One of the best experience in life is traveling around the world exploring diverse cultures and cuisines. When I get to a new location, rather than immediately search for a restaurant, I’ll hit the streets and walk. Once you start mixing and mingling with the local people, you get a better sense of the local flavor. The aromas of food deep frying or on display by street vendors will eventually waft your way and that’s when you discover some of the best food. In Mexico, you’ll find corn in a cup called esquites or tacos de la calle (street tacos). In Colombia, you’ll find pork or cheese filled arepas (corn meal cakes).
The same thing happens here in the United States. The last time I visited New York City I stumbled upon many street food vendors selling hot dogs, pretzels, beef and chicken kebobs, and falafel. My exploration would typically happen late at night after a few drinks with friends. Like a Weeble Wobble, I would approach a street vendor and peer over the cart looking for something new and yummy.
As a food blogger and writer, I look for inspiration from the streets of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Miami. We are seeing a blend of cultures with the onslaught of food trucks and chefs opening up quick pop-ups. From Korean Koji Beef Tacos to Mexican Sushi Rolls, cooks and chefs are playing more and more with the idea of America being a true melting pot when it comes to our food.
In this dish, we’ve taken the popular street food Falafel and added salty Cacique Cotija Cheese to the mixture. We thought about making a hummus to spread on the pita, but decided to take a nod from a traditional plain yogurt sauce like Tzatziki or Raita from Indian cuisine, and created a spicy cream sauce made with tahini, cilantro and roasted jalapeños but with rich Cacique Crema Mexicana.
Not too familiar with Falafels? They are simply chickpeas that are ground up with fresh herbs, garlic and seasonings. The thick “batter” is easy to handle, but sometimes you just need to fiddle with it by adding more chickpeas if it is too soft, or more lemon juice if it is too firm. A quick dip in hot oil will turn it a dark brown, that is in stark contrast to the soft green interior. But all good things take time. Just like with tamales, your first falafel will not be pretty, and that’s okay, just smother it in more jalapeño tahini crema.
WHAT YOU NEED
- 16-ounce package uncooked chickpeas
- 1 bunch cilantro, trimmed
- 1 bunch parsley, trimmed
- 20 mint leaves
- 6 garlic cloves
- ½ cup crumbled Cacique Cotija
- ½ cup chopped white onions
- 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 large egg
- 2 jalapeños, stemmed
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ teaspoon oil
- ½ bunch cilantro, trimmed
- ¼ cup Cacique Crema Mexicana
- ¼ cup tahini
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt, to taste
- To serve:
- 12 Pita breads
- 10-12 ounces Hummus
- Persian Cucumbers
- Crumbled Cacique Cotija
HOW TO MAKE IT
- Put dry chickpeas in a large pot and cover with water 2-3 inches higher than the chickpeas because they will swell. Allow to soak overnight.
- Strain chickpeas. Cover chickpeas with water again and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until chickpeas are soft, but not mushy, about 60-90 minutes. Once chickpeas are cooked, strain and let cool slightly.
- To make falafel: Put 5 cups of cooked chickpeas, cilantro, parsley, mint, garlic cloves, Cacique Cotija, onions, pumpkin seeds, flour, cumin, pepper, lemon juice and egg into a food processor and pulse until fully mixed.
- Begin heating enough oil to fry in the deep cast iron pan. Use a candy thermometer to bring the temperature up to 360-370F.
- Meanwhile, scoop out 40 balls (about 1 ounce each), using a small ice cream scoop or rounded spoon. Shape into flat-top patties, like a slider.
- Working batches, fry the falafel until dark brown, about 1 ½ - 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
- To make sauce: Heat a deep cast iron pan over medium heat. Lightly rub jalapeños and garlic with oil and roast in hot pan. Place pan roasted jalapeños and garlic into a blender. Add cilantro, Cacique Crema Mexicana, tahini, lemon juice and salt and pulse until smooth. Add more lemon juice, 1 teaspoon at a time as needed, to thin the sauce as desired. Put in a squeeze bottle and refrigerate until needed.
- To serve: spread some hummus on a pita bread. Layer lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, cooked falafel, and crumbled Cacique Cotija. Drizzle Jalapeno Crema & Tahini Sauce over falafel.
- Cook’s Notes: Dried chickpeas take more time to prepare but will yield and soft, and light falafel, not mushy or heavy. The addition of the flour and egg are a safeguard against disintegrating falafels. It is important to keep oil between 360-370F to ensure that the falafel fry quickly and get a nice dark color. If the temperature is not hot enough, the falafel will just absorb the oil and fall apart.