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This takes me back to Paris. Every so often my friends and I would crave something that wasn’t bathed in booze and cream, so we’d go out for falafel. Sometimes if feeling rich or if it was a special occasion we’d eat in at Chez Marianne, which is a beautiful restaurant with an even more beautiful menu. If we were feeling cheap then we’d get take-out from a number of fast-food falafel joints on rue des Rosiers. There was so much choice in the Marais and it was also a great place to go out drinking (it’s both the Jewish and Gay quarter). The tahini would ooze down the paper napkins and we’d eat it as quickly as we could before it all disintegrated and then we’d skip off to a welcoming bar and drink and laugh the night away (this is how I like to remember my time in Paris).

So tonight I thought I’d make falafel and homemade pitta. Jamie and I made falafel quite a few years ago now, and for some reason they went wrong. I just remember the whole process taking forever and being a nightmare to clean up and the falafel themselves weren’t right. They sucked.

It’s only now after at least five years that I feel like trying again, full of optimism and hope. Full of the carefree idealism of my youth. Suffice it to say that they weren’t as good as the ones in Paris, but at least they were close. If I hadn’t have added so much flour I think they would have been great – so I’m tailoring the recipe with less flour and a little more faith (I was impatient for the mush to come together).

The pitta on the other hand are reliably easy. The only thing you have to realise is that they need time to prove, so if you fancy pitta for dinner, then you need to start thinking about it at least three hours before you want to eat. The kneading though is practically non-existent, it really is an easy bread to make, and just so satisfying to see them puff up and produce those signature air pockets.

We made enough falafel for plenty of leftovers, and froze half the pitta. I also served it with some homegrown baby beet tzatziki, which worked well. So, another meat-free nibbley supper and for me, a trip down memory lane…

The Pitta – inspired by a recipe from a Guardian Baking Supplement years ago

Makes about 10 – 12 pittas

300g strong white flour

200g plain flour

1 tspn yeast

1 tspn sugar

1 tspn ground sea salt

2 tbsp sunflower oil

325ml tepid water

Scald a large mixing bowl with boiling water. Add all the dry ingredients and mix around, then add the oil and water into a very sticky dough (does not matter that it’s sticky, see photos for reassurance). Cover and leave dough for about ten minutes. Then rub about a tablespoon for oil onto a large chopping board, and spread it out about into the size of a dinner plate. Empty dough onto surface and knead for just 8 – 10 seconds (until smooth – the oil smoothes it instantly). Then return to bowl and repeat this process twice more at ten minute intervals. The last time you knead, then leave for half an hour.

Pre-heat oven to at least 250c. Keep a baking tray in the oven to superheat (the bigger the tray the easier it is – I could fit all ten pitta in at once), for about twenty minutes. In the meantime, on a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into ten balls, and leave to rest under a tea towel for 15 minutes. Then roll each one out into an oval (pitta) shape and leave for a further two minutes.

Then as quickly and efficiently, so as not to lose heat, lay the pitta on the tray. Cook for 3 – 5 minutes, or until risen and barely coloured. Remove with tongs and leave to rest and keep warm in a tea towel.

The Falafel

Makes almost 20

1 tin chickpeas

1 large onion, roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Small bunch of flat leaf parsley

Larger bunch of coriander

1 tspn coriander seeds, ground

1 tspn cumin seeds, ground

1 egg

50g plain flour

1 ¼ tspn baking powder

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Seasoning

Sunflower oil for deep frying

In a food processer smoosh the chickpeas, then add the onion and garlic and continue to smoosh until more or less smooth. Then add the remaining ingredients and whirl it around again, until you’re left with quite a wet, mush. Cover and refrigerate for half an hour (whilst that’s happening, do the final stage of the pitta).

Heat the oil so it’s deep enough to cover the falafels on a medium heat. Then roll into small balls (ping pong sized or less). Check temperature of oil by dropping a few bread crumbs in, you want them to bubble, but not go all sodium on you. Then cook the falafels a few at a time (try not to overcrowd), should only take a few minutes, you want them just more than golden, but not brown. Then put aside in a dish lined with kitchen paper, whilst you cook the rest

Tahini Sauce

1 clove of garlic

1 tblsp tahini paste

½ lemon

2 tblsp water

Seasoning

With a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic clove with a pinch of salt. Whisk in the tahini, and then the lemon juice. Add the water and give a couple of twists of black pepper.

Beetroot Tzatziki

2 baby beetroots

3 or 4 tblsp greek yoghurt

Squeeze of lemon

Seasoning

Small bunch of mint, chopped

To Serve:

Thin slices of cucumber and red cabbage.

N.B. Jamie and I both thought that a bit of sweet chilli, or a tomatoey chilli sauce would enhance the flavours even more. Next time (hopefully it’ll be sooner than five years).

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