Full disclosure: Prior to writing this article my knowledge of falafel was limited to Falafel Phil’s — the place where the kids on my sister’s favorite Disney Channel show hang out. Contrary to what my surname suggests, I come from a heavily Italian household where pasta recipes are considered more valuable than the Hope Diamond, which is no doubt why I managed to slide through nearly 22 years without ever tasting falafel. But don’t worry, I’ve done my research — including a taste test. My reaction to the first bite? “I can’t believe I’ve never had this before!”
Now that my eyes have been opened, I’m surprised I missed it. This Middle Eastern treat has become so popular in the last 20 years that you can find falafel sandwiches being sold on almost every street corner in Manhattan. Falafel is a fritter made with chickpeas (the traditional Israeli method) and/or fava beans (the Egyptian fashion). It’s packed with a multitude of spices and herbs — most commonly onion, parsley, and cilantro — and shaped into balls or patties before a brief stint in the fryer. Once it’s crisped, the serving possibilities are endless. It can be a stand-alone act, a sidekick to a salad and hummus with tahini (a light sesame paste), or — most often — as the main event in a pita bread sandwich.
One reason for the buzz surrounding these little bean balls is that, despite the frying, falafel absorbs only small amounts of grease and is very low in fat. Disguised by the great taste are high amounts of fiber, B vitamins, and minerals like potassium and iron. “It’s a healthy alternative to fast food,” says Justin Goldman, general manager of Park Falafel and Pizza in Hudson, which opened in September 2010.
Goldman has recently noticed a definite increase in the number of falafel eaters, particularly after he launched “Falafel Awareness Month” this past January. “It used to be split 50-50 with our pizza and other items,” he says, “but now we’re trending more towards falafel.” Perhaps this is due to the authenticity of the recipes. “Our head chef was trained by a chef directly from Israel,” Goldman says. “He had falafel in his blood.”
Check out these other Valley eateries that are putting falafel front and center.
El Ameer Mediterranean & Middle Eastern Cuisine
For chickpea-based falafel near Marist College, stop in this comfortable spot. You can order to stay and sit by the mural of a Mediterranean landscape, or opt for takeout if you’re in a hurry. But either way, make sure you get there quickly: 22 pounds of falafel have been known to disappear in only two days.
» Go to El Ameer in Poughkeepsie, NY
Think 9 a.m. is too early for this appetizing morsel? Think again. The cozy cafe serves its fava bean falafel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The dish is a specialty, proven by the fact that they have been dubbed the “Falafel King” around town. The eclectic eatery is perfect for a casual, sit-down meal.
» Go to Moonlight Cafe in New Paltz, NY
Taiim Falafel Shack
The name speaks for itself. This establishment is dedicated to putting new twists on old recipes — like basil, porcini, and shiitake mushroom falafel (to name a few). But falafel is not its only scrumptious snack. Also popular are the chicken and lamb shawarma (sandwiches), multiple varieties of salad, and lentil soup.
» Go to Taiim Falafel Shack in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
Park Falafel & Pizza
The first certified kosher establishment to pop up in Hudson in 70 years. Make sure you try Doreen’s falafel, which is named for a local woman whose recipe calls for eggplant as the base. During fine weather customers can elect to sit outside — some even transport their meal to the park across the street. Indoors, the large windows afford an excellent view of the park and the passing trains.
» Go to Park Falafel & Pizza in Hudson, NY
If you’re interested in seeing how this dish is made, Allan’s is the place to go. Customers can watch the chefs in action as they soak, dry, grind, season, and fry fresh chickpeas all day. Stuffed grape leaves, kebabs, and salads also satisfy hungry stomachs. Bikers from the nearby Heritage Trail have often called Allan’s falafel the perfect “rocket fuel” for their workouts.
» Go to Allan’s Falafel in Chester, NY