Saturday, November 18, 2017
Cooking

From the food editor: Making falafel at home, plus a pita pocket to put them in

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I love falafel, but it's not something I eat very often. Maybe that's because the state and quality of falafel can vary widely depending on where you get it. Sometimes the crispy chickpea patties taste like nothing more than dense coating and oil.

Over a plate of very solid house-made falafel at St. Petersburg vegan restaurant Food Love Central the other day, I found myself thinking about whether I could re-create the little orbs at home.

The universe offered an additional nudge in the falafel direction a couple of days later.

I signed up for the food delivery service Blue Apron for a week, and on the menu was a falafel-in-pita dish served with greens and roasted sweet potatoes. With step-by-step help from the service, I ventured again to make my own version of the successful dish.

Falafel is now in my weeknight dinner rotation.

The beauty of the dish is that it's pretty customizable once you have the falafel part down. I retained the pita in the recipe below (more on that in a minute), but you could serve the falafel over spinach, topped with sliced red onion and a creamy dressing, or you could serve a big plate of them as a snack or appetizer. Eating them right out of the frying pan and seasoned generously with salt and pepper is most ideal.

The reason I kept the pita is that I have also recently fallen in love with making my own. As with most bread products you can make in your own kitchen, it was surprisingly straightforward. And the flavor is shockingly fresh compared to the processed kind you buy in the store. Make or prep these the day before you make the falafel to make dinnertime easy. If you stored cooked ones in the fridge, a quick reheat in the oven will get them back in good shape.

Pitas are made with a yeast dough, so start by adding 2 teaspoons active dry yeast to 1 cup lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl. Add about ½ teaspoon sugar and let that sit until frothing. This is a standard way to get yeast started for most bread products. Add 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, a teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir until you've got a shaggy ball of dough, then turn the dough out onto the counter and knead for about 2 minutes. At this point, it should be smooth.

Clean the mixing bowl, coat it with more olive oil, and put the dough back in it. Cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel, and let the bowl sit in a warm place for about an hour. (Room temperature is also fine, but heat helps the dough rise.) It should double in size.

After that time (you can also let the dough sit for much longer, if needed), punch down the dough, divide into 8 equal pieces, and form each piece into a ball. Place on a heavy-duty baking sheet covered in parchment paper and cover with the damp towel again. Let rise for 10 minutes, then form into flat, pitalike circles. Make them pretty thin. Place the circles on the baking sheet (as many as will fit; you will likely need to repeat the process more than once) and bake in a 500-degree oven for 5 minutes. Pitas should puff up and become slightly crispy. Serve immediately or let cool and refrigerate, then rewarm in a 350-degree oven before serving.

They work well as pockets for your homemade falafel, dabbed with a bit of Greek yogurt sauce and topped with onion.

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