Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Michigan II - I am the Falafel King!!! (not)

As noted in the previous post, Michigan is home to large immigrant populations from Wales, Poland, Russia, and all over the Arab world (and probably a few Canadians that filtered in from Ontario).  Arab-American cuisine - especially brought by Lebanese immigrants among others - enjoys a strong presence in Detroit and nearby Dearborn, the latter of which enjoys the largest Arab-American community in the United States.

Official Name: State of Michigan
State Nicknames:The Wolverine State; The Great Lakes State

Admission to the US: January 26, 1837 (#26)
Lansing (5th largest)
Other Important Cities: Detroit (largest); Grand Rapids (2nd largest); Ann Arbor (6th largest)
Midwest; Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Wild Rice
Bordered by:
Lake Michigan (west and southwest); Indiana & Ohio (south); Lakes Erie & Huron (east); Ontario (Canada) (north and east); Lake Superior (north); Wisconsin (northwest)

Official State Foods and Edible Things: brook trout (fish); whitetail deer (game mammal)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: immigrant cuisines, especially German, Irish, Welsh and Middle Eastern/Arabic; Coney Island dog; pasty (in the Upper Peninsula); morel mushrooms notes the diversity of the Middle Eastern community in the Midwest: 22 nationalities (including Palestine) represent the Detroit area's vast Arab-American community.  Starting in the late 19th century, Syrian and Lebanese Christians flooded into the area looking for work, followed in the early 20th century by Muslim Arabs (specifically Yemenis and Palestinians) and Chaldeans - from what would later become Iraq) who came to work in the burgeoning auto industry.  Over a century later there are anywhere from 400,000 to 500,000 Arab Americans in Michigan, most in the Detroit metropolitan area [ 2011]

Middle Eastern food - popular not just in the Arab world but in Israel as well - has become a popular staple in the United States.  Today you can find hummus, falafel, tabbouleh and a host of other Middle Eastern foods in any supermarket in the US - foods that were at best specialty items twenty years ago.  And usually, these recipes are easy to make yourself.

The recipes: Hummus and Falafel

I tried two hummus recipes.  The first one, from Madelain Farah's Lebanese Cuisine, did not turn out so well for me.  The second, recipe #2 of My Cooking Class: Middle Eastern Basics by Marianne Magnier-Moreno, was what really worked.

The recipe: Hummus

* garbanzo beans (i.e., chickpeas - canned is fine for this.  If you want a smoother hummus, try removing the skins.  I learned this while listening to Splendid Table on NPR  Even at Whole Foods, chickpeas aren't that expensive.  Surprisingly, one can of the cheap ones costs about as much as a can of Goya chickpeas at Food Lion - about 85¢ for a can.  If you go with dried, remember that one pound of dried chickpeas eventually yields the equivalent of about four 15 oz cans)
* tahini (this sesame paste is a vital component to your hummus.  I bought Asmar's brand out of Lebanon, which was a little less expensive than the other ones, at about $3.50.  Probably the easiest one to find is Brooklyn-based Joyva's tahini, which is in a lot of supermarkets)
* lemon juice (I used both a fresh lemon and juice from the bottle)
* garlic (had it)
* olive oil (same)
* parsley flakes, paprika and pine nuts (these are garnishes for your hummus - use whatever ones you like)

Also consider eating this with pita bread, tabbouleh and maybe some nice homemade falafel (see below)

Using Mangier-Moreno's recipe (each step beautifully photographed by Frédéric Lucano in My Cooking Class: Middle Eastern Basics), you will drain the chickpeas, reserving some of the liquid.

Combine all of the ingredients except for the chickpea liquid and the olive oil.  Just throw them all into your food processor.

When I made the first go-round, using a different recipe in Maria Khalifé's The Middle Eastern Cookbook (page 21 - the Lebanese Hummus bi Tahini), I got what you see above: a lot of tahini dissolved in water and lemon juice.  Maybe I added too much (well duh).  Regardless, hummus soup was not what I was going for.

Round two worked much better (in fact most of the hummus photos are from my second, successful attempt at hummus-making).  Here, add the chickpea liquid a little at a time, until you get the desired consistency.

To wit, the desired consistency.  Mine was a little chunky, but it worked for me.

