Posts Tagged With: travelling

Seeking falafel perfection in Lebanon and making the dream falafel wrap

Welcome, to the land of falafel!  This was my favourite wrap, but it’s hard to tell.

I had a falafel recently in Newcastle which was less than incredible.  The falafel was only discernible from the bread by a shift in colour, in fact, it was actually drier than the thick, stale bread.  Both were only slightly more appetising than the rough paper they were wrapped in.  It had no sauce whatsoever.   Bit of iceberg lettuce.  ‘What’s going on!!’

A Turkish man made it for me, which made it even more hard to deal with.  But then the dawning came, there are no falafels in Turkey.  Why should he have known his way around this potential exquisite combination of simple deliciousness.  (I might add, this place does the best veg kofta and mezze’s in the North East.)   It’s like asking a Geordie to make the perfect momo…….  Sometimes, to truly understand something, we’ve got to go back to the source(ish).

Having not long returned from Lebanon, this entire experience was a taste bud trauma.  I decided to go home and look at my travel pictures, remind myself about the real deal, sate my hunger by the sheer tastiness of my memories of wandering around Lebanon, from falafel shop to falafel kiosk.  I got so excited, and into it, I wrote this.

Never short of a pickle in Tripoli. The perfect, salty and crunchy accompaniment to any wrap. I liked the violently pink cauliflower ones.

I had just over a week in Lebanon, it’s not a massive country, but it is well stuffed with chickpeas.  People love them, as do I.  Hummus, Mshbaha (creamy – recipe here), Fattet (stew) or even just a straight up bowl of warm chickpeas in their broth with a pile of flatbread and liberal sprinklings of intense cumin.

What I saw from my little Lebanese window was that no country worships the chickpea like Lebanon.  So mashing it up and deep frying it sounded like a great idea I’m sure.  I stand close to my assertion that anything deep fried, crispy and light, will taste great.  There is something primal when we bite into it and get the CRUNCH.  Even though, most of us now feel it naughty to munch on these deep fried globes of happiness, we still get a kick out of them.  You can bake them for slightly healthier results, but when in Beirut…..

Monster falafels taking over the city (a poster)

Falafels, bar the frying bit, are actually highly nutritious.  Packed with fibre, complex carbs and protein, they even have loads of minerals, high in iron for example and don’t get me started on the manganese content.  Through the roof!!  When you lather them in tahini, veggies, fresh herbs and a wholesome wrap, we doing alright there.  In so many ways.

A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF FALAFEL

Are you new to falafels?  Have you been living in very big, deep, dark cave?  If so, welcome.  They’re deep fried dough balls really.  Less exotic and sounding less appetising, but essentially, honest.   It is normally made with chickpea or fava bean (see my recipe for Egyptian falafels here) or sometimes both.  Add to that some herbs and spices and a normally healthy fistful of breadcrumbs and we’re getting there.  The best dishes, the ones we eat and enjoy most often, are always simple.  No falafel is an island, it needs it’s gang of accompaniments to shine (see below for the perfect crew).

Falafel Sayhoun wrap (action shot) – famous throughout Lebanon and it was nice.  Not number 1 though.

Strangely, falafel actually means ‘pepper’ (plural of) which somehow means ‘little balls’.  In Egyptian Arabic it means, ‘a little bit of food’.  It is popular across the Middle East, and now the world.  Originally (possibly) it was the Coptic Christians in Egypt who came up with falafels to keep them sated during Lent.  But this is a highly charged and sometimes political debate.  I’d just like to say that I live in Wales, halfway up a mountain and feel ill-equipped to deal with a full-on falafel debate.  I just know that they’re not from Wales.

I like a bit of this on my wrap, sprinkle of Sumac. Contentious I know, but gives it a nice citrus twang.

It has been said that the Pharoahs enjoyed nibbling falafels, but this is hard to prove, but nice to imagine.  Pyramids, falafel wrap stands……  In fact, you’ll find McFalafels in McDonalds all over Egypt.  Make of that what you will.

