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Posts Tagged ‘falafel’

When walking around just about any market in Israel you’ll come across all sorts of really good food. Falafel, schawarma, and various kabobs. Another staple of the Israeli street food scene is grilled chicken. With Tamiko headed back to Japan last Thursday I wanted to make her one last delicious dinner that she couldn’t get at home. Since she really enjoyed the Middle Eastern food that she had, and loves cucumbers (even though I’m not the biggest fan), I decided to make this dinner for her.

I thought, what better soup to accompany Israeli Grilled Chicken than Israeli Couscous Tomato Soup? I used about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 small onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 carrot cut into half-moons, 14oz can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of Israeli Couscous, and 1 cup of chicken stock. Oh, once I cut everything up I noticed that I had 1/2 red bell pepper in my fridge, so I diced that up as well.

I heated my soup pan up and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic and let it go for about 30 seconds and then tossed the onion in. The onion sweat down for about 6 minutes and then I added the carrot and red bell pepper. I let them sweat down for another 6 minutes and then added the can of tomatoes. Once the tomatoes started to boil I poured in the chicken stock and added the spices, along with some salt and pepper. I let it come to a boil and then added the couscous. Once it started to boil again I covered the pan, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. When the soup was done I realised that I needed a bit more liquid as the couscous absorbed a good amount, so I poured in about 1/4 cup of water and added the parsley.

While the soup was simmering I threw together an Israeli cucumber salad. I used 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tomatoes diced, 1 cucumber seeded and diced, a  few leaves of lettuce chopped, and some olive oil.

I threw all of the vegetables into a glass bowl. Then I made a lemon vinaigrette. I squeezed the lemon juice into a cup and then poured twice as much olive oil in as there was lemon juice (rule of thumb, for vinaigrettes use 2 parts oil for every 1 part acid). I seasoned it with salt and pepper and then emulsified it with my whisk. I poured the vinaigrette all over the vegetables and tossed it all together.

For this chicken there was no need for a long marinade. I simply took some skin-on, bone-in thighs and squeezed some lemon juice all over them after scoring the skin. Then I sprinkled a little turmeric, cumin, and paprika all over them, along with some salt and pepper. Then it was off to the grill.

On the grill I started them off skin-side down on the lower rack with the flames at med-high. I left it there for a few minutes in order for the skin to get nice and crisp. Then I moved the chicken to the upper rack, turning it over skin-side up. I lowered the heat to medium, closed the lid, and let it cook for about 6 or 7 minutes until it was cooked through. Each grill is different, but for skin-on chicken thighs it’s best to use a direct heat first on the skin and then an indirect on the bottom. That gets the skin crisp and keeps the meat moist.

I garnished the plates with some chopped parsley. We had some white rice on the side and cold beer to wash it all down.

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My buddy Tony and his wife Sandra took Yuki and I to Salam for lunch this past Saturday. Tony’s been talking about how fantastic their hummus is for a long time as he’s an even bigger hummus snob than I am. He took me up there for lunch a while back only to find they were on vacation, so I never got to try it. Well, Saturday worked out. We went and we dined. I have to say, that hummus is not only the best I’ve had in Chicago, it’s right up there with the best I’ve ever had period! I lived in the Middle East for a year so I know a thing or two about hummus. For the life of me I have no idea how they get such a creamy texture. Fantastic! Funny enough, Yuki found online that their hummus voted the best in Chicago by WGN Sunday night.

At any rate, when we were there Saturday I had the shawerma and Yuki had the chicken kifta, both also fantastic, but neither of us tried the falafel. Craving that hummus and wanting to not only try their falafel but also their baba ganouj we decided that we ought to go back for Meatless Monday.

We were meeting a close friend for dinner up there and got there early, so we walked around a little bit. Albany Park is a great neighborhood full of culture that I need to explore more of. We walked into the Tannourine Bakery just to check things out. They hand bake all of their own goods, including their pita bread. After chitchatting with Mike, the head honcho there, we ended up buying some spinach pockets, cheese pockets, and thyme manakeesh. He and I hit it off so he not only gave me a discount, but he also threw in a box of free anise cookies. Everything is so delicious and you can tell they care about their goods. I will definately head back to Mike when I need some good pastries.

Back to Salam. We started off with baba ganouj, hummus, and lentil soup. Believe it or not what you see in the pic are the smalls! Huge portions, only order large if you’re feeding an army. One of the best lentil soups in Chicago and that baba just might qualify as the best in town as well.

