question if the time, amount of labor, and dishes justifies something you can inexpensively pick up at your nearest kebab shop.

I'm being real when I forewarn you that the preparations is pretty tedious not to mention deep frying food never leaves behind an easy clean up. But I guess there's a fair amount of blame to pin on myself. I did insist on making the pitas from scratch (as pita is not so easy to come by around here) and falafels is really more of something to make for a group of people as leftover falafels don't taste quite as good as when they're freshly made.

So if you have a gathering of people of sorts coming up or if you just have a slightly masochist side to you in which toiling and laboring in the kitchen all for some little round chickpea balls (though they are quite delicious chickpea balls) then go and give this a go as you won't be disappointed with the results. But until such a masochist tendency develops in me or unless I have a party coming up or I come into possession of a large kitchen with plenty of assistants and cleaners to take care of the details, this is definitely not a dish you should choose to take on on a whim.... even if they were some of the best damn falafels I've had.

Or, you could have a falafel making gathering with some friends, crack open a few beers, and call it a party. :)

Falafel With Yogurt Cucumber Sauce

Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
1 Cup plain, unsweetened thick yogurt (Greek or homemade is best)
1/2 of a large cucumber, cut lengthwise, thinly sliced
2 -3 tablespoon chopped mint, dill, italian parsley or cilantro or a combination (always use fresh if you can but you can substitute with a few dried variety as well)
1-2 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 minced garlic cloves
½ tsp salt to taste
pinch of cayenne

2 cups of dry Chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 cup chopped fresh Parsley
2 tsp of minced Garlic
2 tsp of Cumin
1 tsp of chopped cilantro (coriander but optional)
1/4 tbsp of Pepper
1/2 tsp of Cayenne Pepper
1.5 tsp of Salt (with more to taste)
Optional ingredients for the falafel sandwiches:
Sliced onions, chopped tomato, chopped cucumbers, chopped cilantro, etc

Pita Bread
1/2 cup of warm Water plus another cup of lukewarm Water
1 packet of yeast
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon of Salt
1 teaspoon of Sugar
1 tbsp of extra virgin Olive Oil plus 1-2 tsp more for coating

To make the pita bread:

1. Combine the sugar and yeast in a small bowl and then add the 1/2 cup of warm water. Stir and then set aside for 15 minutes to get the yeast activating.

2. After 15 minutes, in another bowl, add the flour, salt, and olive oil. Then slowly add in the yeast-sugar water and incorporate everything together. Knead for a good 10 minutes or so, adding in sprinkles of flour if needed. It should be fairly elastic and with a good stretch when you're done kneading.

3. Coat the dough mixture with the remaining 1-2 tsp of olive oil making sure all its surface is coated. Cover the bowl, place in a warm area (like the inside of an oven or microwave that's not turned on) and let sit for 2 hours or so until it nearly doubles in size.

4. After doubling up in size, roll the dough into a rope and cut out about 10-12 pieces. How many pieces you cut depends on your pita bread size and thickness preference. I like mine a bit thinner so I cut out about 12 pieces.

Dust a surface with flour and then flatten each piece with a dusted rolling pin or by hand (dusted again, of course). Let sit for about 10 minutes.

5.  Turn a nonstick pan on low heat and add in the flattened pita dough. Cook in batches being careful not to overcrowd the pan. After about 2-3 minutes or once it begins browning on the bottom with bubbles, flip them over and cook another 1-2 minutes or until done.

6. The pita bread should pull apart easily, making it easy to stuff it with the falafel and other ingredients later.

Cover and set aside the cooked pita bread in a warm place while you make the falafel and yogurt sauce.

To make the cucumber yogurt sauce:

1. Add the yogurt in a bowl and then add all the ingredients but add the cucumber strips last as they are fragile. Mix gently, taste and season to adjust to your liking, and then cover and set aside in the fridge to incorporate together.

To make the falafels:

1. In your blender or food processor, add in the cooked chickpeas, freshly chopped parsley and the rest of the seasoning ingredients. Pulse the batch scraping down the sides every once in a while with a spoon. Don't just set it blending for long periods of time as you'll thin out the consistency. You want the end result to be somewhat rough and "chunky". Taste, season, and mix as needed.

Set aside the mixture for 15-20 minutes. This step will help the mixture come together and less likely to fall apart during frying.

2. In a nonstick pan or pot suitable for frying, fill it up with canola oil to about 1/4 inch from the bottom of the pan. Put on medium high heat initially. If it sizzles when you drop a small amount of the mixture in or if you see bubbles sizzling around when you place in a wooden chopstick or wooden utensil the oil is hot enough. At that point drop the heat to medium.

Using two spoons, shape the falafel mixture into a ball and carefully place the ball into the hot oil. You may want to do a test falafel first. If the mixture falls apart, you may need to add some more flour to the mixture. Otherwise, fry about 2-3 minutes or until the bottom side turns a golden brown. At that point, flip the falafel upside down to cook the other side for another 2 minutes or so or until golden brown. Fry the rest of the falafel mixture in batches being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Place each finished falafel on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Time to eat!

To assemble, simply open up a pita bread, stuff it with a falafel or two and any additional veggie ingredients you prefer. Drizzle some of the yogurt sauce on top and within. Enjoy the fruits of your (truly) hard earned labor.

The falafels can be stored in a fridge and reheated to be enjoyed in more sandwiches, with salads, or just on their own.

But if anything, I've developed a tremendous amount of respect for falafel makers who make it on the daily!