Falafels & Hummus, Caveman Style

Picture “Jewish cooking”. What do you see? I know what I think of; babka buns, chocolate and cinnamon swirled into soft challah egg bread. Matzah ball dumplings made with schmaltz. Butter fried crepe blintzes covered in sour cream and strawberry sauce. Macaroons, latkes, rugelach, sufganiyot, plenty more things you probably shouldn’t google if you value your svelte figure.

These are staples of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking, born in Eastern Europe and maintained from the tenth century all the way to the twenty-first. Though Ashkenazi literally means “Jews of Germany” (and there’s a terrible amount of irony in that, to be sure) the word has grown to cover all the Eastern European nations Jews spread into throughout that millennium. Though the holocaust devastated Ashkenazim, the vast majority of the world’s Jews still trace our roots back there, where cold and scarce conditions lead to a food culture based on filling, hearty meals made from inexpensive ingredients.

Finished falafel mix

The truth is, I didn’t actually grow up around this kind of food. My bubbe was never really “into” cooking, and though my dad’s side of the family only takes two generations to trace back to Odessa in the Ukraine, my mom was born in a family of Dutch immigrants and converted to Judaism before I was born. And though the Netherlands have their own butter-soaked and mayonnaise-dipped culinary traditions, my mom’s cooking has always focused on the kind of healthy, local nouveau cuisine that petulant brats like my brother and I didn’t appreciate until after we moved out. This recipe has my mother’s full seal of approval.

Ashkenazi cooking poses a problem in the summertime, when a simmering pot of cholent tends to overheat your apartment instead of conveniently warming it up. At that point it’s time to take a look at Sephardic fare, AKA the Rebel Alliance of Jewish cooking. It’s the light, garlicky Middle Eastern food served all over Israel, from beachfront shawarma stands to the gas station restaurants open on Shabbat. Nothing represents this style of food so much as what is essentially Israel’s national dish: falafel, a deep-fried ball of ground chickpeas, usually served with hummus, fresh vegetables and tzatziki in a warm pita. (That’s “hoo-moos” with a guttural “h”. Don’t be Peggy Hill, it’s not guay-ca-moul.)

Falafels frying

I had these every spring at Jewish elementary and high school when they were catered on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. I didn’t like them at all. If you’re looking for a fairly drab, paste-like protein substitute, mashed garbanzo beans is a pretty safe bet. It took a few years and a more developed palate to appreciate how the scads of garlic and fresh herbs elevate this vegan protein from soylent to sublime.

Start with your chickpeas; might as well do them for the falafel and hummus at the same time since they start the same way. If you’re using dried you’ll need to soak them overnight with about two inches of water above them — I just used canned because ain’t nobody got time for that. Drain the chickpeas and mash them. Typically falafel and hummus are made with a food processor, but I don’t have one and as far as I know they’ve never dug up any Cuisinarts near the temple mount. Some people tell you to use a potato masher, but the beans are the perfect size to dodge it so I just got in there with my hands and practiced my grip strength like I was a Play-doh extruder. UNGH!

Once you have a paste-like consistency, separate the stuff into two bowls and add the respective ingredients. The quantities are more guidelines than actual rules; I figure if you’re eating a bunch of garlic for lunch you might as well go hard in the paint. Form the falafel paste into ping-pong balls and then flatten them a little for more even cooking.

The traditional preparation at this point is to deep-fry that sucker in a wok or deep pan in about two inches of oil until golden brown, but you may have to experiment with the amount of flour to keep them together; I got about two perfect ones this time and the rest disintegrated. Next I’ll try baking them at 375º for about 15 minutes each side, which is obviously my mom’s preference as someone who does Pilates.

The hummus and tzatziki are pretty self-explanatory. I hear you can use soy yogurt or even silken tofu for the tzatziki if you’re pretty sure baby cows should be the only ones drinking milk. I put my pitas in the microwave for twenty seconds or so to soften them up, but you can always fry them lightly in a pan or throw them in the oven if you’re a stickler. At this point, vendors in Israel will garnish your pita with everything from pickled turnips to French fries and it’s all good. As usual, I recommend sambal oelek.

The Shopping List

Pita bread (not naan — it needs to have a pocket.)


(makes about 10)

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans or 1 cup dried
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt and pepper to taste



1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans or 1 cup dried
1/4 cup liquid from can
3-5 tablespoons lemon juice to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil



2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1 cup sliced cucumber
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

Written By:

Vancouver-born photographer, writer and designer Sol Kauffman has had his hands dirty in restaurant kitchens for years, washing dishes and slinging pizzas. In 2008 he moved to Victoria to pursue a BFA in Creative Writing at UVic ...

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