The falafel is also outstanding. If not the best in town, definately in the conversation and definately one of the largest falafel sandwiches! Perfectly cooked fresh falafel, diced tomato and cucumber, and tahini…a classic.

Just look at how green and fresh the inside of that falafel is. I know the picture sucks, but trust me, that falafel was heaven in a fried chickpea.

I also ordered the spinach pie, but honestly, I was so stuffed from the huge falafel sandwhich that I didn’t even touch it. I’m going to eat it tonight. Judging by everything else I’m sure it’s one of the best spinach pies in Chitown.

We ordered the combo plate full of kifta and kabob on rice with a tomato and cucumber salad to go along with six more falafel balls. The idea being that we had a bunch of left over hummus and baba that we ought to just have leftovers for lunch today. Not only did we have leftovers for lunch, we still have enough for dinner tonight as well. For about $40 we both got 3 full, healthy and delicious meals. You can’t beat that.

Service is also pretty good. It’s a bare bones little restaurant, but very attentive. I’ll definately make this little joint a regular stop in my rotation. I just cannot say enough good things about Salam except for “Peace be with you”.

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For Meatless Monday last night I had an almost failed attempt at making falafel. To make falafel, you need to start way in advance and soak some dried chickpeas in water for about 8 hours. We were out at the Morton Arboretum all afternoon when I got the urge to make falafel, so I tried to make it using canned chickpeas. As you’ll see, that just doesn’t do the trick as canned chickpeas are way too soft and don’t have nearly the same texture. Lesson learned.

In my food processor I tossed in 2 cans of chickpeas (the pic shows 3, but I only used 2), half a chopped red onion, 5 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 1/2 tablespoon baking powder, and a handful of basil leaves. Typically, besides soaked dried chickpeas, you’d use parsley. I didn’t have any parsley so I used basil. It actually worked quite well flavor-wise. At any rate, I processed everything into a paste and let it sit for about half hour. During that time I got everything prepped for the Israeli Couscous soup I made to accompany.

For the soup I used 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, the half of red onion diced, 1 quart of vegetable stock, 1 carrot chopped, 2 cloves of garlic minced, 1 cup of Israeli couscous, some basil, 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds crushed in my pestle and mortar, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne.

I also had time to throw together my tomato and cucumber salad. I chopped up 1/2 head of iceberg lettuce, half a seedless cucumber, and halved the rest of my cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 the container). I set the lettuce aside and threw the cucumber and tomatoes in a large bowl. I zested the lemon on top. In a separate bowl I juiced half of the lemon, tossed in a pinch of salt and a pepper, and then poured some olive oil in at a ratio of 2 parts oil 1 part juice. With a wisk I emulsified it into a smooth dressing and poured that in with the cucumbers and tomatoes and then tossed to coat. I set all of the salad ingredients aside.

Then, I laid some wax paper on a baking sheet and formed walnut-sized balls of the falafel mix on top. I sprinkled the tops with some sesame seeds. I was a little worried about the texture because it was kind of soft, but I thought everything would be ok. I let the falafel balls sit for about 15 minutes while I got the deep fryer ready and made the soup.

To make the soup I poured a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a hot pot. I added the onion and carrot and let them saute for about 5 minutes. Then I added the garlic. 30 seconds later I poured in the can of tomatoes with the juice, the stock, and all of the spices along with some salt and pepper. Once it came to a light boil I added the couscous, partially covered the pot, and turned the heat down to medium-low to let it slowly simmer while I fried the falafel.

Once the oil was ready, 375 degrees, I dropped 3 balls in and let them go. A minute later when I checked on their progress I noticed that they were much smaller than they were at the start. I put them back in for a minute and then checked again…even smaller. The oil had basically disintegrated them. They were way too loose. What a waste of oil! While I was pissed, I didn’t panic. I had to switch gears and do it quickly so that the couscous wouldn’t overcook.

I quickly got out my big pan and heated it to high. I poured in some oil and ended up shallow frying the falafel. They turned out to be more like falafel latkes and did start to fall apart in the pan as well. I was able to salvage most of it though and turn out a decent dinner. It did take a little longer than I wanted and the couscous overcooked a little, they were a bit soft. Oh well, what can you do? Disasters are half of the fun of cooking.

To serve I added the basil and juice from the other half of the lemon to the soup just before ladling it into the bowls. On the plates I laid down some of the lettuce, then the cucumber and tomato salad, and then topped that with the falafel…we’ll call them patties. All in all it didn’t taste bad at all. Complete failure averted.