Even though it was a bit chunky, I liked this hummus more than any store-bought I have had, and about as much as any I've had in a restaurant.  Perhaps it was because making it was so much easier than I had anticipated, or maybe it was the freshness.  I don't know, but it was a nice one.

For a more complete (and, I might add, vegetarian-friendly) Middle Eastern feast, fry up some falafel.

The recipe: Falafel

The falafel is popular in both the Arab world and in Israel, where it is considered a national dish, and both Arab and Jewish immigrants from the Middle East brought the falafel to the United States.  The recipe I used was one of the rare ones I could find that was chickpea-exclusive.  Most if not all falafel recipes call for fava beans - falafels that use them come out with that distinct green hue.  This is especially common in Lebanese recipes.  This one I used, from Madelain Farah and showcased on Sara's Secrets, is different from one I saw in her book Lebanese Cuisine.  That recipe also calls for fava beans and chickpeas.  The fava-free recipe is better if you suffer from favism (which I do not seem to).  Since fava beans are not nearly as easy to find in the US, this one seemed like a no-brainer.

* chickpeas - this time I used two cans.  Yes, I should have gone the dried route.  Falafels seem to turn out better when you use the dried stuff, again skinned)
* onion, coarsely chopped
* baking soda (had it)
* cumin, chili flakes and coriander (had them)
* garlic, chopped (also on hand)
* flour (Farah's recipe does not call for much flour, but as I found out, I would need a good bit more just to keep it from falling apart)
* oil for frying

If using dried, soak overnight.  Otherwise, drain the chickpeas, but this time do not save the liquid - you won't need it.  Remove as many of the skins as you can.

This won't be a particularly quick process, but it's worth it if you are using the canned stuff.  If using fava beans, you will need to soak them overnight as well and skin them.

Add the onion and process.

Throw in the rest of the ingredients except for the oil (duh) and process until crumbly and mixed together.

Form into small balls, or patties.  I eventually found patties to work best, though the problems I had probably did not have so much to do with the shape of the falafel so much as the lack of flour.  These little beauties disintegrated as soon as I put them in the oil.  So what I did was use the Google to find out how to stop this.  The answer: flour.  Add more and more flour, which will help to bind the falafels and keep them from being vaporized in the pan.

These much better bound falafels held together better, though there were still some bits boiling off.

Drain and serve, preferably in pitas though this is not necessary.  I may have pulled them out too early, but again, I was afraid of seeing yet another series of falafels disintegrating into chickpea dust in the pan, so I took them out when I could.

Farah also gives a quick recipe for a tahini dipping sauce: smoosh garlic and chop with salt.

Mix with water and tahini, and then slowly add lemon juice.  Eventually it will thicken.

My falafels were a little softer than I would have liked.  Again, this may be due to my pulling them out of the oil sooner, or perhaps because I used canned instead of dried and soaked chickpeas.  I still had a good experience with the falafels that actually did turn out, though I ended up putting the pitas aside and just eating them and these lovely tomatoes with my hands.

With the hummus I made earlier, this turned out to be a most filling meal.

Sources:  "Arab Americans".  Much information contributed by Rosina Hassoun, (Arab Americans in Michgan, 2005). Copyright, 2011.  All rights reserved.

Adams, Marcia. Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens. Clarkson Potter: New York, 1991.

braniac (eHow user).  "How to Make a Detroit-Style Coney Island Hot Dog".  eHow article, post date unknown.  Copyright 1999-2011 eHow.

Dooley, Beth, and Lucia Watson.  Savoring Seasons of the Northern Heartland.  Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1994.

Farah, Madelain. "Falafel: Chickpea Patties".  Featured on the episode "Late Night Sandwiches" of the show Sara's Secrets (Sara Moulton, host).  Food Network, 2004.

Farah, Madelain.  Lebanese Cuisine: More than 200 Simple, Delicious, Authentic Recipes.  Twelfth edition. Self-published: New York, 1997.

Magnier-Moreno, Marianne, with Frédéric Lucano (photographer).  Middle Eastern Basics: 70 Recipes Illustrated Step by Step.  From the series "My Cooking Class".  Firefly Books: Buffalo, NY, 2010.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Michigan" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Michigan".