Some of the guys working in the falafel wrap joints are like an F1 pit crew.  Your falafel is ordered, with special requirements taken note of (almost everyone has  their own little wrap quirk) and wrapped in such a rush of energy and precision, sprinkle and roll.  It’s exhilarating.  These folk know their moves!  It goes; whack, whack, sprinkle, scatter, squirt, another scatter, roll, wrap, wrap, twist, launch at customer.  A fine art I’d say.  Not just the flavour going on here, its the buzz of watching a master at work.

FALAFEL GEEK CORNER

The current world record falafel wrap was 74.75 kgs, made in Amman, Jordan.  How they fried it, is interesting to think about.  When I checked out ‘world largest falafel ball’, here is what I got (350 lites of vegetable oil and fed 600 people!!):

You can eat falafels for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I’m not recommending it as a balanced diet, but if you’re in Beirut, it seems like a great idea.   As we can see, not all falafels are created equal, there are a few rules that I gleaned from friendly Lebanese cooks and falafel aficionados, here are their teachings,

The decor in Falafel Sayhoun, a Beirut institution. The falafel were heavy on the black pepper I thought.

THE DREAM FALAFEL WRAP (LEBANESE EDITION)

Is light on bread, a pitta cut in half thickness wise.  Some pickles (pink turnip is nice), some tarator (basic tahini sauce), a few squashed falafels, tomato and lettuce, fresh mint, sometimes parsley, served with some long green pickled chillies.  That’s basically it!  Simple as and normally quite small.  Generally costing around £1.

One of my favourite falafel was eaten beside Baalbek (see this ‘I Ate Lebanon’ post) and served by Ali, the ‘King of Falafels’.  A well named man.  He was a super star.  Baalbek is close to the border with Syria and my journey took a few minibuses, the last one filled with Lebanese army, to get there.  Zero tourists, I had the place to myself, the carvings of Cleopatra and the well preserved temple to Dionysus were real treats.  After walking around in the baking sun, this falafel was well needed.

What makes the perfect falafel wrap?

So a recap, in Lebanon, this is the low down on the perfect falafel wrap:

  • Thin flat bread, most are cut in half.
  • Not massive, 3-4 falafels, 12 inches long.  A snack.
  • Light and crisp falafels
  • Pickles.  Check out those intense pink turnip pickles!!
  • A little tomato and lettuce.
  • A good spoonful of creamy tahini sauce
  • Mint leaves, always fresh mint leaves.
  • Served with pickled green chillies (just a little spicy)

That’s it!  Simply amazing!!

BEST FALAFEL WRAP IN LEBANON….

Ali was pipped by, I’m not sure I should even mention this out loud.  Can you keep a secret?  (Whisper)…..There is a place, just up the road from Falafel Sayhoun, near the souks of Beirut……sorry…I’ve said enough.  Friends in Beirut would never forgive me, if you’re planning a visit, get in touch and I’ll give you the directions.  There is no sign or door, it’s that good! (Whisper over).

Meet Ali, the self-styled ‘King of Falafels’. A fitting name. Balbeek high street.

There is something perfectly balanced about it, a falafel wrap or mezze plate gives a sweep of nutritional boosts and most of all, it’s delicious and ticks all the boxes in and around our palate.

Some things will never get old and maybe just keep getting better!  As the world seems to get increasingly complex, simple pleasures are all the more important.  I felt so lucky to be able to enjoy one of my favourite street feasts with some awesome people in a country that is head over heels for food.

Souks of Tripoli, packed with potential falafel wrap ingredients. Maybe some roasted cauliflower would be nice in there?

Falafel lovers footnote:

Of course, Lebanon is not the only country where you can feast of falalels!  What’s your favourite place for falafels?……

 

Kathmandu’s finest – this was our Christmas lunch last year.  Not traditional, but tasty.  Addition of chips was appreciated.  All wrapped in a fresh naan.

Christmas lunch 2016, Nepal – just out of a ten day silent Vipassana meditation retreat.  What better way to celebrate!  Giant falafels!!

