Who doesn’t like a falafel sandwich? Probably those unlucky few who have never tried one. After all, what’s not to like about crispy deep-fried nuggets of chickpea, mashed up with parsley, cilantro, and spices, and then rolled up in a pita with some hummus, tahini, chopped vegetables, pickles, and a dollop of chili sauce.
The falalfel sandwich is the perfect fast food–so good you don’t even realize it’s healthy and nutritious to boot. Simple yet satisfying, it showcases the versatility of the humble chickpea, which shows up pureed with garlic, lemon, and tahini in the condiment known (and loved) as hummus, and also ground with herbs and spices, shaped into ping-pong balls, and dunked in the fryer to achieve that crispy shell hiding a moist core that is falafel.
All across the Middle East, the falafel is king of the street. I discovered that getting a good falafel in Amman is like getting a good slice in NYC–no matter where you go, you really can’t lose. At the legendary Al Quds on Rainbow Street, a neon lit stall that’s been in this very spot since 1965 , they go to the trouble of toasting the pita. The sparse modern chain Al Jbara boasts as clean and efficient operation as any Tokyo sushi boat. King Abdulluh himself gets his fix at downtown’s Hashem Restaurant. But down a small non-descript side street across from a military base in Amman, my wife’s cousin, Mohanned runs the family falafel joint, Shakshir Restaurant, and he was nice enough to open up his shop for me to share the craft of falafel making.
Mohammed starts his days early, at 7 a.m., to make the day’s hummus and falafel at the Shakshir restaurant. He starts off with 19 kilos of dried chickpeas that have been soaking overnight, draining them by hand.
He then grinds the chickpeas in a meat grinder, adding garlic, and an herb called koorath in Arabic, similar to chives, which gives the falafel mixture it’s greenish hue. After adding some baking soda, spices, salt, and cold water the mixture is ready to be made into falafel.
The raw mixture is fed into an extruder, which shapes it into small patties and spits it out directly into the deep fryer. After a bath in the hot oil, these little chickpea patties are good to go, either straight up or rolled into a sandwich.
Its green innards are smashed all over a hummus-covered pita with the flat end of a knife, before getting lavished at the fixin’s bar, and in the blink of an eye, the whole shebang is rolled up into a tight cylinder like a hoagie. Tear away the paper as you eat, and these falafel sandwiches are not as unruly as their American counterparts.
Special thanks to Mohammed, Mohanned and Shakshir Restaurant for divulging their secrets and showing us how it is done. Extra special thanks to my assistant camerawoman and lovely wife, Manal. Shouts out to Abu Shriek!