As a preteen all I ever wanted to be was an Egyptologist. Every term paper, short story or journal entry was filled with pyramids, sultry nights, and Middle Eastern history. Thoughts of digs permeated my young mind. Sitting cross legged in the hot sand unearthing artifacts buried there in the beginning of time. I’m not much into scorpions or snakes, and heat makes me wilt, so most probably it would not have been the appropriate career choice for me. However, to this day if offered a chance to see the pyramids I’d be on my way in a hot minute. Hot being the appropriate word here.
Rick having been born in Cairo was definitely a plus on our first meeting. A blend of English and Egyptian blood he was raised in a suburb of Cairo largely by his maternal grandparents. Coming to the States to attend college in Michigan, he never looked back, but speaks of growing up there often. Days were a mix of tea and falafels as he tells it. For one year they relocated to Kuwait. A scientist of note, his grandfather was called there for a series of lectures. Kuwait in the dead of summer presents itself with withering, blistering heat, driving inhabitants inside to the relief of cooled air during peak hours. Chores and outside activities were dispatched early in the morning or later in the day after the persistent sun was laid to rest. Businesses closed their doors after lunch proprietors retreating to their homes for an afternoon siesta, to return later in the day staying open into the evening. Aside from the heat, this particular year was to be a year of the locust. Billions of voracious bugs swooped down from the sky forming a dark moving cloud. Acres of vegetation were laid to waste in their wake. Clean laundry could be seen hanging on the line on the day the locust arrived. Rick’s grandmother had hung the clothes early in the morning when the sun was kinder. Despite the two men’s attempts to stop her as the insects descended on the yard Rick says his grandmother ran out into the into the courtyard to rescue her clothes. Covered with insects she yanked the clothes from the line. Returning to the house she stood in the kitchen looking as if she’d been a chicken thigh dredged and ready to toss in the pan. Exerting herself in the intense heat apparently had sucked all the salt up through her pores causing it to rise to the surface and dry. A thin white coating covered all her exposed skin. There is no laundry, no matter how dear to me, that would be worth that sort of effort. For my money between the heat and the crunchy swarm, the clothes could have remained on the line until they went out of style, but that’s just me.
Besides all the wonderful stories about his life there, Rick introduced me to many dishes a good old Canadian like myself would never have found in my Joy of Cooking. Shawarma, for example, meat marinated and layered on a large skewer rotating around a vertical gas fire. When cooked the meat is shaved off with a sharp knife in thin slices and served. Absolutely wonderful. Also, he introduced me to falafels. Up until then I thought it was something one might treat with a healthy dose of antibiotics.
I’ve developed a real taste for Middle Eastern food with all its rich exotic flavors. Following is an easy recipe for falafels. They’re the best. Vegetarian as well, for those who eschew the ewe. Tahini (pronouced Ta-hay-na)should be able to be purchased in any grocery store in the International section.
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas or garbonzo beans (approx. 12 oz.)
2 cups chopped cilantro
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 onion, quartered
8 pitas halved
1 red onion thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
8 lettuce leaves (I use romaine, but any will do)
Sort and wash chickpeas. Place in large bowl and cover with water at least two inches above beans. Cover bowl and let stand overnight. Drain.
Combine chickpeas, cilantro and next eight ingredients in food processor. Process until the consistency of coarse meal. Divide into 16 equal portions and form into patties.
Heat 1/2″ oil in large skillet. Add 5-6 patties at a time and cook approximately 3 mins. on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
To make pockets. Spread tahini sauce on insides of pita halves. Place 1/2 lettuce leaf, 3 falafel patties, tomato, onion, and cucumber in pocket. Drizzle lightly overall with sauce.