Categories: photography, plant-based, Snacks and Inbetweens, Travel, Vegan, veganism | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cake Bully Anyone?! China – Weird and Wonderful Menu Options

Walking the Great Wall of China

Walking the Great Wall of China

After reading an option for Sick Kebabs on a menu today in Kathmandu I remembered that we haven’t shared our official Beach House Kitchen Chinese Menu with you. We popped it on our FB pages and our friends chuckled, we think you might too.  This menu has been veganized btw as there were some pretty disgusting things being sold in China.

These are actual English tranlasted menu options that we encountered whilst travelling around China. Some are gristly, some are just plain hilarious. It’s not easy to be vegan in China that’s for sure!

It's a long walk!  The Great Wall;)

It’s a long walk! The Great Wall;)

If you’ve seen it before, there are some new entries on this menu. Please let us know your favourites in the comment section.  Your top three!

Bon Appetit;)

With the Terracotta Army, Xi'an

With the Terracotta Army, Xi’an

THE FALLOW AMUSEMENT RESTAURANT
MENU

Starters

Acid beans

Coke slipped balls

Beijing heaving

Fried ring wish

Sweet man balls out

A fire of coals

Brother yipin elbow

Available Bullfrog brother

Brother signature hairtail

Chairman mao blood flourishing

I miss you tea

Main Course

Flying elephant pizza

Doush drop

Hot szhichuan mother in law pot

Ass vegetables

Brine platter

Mild vinegar sting

Head brine

Rice rope

Exploding cheese

Douzi mashroom

Rape wish rice

Whelk like green tea

Secretary general of crisp

The guanzhong impression

Burning naked oats with ear wire

Jump to the melody of the tongue

Fubage hospitality food

Jing yang let one

Sides

Take the cucumber

Snow covered the volcano

Hand grasp bread

Being soft noodles

Farm style group

Prickly white ash salad

Burn three fresh

Stone bowl of bean jelly

Mung plum porridge

Tonight’s the night lion head casserole

Tomato suck

Cake bully

River crusie on a cement boat (long story), Xingping

River crusie on a cement boat (long story), Xingping

PS – We didn’t actually try any of these (well maybe a couple) and think it’s pretty amazing that many restaurants had English menu’s in the first place.  We were embarassingly bad at Cantonese/ Mandarin.  Thank you China!

 

Categories: photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Himalayan Monkey Munch Porridge

Monkey Munch Porridge

Monkey Munch Porridge

Here we have our Himalayan retreat breakfast of choice; filling, warming and packed with monkey flavas!!!  There are monkeys galore up here in Kasar Devi (Uttarakand) and they bother our banana stash daily.  We are looking out towards Nanda Devi (India’s highest mountain) and the giant massif’s of the Great Himalayas.  Spring is just about settling in, meaning chilly nights and generally bright and warm days.  Clouds have obscured the mountains most days, but even the most occasional of glimpses, is more than enough.  We have hired small red brick cottage with a simple kitchen from a lovely local family. The cottage has quickly become a home away from home and we have been doing a little cooking and plenty of tea making.

Monkeys flock around our little garden, the mischievous macak variety, desperate to liberate you of any stray snacks that may be lurking around half opened windows and doors. There are also flocks of little and large birds, woodpeckers, small owls, vultures and eagles soar regularly overhead and a three local leopards pay regular visits to the village. They make a sound like sawing wood, an excited pant.  This makes the evening trip to the outdoor toilet a bracing affair.

Dawn raider, banana botherer, meddling Macak, monkey brotherx

Dawn raider, banana botherer, meddling Macak, monkey brotherx

We have found a slice of beauty, a place where many hippies used to flock; folk like Herman Hesse, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, to name a few, have graced this thin ridge in the 60’s and bar a few houses, not much has changed really.  There are a couple of restaurants (the Rainbow Restaurant especially is brilliant, Hari makes the best pasta in India!) and a little cafe known as ‘Baba Cake‘ which is set in a corrugated metal shed and serves awesome South Indian coffee, local organic herbal infusions and lip smacking Indian nibbles.

