What tasty food is made out of crushed chickpeas, often served with salads, and offers itself as a healthier snack alternative? You guessed it: Falafel.

Happy International Falafel Day!

Falafel historians are unsure of falafel’s origins. Many associate its beginnings with the Copts (Egyptian Christians) about a thousand years ago who ate it instead of meat during the Christian period of “lent.” Others have even speculated that it was eaten in the period of the Pharaohs, a much earlier era. Some opine that falafel was invented in Western Asia, specifically in India, where the culture enjoyed deep frying from an early time. Etymologically, some will point to the word falafel’s association with the Aramaic/Arabic/Hebrew “pilpal” which means a small round thing, or a peppercorn. The Persian “pilpil” means long pepper. A Coptic (Christian Egyptian) dictionary cites the phrase “pha la fel,” meaning “has lots of beans.” The Oxford English Dictionary first listed the word “falafel” in 1951.

It’s hard to identify Jewish food, or Jewish music, since most Jewish food and music derive from the diaspora cultures that have hosted Jews. Even though falafel is considered the national food of Israel (and that of Egypt), it clearly came from the cuisine culture of Middle Eastern countries that hosted Jews. Because falafel is plant-based, it is considered pareve (neither meat nor dairy) in Jewish law and may be eaten with any meal. As such, it is quite conducive to be regarded as a national food of a Jewish nation.

North American Kosher fast food restaurants have been serving falafel on their menu for decades, but since the 1970s, falafel has broken through to the mainstream American market mostly due to the marketing of the Israeli Sabra brand, and is often available as street food and in vegetarian establishments nation-wide. During the same time, falafel has become very popular in Germany as well, not just in Berlin’s large Arab community, but in its gentrified strata as well.

Want to make falafel? Take raw chickpeas (if you cook them prior they will fall apart) and soak them in water overnight. Some add a dash of baking soda in the mixture. Drain and grind the chickpeas together with some spices (popular ones are parsley, scallions, garlic, coriander and cumin). The mixture is shaped into small balls and then deep-fried. If you prefer, the balls can be baked. The balls are usually placed in a pita (small bread with a pocket), adding salad, and some garnishes such as tehina (made from sesame seeds) or humus (a paste made from chickpeas).

Bon Appetite and B’tayavon!

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