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Last night Yuki and I went to see RUSH at Northerly Island. What a great band! Because of that I didn’t cook Meatless Monday, though I did eat a falafel sandwich with some babaganoush before the show to keep with the theme. I tell ya, being at the concert really drove home the point that all Americans need to adopt a healthier diet as at least 75% of the concert goers were way overweight. That might be an understatement too. Concert seats are only so big and literally everyone around us was well over 200 pounds. I felt claustrophobic at time. America, start eating healthy well-balanced diets!!! But that didn’t stop us from enjoying the show. At any rate, I’m going to blog about the dinner we had Saturday night.

We were out in Schaumburg so that we could stop at the Tensuke Market, which is actually in Elk Grove, but just south of Mitsuwa. It’s smaller than Mitsuwa but sometimes has better deals and has the absolute best retail seafood in the Chicago area. If you want to make sashimi at home, I highly suggest making the trek to Tensuke for your fish. There’s a restaurant called Daruma that Yuki had wanted to try for a while so we decided to give it a try. Honestly, walking through the doors was almost like walking into Japan. I mean that in every good way possible.

The decor is very traditional of casual dining in Japan. The Japanese don’t put a whole lot of stock into gaudy decor, instead they prefer to focus on high quality food. The walls were poorly painted, the tables and seats a little worn down, cheap napkins (in Japan you usually don’t find any napkins). It really felt like a restaurant in Japan. Made me feel homesick even though I’m not Japanese.

Service was pretty good. All Japanese servers, but bi-lingual so don’t worry. It was the food that starred though.

We started off with some Miso Soup. Nothing fancy, just a well made miso soup with wakame and tofu. I also had some sake. I was torn between two kinds so they gave me a couple of samples. The samples were very generous and I honestly didn’t need to order any sake due to the large pours. But, I did get a sake from the Nara Prefecture.

We got a Daikon Salad. Thin sticks of daikon served with carrot stick tempura and a shiso dressing. Carrots often accompany daikon, but this is the first time I’ve seen carrot tempura with the daikon. Nice touch. Little pea shoots for a bit of peppery bit and color.

We ordered two maki rolls. Ebi Ten, shrimp tempura with avocado, cucumber, and smelt roe. Unakyu, fresh water eel with cucumber. The sushi was good. Not the best I’ve ever had, but overall solid.

Tatsuta Age, deep-fried chicken thigh. Usually served in smaller pieces and called karage, these were pretty big chunks of chicken. Served with shredded cabbage, potato salad, pea shoots, and a slice of lemon this is a classic. It’s also one of mine and Yuki’s favorites.

Niku Tofu, a play on the popular Japanese home cooked dish called niku jaga (meat and potato). Instead of potato Daruma used tofu. It’s thin sliced beef with tofu simmered in a sweet soy broth. Also simmered in the dish were chopped napa cabbage and green onions. This was delicious!

Hamachi Kama, the absolute star of the show! Yellowtail jaw broiled to perfection. You got all of that flavorful cheek meat, easily the best part of any large fish. I don’t know why this part isn’t served more in American cuisine because it has so much more meat and flavor than our prefered filets. This chunk of fish was so tasty it almost brought a tear to my eye. My stomach thanked me for eating this.

Overall, the food and ambiance at Daruma were fantastic. So far it’s the most authentic Japanese restaurant we’ve been to in the Chicagoland area. The food is delicious, portions are priced accordingly (we had leftovers), and the sake was flowing. The only downfall of this place is that I have to fight Hwy 90 traffic to get there. Next time Yuki’s parents are in town we’re definitely taking them there to show them that there is real Japanese cooking here.

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chickpea

 

 

I didn’t eat too much for lunch yesterday so by the time 5:00pm rolled around my stomach was rumbling! My wife had plans for dinner with some coworkers so I was on my own for dinner. I work from home most of the time, devoid of human contact, so I felt like grabbing some dinner with a couple of friends. I called up my buddy Ed and his girlfriend Becky (I know, I wonder myself how he has been able to keep the same girl for 2 years! It truly boggles the mind.). They were down for joining me to the recently opened Chickpea at 2018 W. Chicago, a place I’ve wanted to check out since it opened.

 

You have to pay attention to addresses since there isn’t a noticeable sign for Chickpea. It’s located directly across the street from the Dominick’s on Chicago and Damen. When we walked in we immediately got the feel of a typical family run joint in the Middle East. I lived in Israel and Egypt for a year so I have a pretty good idea of what’s authentic and what’s not.

