From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Falafel — or Whose Food is it Anyway? (the other Middle East conflict)

DSC_0891As war has been raging in Gaza, I think many Arabs like me have felt bad about focusing on things that seem frivolous or insensitive in the context of such suffering.   I don’t want to get holier than thou.  There are many battles in the Middle East — some horrific beyond words such as what is happening in Gaza, Syria and Iraq.  Religion, culture and history all play a part in those and less violent confrontations.  Food, too.  I was thinking of what experiences I have to share with people in Gaza — and it made me think of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s.  I think many of us thought we were going to die then.  I don’t know if I was stupid or backward, but I didn’t have any real idea of Israel before that.  I wasn’t brought up to hate Israel, Israelis or Jewish people.  There was a tiny Jewish community still in Beirut at the time, but I don’t remember being aware of it.  4109246002_d4e0905aa3_oThere is an old synagogue near my home, but it was in the sniper zone by the Green Line.  It survived just — and has been restored and is meant to reopen at some point.  After the invasion, I was of course very aware of Israel.  But there were other things that were more important to me at the time and I never developed the slow burning, implacable hatred of the country that many of my friends and acquaintances have acquired.  So, when I moved to London, I had no problem going to one of my husband’s favourite places — an old Jewish cafe in Soho that is now long gone.  And I never had any feeling against Jewish people — as many of his friends turned out to be.  They all seemed understanding and sophisticated and far removed from the battles I had left behind in Lebanon.  I tried Jewish food and liked it — but it was the old East European style, hearty barley soups and pastrami.    I am quite irrational, I’m sure, when it comes to Lebanese and Arabic food — and defending it from anyone who wants to mess with it.  I know that our great staples — like hummus and falafel — are shared across the region.  But I don’t think anyone does it with the finesse we have in Lebanon.  In the past few years, there’ve been rows over who owns the food, with Lebanese and Israeli cooks making grotesque record-breaking amounts of hummus or falafel to try to prove that it belongs to them.  But falafel is as much an Egyptian or a Palestinian dish.  Israelis talk about it as their national food.  Fine, but that doesn’t mean that it belongs to them any more than it does to the Palestinians or the Lebanese.  Does that remind you of anything?  Even food isn’t safe from politics and nationalist point scoring.  And I think most Arabs will be tasting ashes more than anything else as they watch what the Palestinians are suffering in Gaza.  I wish that shared food and culture could point the way to a better future, some kind of reconciliation.  But I’m not holding my breath.  Anyway, here is a recipe for Lebanese falafel — I’m happy to try anyone else’s, but this will do fine for me.


DSC_0893250g of dry chick peas soaked overnight

100g of peeled and split fava beans soaked overnightDSC_0894


1 onion, very finely chopped 

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed 

2 large spoons of water

1/2 bunch of coriander chopped

1/2 bunch of parsley chopped 

1 tea spoon of salt 

2 large spoons of flour 

1/2 tea spoon of black pepper 

1/4 tea spoon of cayenne pepper

1/2 tea spoon of ground coriander 

1/2 tea spoon cumin 

1/2 tea spoon cinnamon 

1 tea spoon bicarbonate of soda 

2 tea spoons baking powder 

1 tea spoon of sesame seeds

4 glasses of vegetable oil for frying



  • In a large blender put the onions, the garlic, the chick peas, fava beans and blend for few minutes or until the beans are smooth, like bread crumbs
  • Add few spoons of fresh water if the dough is too dry
  • Then add the rest of the ingredients leaving the baking powder out and blend for couple of minutes
  • Leave aside for 2 hours to marinate
  • Before frying, sprinkle the baking powder and sesame seed son the falafel and mix well
  • In a large frying pan heat the vegetable oil, then reduce the flame to medium temperature
  • Take a large spoon from the falafel mix and roll to make a small ball
  • If necessary wet your hands to make the dough easier to roll or you can use a special falafel scoop
  • Drop each falafel into the frying pan and turn to the other side after few minutes
  • Once the falafel is golden brown remove from the pan and place on paper kitchen towel to drain the excess oil
  • Serve hot with Tahini sauce

DSC_0898Tarator or Tahini sauce

4 table spoons of tahini

1 lemon juiced 

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 large spoon of water

1/2 tea spoon of salt

1 large spoon of finely chopped parsley

  • In a small bowl put the tahini, add the lemon juice, garlic and water
  • Whisk well until no lumps remain
  • Then add the salt and stir
  • Once ready to serve garnish with chopped parsley.DSC_0892

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