Sunday, November 14, 2010

Felafel and homemade souvlaki/kebabs

My culinary upbringing was probably a fairly typical kiwi one - perhaps a little more baking than some and dinner was pretty standard fare, usually meat and three veg, curried sausages and schnitzel were about as exotic as we got - oh, and of course Chinese food from the local fish & chip shop once a fortnight, but us kids stuck with the fried food while Mum and Dad enjoyed that. Otherwise we were (happily) oblivious to the foods of the world. Then when I was about 16 the souvlaki cart started coming to school once a week. I wasn't brave enough to venture into the world of foreign food at that stage but the seed was planted.

I don't actually remember when I had my first souvlaki, though I'm pretty sure I can thank Dimitri for it - and he's still my favourite. I did the OE thing and the kebab shop at the end of my road in London became a popular option when cooking wasn't appealing - and now it seems like it's always been a part of my life. As I was vegetarian for about five years (and because it's pretty tasty anyway) felafel has featured pretty regularly - but up until yesterday I had never made it.

This suddenly seems quite ridiculous, as felafel is surprisingly easy to make - I think there are a couple of tricks to it and you might want to tweak it to suit your tastes, but if you have a food processor or blender you're good to go.

The main ingredient in felafel is chickpeas, which we always have on-hand in the tinned form - if you're prepared enough to soak yours in advance you are more organised than I am, but the tinned ones work well. We made three batches - two for the barbeque yesterday (and our blitzer is too small to make them at once) and one for dinner tonight, so we had a chance to experiment. We found that draining the chickpeas wasn't enough on it's own, and the mixture was quite sloppy, but a quick zap in the microwave to dry any residual liquid off them (presumably a roll around inside a clean teatowel would also work) made the perfect consistency.

Once you have all your ingredients ready you blitz the chickpeas, onion, garlic and herbs, then add flour and - this surprised me - baking powder and blitz again. And it's ready to use. You can change the herbs and spices to suit your taste - I've seen basil flavouring used in the supermarket ones so might try that next time.

Traditionally felafel is deep-fried, but a) I don't like having an apartment that smells of fat and b) I'm not sure that I've ever eaten it prepared that way anyway, so we opted for a combo of frying and baking - the frying gets the nice crusty outside, then baking deals to the middle.

If you make the patties thinner you should be able to cook them all the way through in a frypan but I like the thick fluffy centres. Sandwich presses are pretty good at cooking these (though you might still need the oven at the end) - since they do both sides at once.

Though this stuff is delicious on their own felafel patties definitely sit at the dry end of the scale, so need some sort of sauce or spread to be served with them. There was hummus at the barbeque which went well - chickpeas with chickpeas!

Tonight we made our own souvlaki (as they're called in Christchurch) a.k.a. kebabs (as they seem to be called pretty much everywhere else I've eaten them) (though the names have similar origins and meanings - both really refer to the meat usually in the pita pocket, but the most popular serving style seems to have adopted the words), using wholemeal pita pockets, mixed salad leaves, tomatoes and some cucumber and yoghurt dressing (also from the supermarket as we got lazy - but it was very good!). We missed out the tangy tomato sauce but overall they were a pretty good (and much cheaper) approximation of what we could get from the takeaway down the road.

Do you ever make 'takeaways' at home? Are they better than the real thing?

Felafel (adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen)
1 cup chickpeas (either dried and doaked or tinned and drained
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 Tbsp chopped parsley
4 Tbsp chopped coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp baking powder
4 Tbsp whole wheat flour

Drain chickpeas thoroughly, then dry either by microwaving briefly (about 30 seconds) or rubbing gently with a clean teatowel.

Put chickpeas, onion, parsley, coriander, salt, garlic, and cumin into food processor. Pulse until mixture is well-chopped and combined, but not pureed together. Sprinkle over baking powder and flour and pulse to combine. Test one ball to see if mixture holds together, and if not add more flour until it does.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 160 C. Shape the mixture into balls, pressing each one flat with your hands to form a patty. Place patties in a frypan with a couple of tablespoons of oil and cook over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes each side, until brown. Move the patties to an oven tray and bake for until cooked through, about 20 minutes (but will vary depending on thickness). Serve hot with tzatziki, hummus or your sauce of choice.


  1. I like to think that I make a fairly decent chicken chow mein.

    It's not exactly the same as the one from the takeaways I remember as a child, but at least I know what goes into it.

  2. great recipe Mrs Cake...and I just happen to have chickpeas in the pantry at the moment...will have to try and give ago!

  3. we hardly ever buy takeaways instead we make hamburgers, pizza, fried rice and pad thai. All sem to be much nicer than buying them and sometimes just as quick - especially the pizza

  4. kaz - nice. I haven't really dabbled much in the Chinese food realm - it is nice to know what you're eating!

    jacksta - I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. I love that it felt so much like a treat but was really pretty healthy.

    Sandra, homemade burgers are my favourite! We used to have them sometimes when I was a kid, with all the ingredients prepped and laid out on the table. So much fun!

  5. I miss souvlakis from dimitris in christchurch...kebabs just aren't the same! i love falafel so will have to give this recipe a go!

    I love to make pizza at home - I think it tastes better than takeaway pizza plus you can put exactly what you want on it (lots of jalapenos for me!).

  6. Have you tried the 5 minute bread? It makes lovely pitta.

  7. That was me above, not signed in...doh.

    I have a condensed version. I always have a batch fro quick pizza, pitta, naan, roti and a lovely loaf.

  8. Jen, I miss them too! Wish we had a Dimitri clone in Wellington... Totally agree on the pizza, too - mmm jalapeno! ;-)

    Emma, thanks. I haven't tried that bread but I am fascinated - the most worrying part is that with fresh bread so close to hand that I wouldn't be able to stop eating it! ;-)


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