 

The décor was interesting with a large painted Coca-cola sign on part of the wall and Arabic movie posters filling the rest of the walls. Light fixtures were clearly of Arab design as were the table tops. I also love how they polished the copper ceilings, something which too many establishments choose to paint over and which I think is criminal.

 

Anyway, we were a little unsure of how service worked as there was a line of people at the counter to order as well as some people waiting for a table. We figured that the line was for carryout and decided to wait for a table. While we were waiting, the old guy who’s helping to run the place (Jerry’s father maybe?) took us to the pinball machine in the back and said, “Come, play while you wait, the price is right”. It’s free, so I guess the price is right. I felt a little awkward playing pinball right next to people gorging on falafel and hummus. Oh well, we played a couple of games before our table opened up.

 

We didn’t realize that there wasn’t full table service until after we sat down. I felt like an ass sitting down before ordering while a bunch of people who had already ordered were waiting to sit. Oh well, I am an ass, so I guess it’s ok.

 

I held down fort while Ed and Becky went up to order. Ed screwed up my order, no surprise, so Becky had to go back up to fix it. I tell ya, men would be lost without good women by our sides. Thanks for straightening that out Becky.

 

We started with the trio of dips which consists of a dish of hummus, one of baba ghanooj (I guess that how Palestinians spell it), and the koosa ma laban which is yogurt, zucchini and mint puree. I’ve never had koosa ma laban before, and to honest, it wasn’t my favorite of the three. It was good, really fresh and clean, it just wasn’t my preferred flavor. The hummus was outstanding, definitely some of the best the Chicagoland area has to offer. The baba ghanooj was really good as well. I think I prefer the baba at The Pita Inn, but this baba more closely resembles what you get in the Middle East. You can tell that it’s a family recipe and it had a really nice lemony zing to it.

 

For entrees Ed got the Kufta Mihshew, ground lamb and beef kebabs with peppers and rice. Becky got the Fasoolya, braised lamb with green beans and tomato with rice. I got the Laham ma Hummus, a plate with hummus smeared around the sides and minced beef sautéed with pine nuts in olive oil in the middle that you eat with pita. I have to say, WOW! Absolutely delicious food. The Kufta was grilled just right so that the meat stayed nice and juicy while the seasoning was spot on. The braised lamb just fell apart off the bone, extremely tender. My laham was awesome. Little morsels of beef I think seasoned with a little cumin, maybe a touch of sumac but I’m not completely sure.

 

I was so hungry that I ate way too fast and didn’t leave any room for dessert. Oh how I love a good baklava. I’ll have to try it next time.

 

The one thing we didn’t try that I definitely need to is the falafel. I’ve been on the eternal search for a really good falafel ever since my year in the Middle East. So far, I have yet to find one that’s even close. The Pita Inn is closest, but nothing else I’ve had is. I know a lot of you are going to say, “what about Sultans on North?” I went there once a few years ago to try their falafel. While I don’t remember exactly how good or bad it was, the fact that I haven’t been back tells me that it didn’t impress me too much. I seem to remember it being more like an American falafel sandwich as opposed to a real authentic one. It’s really tricky to get the texture just right as well as the flavors. The best ones I ate in Israel all came from outdoor stands where the guy making them probably hasn’t changed his oil in 20 years. The oil really makes a difference. I’ll definitely try Chickpea’s falafel on my next visit. I mean really, I should have tried it last night as their name implies. What kind of an idiot am I?

 

I was also a little disappointed that they don’t have schwarma. I’ll take a good schwarma over just about anything in the world and I would love to have a good one in my neighborhood. I guess I’ll have to keep waiting.

 

The Suqi’s are also some of the most genuinely nice and hospitable people running a restaurant that I’ve come across in a long time. They definitely come from the old world. Amni, the mother whose recipes we ate, is such a nice woman. She was constantly stopping over and telling us about her grandma’s recipes that she uses and how good the food is. I couldn’t argue one bit as I had a mouth full of delicious bits every time she stopped by. I think she has the hots for me too as she kept touching my shoulder and talking to me instead of Ed or Becky. Frankly, I can’t blame her….I’m a stud!

 

In all seriousness though, I found Chickpea to be a real asset for this neighborhood. With prices all below $12 it’s a great value for the weakening US Dollar. Portions are nice too as there was plenty of dip for us to split up and take home. It did leave me a little gassy, but hey, most things worth their while do. I have a very good feeling that I will become a regular devourer of their food.

 

 

Photo courtesy of www.stevenjohnsonphotography.com

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