The day supermarkets started to sell plastic boxes of tiny falafel balls in their fridge sections was the day Middle Eastern food seemed to lose it’s magic in the UK. Falafel became de rigeur at buffets, picnics and lunch parties. Ambitious chefs on a budget would knock out a few falafels to impress their uni-mates. In short, the popularisation of the falafel was where it all went wrong.
I’m sitting in one of the many falafel joints on Leather Lane, waiting for the chubby Kurdish woman behind the counter to finish pressing my wrap on the griddle. I have only recently, tentatively started to eat gluten again. I treat myself once a week and steel myself for the horrific side effects that follow.
The wraps at all of these joints are cheap and vegan. The one I got today was just £2.50 and is stuffed with red cabbage, peppery falafel balls, tomatoes, a thick spread of hummous and a spicy red harissa paste. I shook my head to an offer of yoghurt: the woman behind the counter was happy to keep my wrap dairy free and she reassured me that the falafels were both gluten and egg free.
And this falafel hole-in-the-wall is not a one off. There are at least five along Leather Lane and all of them provide crisped-up wraps, finished off by being pressed down on a hot griddle.
It’s the antidote to hunger, and the perfect pick-me-up for an afternoon hard at work. The protein from the chickpeas staves off the need to indulge in an afternoon snack and the salad makes it light enough to avoid feeling full of stodge.
The King of Falafel is my personal favourite: their harissa is spicy enough to make you want to eat bite after bite without stopping and the paste works so well with their tangy red cabbage.
If you’re feeling disillusioned with falafel because you’ve eaten too many dry counterfeit snacks from supermarkets, then head down to one of these joints. For the same price of a Taste the Difference box of falafels, you can try a decent, fresh take on your lunch.
Here’s how you can make your own if you live too far from Leather Lane to warrant a trip to get falafel. Although the ingredient list is long, most are store-cupboard essentials.
Can of chickpeas
2 cloves of garlic
1 onion, very, very finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon of cumin
A shake of cumin seeds
A shake of dry mild chilli powder
(If you have any, a pinch of ras al hanout wouldn’t go amiss)
3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped finely
A good squeeze of tomato puree (this makes it less dry)
Salt, pepper and oil for frying
Gluten free wraps/wraps
Chopped red cabbage, cucumber and salad
Put the chick-peas in a pan of boiling water and soak for five minutes.
Chop the onion and garlic very finely and then fry with the spices in another pan. When the chick-peas have softened, add all the remaining ingredients into the pan and cook all together for a few minutes.
Mash together into a paste. Heat some hot oil into a shallow frying pan. Roll the chickpea paste into balls and, when the oil is hot, place ball into pan and ensure they have a complete covering of oil. Turn the heat down so they cook through without burning.
While they’re cooking, spread a layer of hummus, harissa, salad and a grind of pepper. When the falafels are still hot, pop them into the wrap. Envelope it all up, and, to finish, put the wrap back in the hot pan that just cooked the falafels and press it down with the back of the spatula, making sure you do both sides.
Add more harissa and enjoy!