What is it? According to Merriam-Webster, “falafel is a spicy mixture of ground vegetables (such as chickpeas or fava beans) formed into balls or patties and then fried.” Falafel is often served in a pocket bread (pita) with lettuce, tomato and a sauce made from tahini (ground sesame seeds). It can also be found on a plate with other Middle Eastern foods such as dolma (grape leaves wrapped around rice or meat), baba ghanouj (a pureed eggplant dip), pita bread, and hummus (a ground garbanzo or other bean spread/dip made with garlic, lemon, tahini and olive oil).
In Sebastopol, we are fortunate enough to have several restaurants offering falafel. King Falafel (100 Brown St., #150, open 11 a.m.-8 p.m.) has a great to-go menu which includes falafel sandwiches with a variety of sauces (green, red, white) and a “King Falafel” sandwich with five falafel pieces and any or all of the 14 toppings this lovely family-owned business has to offer. You can also get a falafel plate served with hummus, tabouleh (a bulgur salad), and pita bread, or simply the falafel patties, six to an order and go home to make your own accompaniments. I did this recently, making my own white bean hummus to serve on the side.
Recipe: 1 can white beans, (I use organic cannellini or Great Northern beans), 1/2 cup good olive oil, 1/3 cup tahini, juice of one lemon, 1 T. garlic, minced, 1 T. ground cumin, or to taste, pinch cayenne pepper, salt. Put all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add small amounts of water, olive oil, lemon juice, salt; adjust to taste.
East West Café (128 North Main St., open 11 am- 8 p.m.) serves Mediterranean food, with falafels featured on a falafel plate, served with hummus, tabouleh and warm pita. They also serve a falafel wrap, a wheat tortilla stuffed with falafel patties, lettuce, hummus, pickled turnips, avocado and a red pepper/walnut dip called muhamara. My personal favorite falafel option here is a meza platter, a Mediterranean sampler plate with dolmas, hummus, baba ghanouj, falafel patties, tabouleh, and tahini sauce, served with warm pita.
Another spot to find falafels in Sebastopol is D’s Diner (7260 Healdsburg Ave., open 8 a.m.-9 p.m). This is a lovely family-owned business, and in addition to many wonderful breakfast and lunch choices, D’s offers a falafel sandwich, served on a pita with lettuce, tomato, pickles and tahini sauce. Falafels are also featured on a Middle Eastern plate, served with fresh made hummus, homemade baba ghanouj, salad and warm pita bread.
In nearby Rohnert Park, Sam’s Mediterranean Café and Deli (613 Martin St., Suite 111, open 10 a.m.-6pm Mon.- Fri., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays) serves a falafel sandwich on traditional Lavash bread with spinach, tomatoes, onions, pickles, cucumbers, homemade hummus, and tzatziki, a cucumber yogurt sauce. A unique sandwich here is a falafel shawarma, served Panini style with melted cheese and served with a Greek salad and dipping sauce. Sam’s also has an appetizer with fried falafel balls made from fava and garbanzo beans, garlic, parsley, wheat cracker crumbs and spices.
Most falafel sandwiches and plates are both vegetarian and vegan, making them a healthy and delicious option.
Happy New Year; here’s to a healthier and food-filled 2021!