Ask anyone from Rhode Island about the most delicious falafel they've ever eaten, and they will surely get a dreamy, faraway look in their eyes and recall the best stuffed pita they've ever had—the one at East Side Pockets on Thayer Street in Providence. When I was in high school I went late in the afternoons, in between classes and play rehearsals. My order never changed: a falafel pocket with all the trimmings—hot sauce, hummus, lettuce, tomato, hot peppers, onions, pickles, tabouleh, tahini, and cucumber yogurt sauce.
I've lived in New York City for six years now, and I've sampled falafel far and wide. While there are certainly some terrific options (my favorite is Bedouin Tent on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn), nothing compares to East Side Pockets. Perhaps the memory of those crispy, delicately seasoned chickpea fritters has magnified in my mind over time. Perhaps all falafel tastes divine to a starving teenager at 4 p.m. All I know for sure is that I've never had anything more delicious.
Earlier this week I was struck by a fierce and unanticipated falafel craving. Since I'm nowhere near Providence, and since I happen to be in the middle of a healthy-eating phase (after writing a dessert cookbook, a month of salads and mineral water actually sounds appealing!), I decided to bake falafel at home. Most recipes call for a laundry list of ingredients, but Fantastic World Foods All Natural Falafel Mix ($2.99) promised crunchy, golden brown falafel in fewer than twenty minutes.
To make the falafel patties, all you have to do is add 1 1/4 cups of water to the mix, stir well, and allow the mixture to stand for 15 minutes. My falafel "dough" was an encouraging shade of toasted green, and smelled pleasingly of cumin and garlic.
Next, I formed the dough into balls (there was enough for 13) and placed them on a lightly greased baking sheet. I brushed the tops of the balls with olive oil and flattened them slightly. Then, they went under the broiler for about three minutes per side, until they were piping hot and the edges had a nice brown crust.
I plopped three falafel balls on a bed of greens, then topped them with a shower of feta and big scoop of plain yogurt flavored with fresh mint and cumin. The overall effect was quite impressive—a restaurant-quality Mediterranean salad, if I do say so myself.
The falafel tasted fresh and flavorful. The balls were a bit dense, but that's to be expected since they were healthfully baked instead of sinfully fried. The exterior was crunchy and toothsome, and gave way to a soft middle, flecked with parsley and flavored with a bit of lemon. They weren't as good as East Side Pockets, but I would definitely make Fantastic World Foods Falafel again for an easy, Middle Eastern-inspired weeknight meal.