We have met many like minded folk in this secluded corner and the local people are all exceptionally warm and full of smiles.  Five days has just not been enough, but we have had time to do plenty of thinking and dreaming, way up here in the clouds and rare airs there is little else to occupy time.

It has been wonderful to take control over our diets again, and porridge, of course, plays a major role. We are British after all!  We picked up a 2kg bag in Delhi of these precious grains and carted them all the way up here to find that a small local shop sells crates of healthy muesli and porridge oats. Who knew? All the way up here, close to the wild expanses of Nepal there would be such good western breakfast options!

One morning, watching the monkeys reek havoc on the neighbours in their own immutably comical way, I thought I’d dedicate a dish to them and stick as many of their favourite foods in it. The ones they like to pinch anyway (a monkey once stole the banana out of my sandwich one morning in Rishikesh!)

Outside the legendary Baba Cake

Outside the legendary Baba Cake

We would add a handful of flax/linseeds to this at home, but they are hard to come by here. Roasted peanuts are better because the taste is more intense and you can finish is off with coconut flakes or desiccated coconuts if you have some handy. We used green raisins here, but any tasty raisin will do.  For richness and even greater nutritional pizazz, why not try a heaped teaspoon of coconut oil, stirred in just before serving.  This is India, the cardamom is essential!  Like many of the spices used in classic Indian cuisine, cardamom is not just a fragrant delight, but actually acts as medicine for the body; giving it a huge boost, especially needed in the morning.  People over here actually chew cardamom pods, they are an acquired taste to most, but act as a super charged breath freshener and have been known to help smokers quit.  Everytime you fancy a ciggy, pop in a pod instead.  We even like to pop the crushed, black seeds into a pot of tea to jazz things up a little.  So please chew your cardamom pods with gusto, don’t spit them out!

The Bits – For 2

Let’s keep it simple, handfuls only here

5 big handfuls porridge oats

2 big, ripe bananas (mashed with a fork)

1/2 tin coconut milk (or 200 ml non-dairy milk of choice)

4-6 green cardamom cloves (crushed a little, until cracked, in a pestle and mortar)

2 big handfuls roasted peanuts

1 big handful green raisins (or normal ones will do)

Sweetener of your choice (nothing white or processed please!)

 

Topping 

Roughly 1/2 handful of grated coconut, more bananas, raisins and peanuts

(sprinkled over both bowls for an extra special touch)

 

Do It

Check which porridge oats you’re using and cook accordingly, as per the packet.  It doesn’t really matter which ones you use, this monkey madness will be a delight.  Take it easy, rushing porridge leads to a stick pan bottom, a gentle simmer is good.

Add all the ingredients to the pan, cover the oats with around 1 1/2 inches of water and bring to a slow and gentle simmer, stirring regularly.  Add more hot water to get your desired consistency, we like it thick and yet pourable.  Not too gluey sticky.  In less than ten minutes, you’ll have a yummy breakfast.

Himalayan Monkey Munch Porridge

Our cottage it tucked away in there somewhere.  Behind the tree!!!!

Serve

Piping hot, straight from the pan (using a spatula or something like it, to scrape out all that porridge goodness).  Sprinkle over your toppings and munch way like happymonkeys!

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Himalayan Monkey Munch Porridge

 

Foodie Fact

Why Cardamom is a must! 

Cardamom (or Elaichi) is native to Southern India and is well regarded for its medicinal properties, especially in the Indian holistic system of Ayurveda.  There are such a huge list, I’ll summarise.  Cardamom has many anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties.  They contain a long list of volatile essential oils and help greatly with digestion.  They are a good source of minerals like manganese, iron and potassium, as well as copper.  They are also high in vitamin C and riboflavin.  A true gift from nature.

Jane taking in some rays outside the cottage - Kasar Devi

Jane taking in some rays outside the cottage – Kasar Devi

 

Categories: Ayurveda, Breakfast, Nutrition, Recipes, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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