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Thursday, 13 August 2015 15:03

Let’s go Mideastern for these favorite sandwiches

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Vahan Janjigian made the first falafel I ever had -- it was good and since then, I’ve had them at home, usually made from a mix available from the Near East, which is found in most grocery stores nowadays.

Janjigian’s heritage is Armenian, a country that has seen its share of political struggles for sure. Falafel is a dish that goes back to the Middle East; most historians would place it in Egypt.

When we talk about cuisine, we often call something “Middle Eastern.”The traditional definition of this area includes the countries of Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and others.

Arabs, Azeris, Kurds, Persians and Turks constitute the largest ethnic groups in this region while Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, Copts, Druze, Jews, Maronites, Somalis form the largest minorities. That’s a lot of cultures to lump together and there are differences, of course, but one thing they have in common is food. They all enjoy falafel sandwiches, pita bread and lamb.

While many associate the gyros sandwich (lamb stuffed inside a pita) as Greek, it has a much larger reach than that one country.

So, what is a falafel exactly? It’s a sandwich also served on pita bread. The “meat” of the sandwich is balls or patties of ground chickpeas.

Chickpeas are known as ceci beans or garbanzo beans.

These legumes are high in fiber and good for your digestive tract. The American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society all recommend legumes as a key food group for preventing disease and optimizing health.

Most people will find the canned and cooked garbanzo beans to be the most convenient to use. The good news here is that the nutritional value between the canned and those you cook yourself from the dry beans is pretty much the same.

My philosophy of cooking always is to learn how to make things from scratch, then decide if the extra time is worth investing. Because I like garbanzo beans on my salads, I tend to cook them from the dried state, which makes it easy enough to make falafels from scratch.

Falafel

Makes about 18 balls -- enough for six sandwiches

1 cup dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

2 Tbsps. finely chopped, fresh parsley

2 Tbsps. finely chopped, fresh cilantro

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. dried hot red pepper

4 cloves of garlic

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. baking powder

4-6 Tbsps. flour

Soybean or vegetable oil for frying

Chopped tomato for garnish

Diced onion for garnish

Pita bread

Yogurt sauce

Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least two inches. Let soak overnight, then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.

Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed.

Sprinkle in the baking powder and four tablespoons of the flour and pulse. You want to add enough flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.

Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.

Heat three inches of oil to 375 F in a deep pot or wok and fry one ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about six balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes and onion. Top with yogurt sauce.

Gyros

-- Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

Makes 8 servings

1 (4-5 lbs.) boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of visible fat

5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into 20 slivers

1/4 cup olive oil

3 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsps. chopped fresh oregano

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

8 pita breads

Yogurt sauce

Chopped tomatoes for garnish

Thin sliced onions for garnish

With a sharp knife, make 20 slits across one side of the lamb and insert the garlic slivers. Place in a large nonreactive dish.

In a bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper. Pour over the lamb and rub evenly across the surface. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate, refrigerated, for at least two and up to six hours, turning occasionally.

Remove from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Season lightly on all sides with Essence. Brush a grill lightly with olive oil and preheat to medium heat.

Remove the lamb from the marinade and place on the grill. Cook, turning occasionally until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F for medium-rare, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the grill and transfer to a platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 12 minutes before carving.

Thinly slice the lamb and place the meat in the center of the pita breads. Top with yogurt sauce, chopped tomatoes, sliced onions and serve.

Yogurt (Tzatziki) sauce:

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup plain yogurt

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. minced garlic

Combine all the ingredients and refrigerate until used.

Pita bread

Makes eight 6-inch pitas

1 packet (.25 oz. or 2-1/4 tsps.)?yeast

1-1/4 cups warm water

3 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsps. olive oil

Flour for kneading

Cornmeal

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large bread bowl. Whisk to dissolve. Once the yeast foams up and doubles in size, add salt and olive oil. Stir in flour, then turn the dough out onto floured counter. Knead eight to 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.

Return dough to a lightly oiled bread bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least double in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down. Turn out onto floured counter and cut into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 6- to 7-inch round.

Prepare two cookie sheets by sprinkling each with a thin coating of cornmeal or line with parchment paper. Place four pita on each sheet.

Preheat oven to 475 F. Bake pita for five to six minutes, until the bread has ballooned -- this gives the pita the hollow center --?or until the pita starts to turn lightly golden, whichever happens first.

Cool bread on a rack.

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