By Tom // Posted 5 January, 2011 in: Food + Drink, Technique
Besides being delicious, cooking a variety of cuisines is educational — you learn the quirks of the cuisine itself, and tricks and techniques from one cuisine can enhance the understanding of others. Take the fritter: practically every culture has its little fried ball of something, its croquette, pakora, hush puppy, etc. The methods for producing each are unique to the cultures — and individual cooks — that produce them. But cultures tend to be chauvinistic, assuming their way is the only way to fry. It’s a shame, because you can learn a lot about beignets from frying buñuelos.
Take two cultures not exactly known for their capacity to cooperate: Israel and Egypt. Israelis might fry up a mean latke — maybe one made of turnips, even — for the eight nights of Hanukkah, but believe that an Egyptian — especially if he happens to be a nationalist or an Islamist — would not be caught frying up those quintessentially Jewish treats that time of year. Instead, he’d probably head to the shop around the corner for some ta’amiya (think of falafel, but Egyptian), fried spheres of fava beans with herbs and spices, sandwiched in country bread with salad and tahini sauce.
I’ve always been disappointed with my homemade ta’amiya; among other problems I can’t get the binder right. Bringing the frying oil to a high enough temperature helps (if it’s too low the fritters will disintegrate), but there needs to be something more. I’ve tried eggs, but it makes the ta’amiya too heavy. But my recent experience with turnip latkes got me thinking: they are bound with egg, true, but the egg is beaten with flour to form a batter that binds the shredded vegetables together. A batter would be perfect for holding ta’amiya together: a loose slurry of water and chickpea flour helped bind the ground favas and also made for a crisper crust. My best homemade ta’amiya yet, and I never would have arrived here if not for experimenting with other fritters.
Just to mix things up a bit more, we ate the patties topped with tzatziki sauce. Greeks, Israelis and Arabs, all working together toward a common goal — the ultimate fritter? Now there’s a vision for peace in the world.
Ta’amiya of Justice and Understanding
- 1# dried favas, soaked overnight and shelled to 2# 1¼oz
- .445 oz dill (~½ cup)
- .480 oz mint (~½ cup)
- 2.5 oz chickpea (gram) flour
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 8 oz water
- 5 scallions (1.6 oz), thinly sliced on a bias
- 6 small carrots (4 oz), julienned fine (use a mandoline)
- 6 cloves garlic (1.155 oz), minced or crushed in a garlic press
- 1.5 tsp cumin (.1 oz)
- ¾ tsp coriander (.05 oz)
- 1/8 tsp cayenne (.01 oz)
- ¼ tsp black pepper (.025 oz)
- 1 Tbsp salt (.7 oz)
- Oil for frying
Working in small batches, process the fava beans and the herbs together to a paste (I did three batches in my 6 cup food processor). In a large bowl, whisk together chickpea flour, baking soda and water. Mix in scallions, carrots, garlic, spices and salt. Knead in the fava bean mixture until well-distributed and homogenous.
Heat oil to 375ºF. Pinch off golf-ball sized clumps of the fava bean mixture, quickly roll the mixture into a sphere (technically they should be oblate, but I thought the spheres were attractive), and place it carefully in the oil. Repeat until the pot is full but not crowded. Fry until patties are a deep brown (the oil will have recovered to 375ºF at this point) then drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Continue frying in batches until the fava bean mixture is gone, periodically sampling the ta’amiya right out of the fryer to make sure they’re still good.
Serve with pita bread, greens, tomatoes if they are in seasons and tzatziki, tahini sauce, hummus, or any other sauce you feel culturally appropriate.