One of my earliest food memories is of felafel. Not long after my family arrived in Libya to live in Benghazi when I was four we were returning from a trip in the countryside and driving through the town (Benghazi was quite a small town in the 1950s) when my father said ‘I can smell felafel’. My parents knew these deep-fried balls of spicy ground chickpeas or broad beans, having lived in Egypt before I was born. My father parked the car and we all followed the delicious smell down a side street near the souk to an open-fronted shop with a huge vat of hot oil in the window, filled with falafel. Sold as street food in a paper bag, these were my first taste, the memory that comes back to me whenever I cook them at home – it’s a very tempting smell.
I like to make felafel with a big bunch of chopped fresh coriander leaves as well as ground coriander. But I’ve never been successful at growing coriander and it’s difficult to find the leaves here, except occasionally in tiny expensive packets in supermarkets. So today I thought I would improvise. We have a lot of green piments d’Espelette, or paprika peppers, which won’t ripen now so we’ve picked them. You could use chillies if you like hot food, but I don’t so I put two of these, one green and one red, in the food processor with a roughly chopped onion and two cloves of garlic and processed until they were very finely chopped. I added 150 grams of dried chick peas which I’d soaked overnight and processed these until they too were very finely chopped, then added a dessert spoonful of salt, a tablespoonful of ground coriander and a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda (this last is optional but it does make the texture lighter).
I formed the mixture into balls about the size of a walnut and deep-fried them in sunflower oil. Olive oil doesn’t get hot enough for deep-frying. When they were nicely browned I took them out and put them to drain on kitchen paper and then onto a Moroccan plate. They’re best served freshly cooked and still warm, like the street food they are, but they will keep and can be served with mezes – yoghurt, hummus, tomato salad, olives….and so on. I remember some years ago eating them in Amsterdam, from a window open onto the street rather like my original Benghazi memory, in flatbreads with pickled vegetables, hummus and tahina sauce – wonderful!
And the mussels….
Trying again to use up some of the late-harvest paprika peppers waiting for me in the kitchen and on plants on the balconies, I made a variation of a dish we’ve had before many times. But this time instead of herbs I used very finely chopped chorizo peppers, some green, some just turning red (too late!), mixed with chopped garlic and fresh breadcrumbs as a stuffing for open half mussel shells (the mussels had been cooked first in a large pan until they all opened).
I’d intended to put them in the fan oven, but that didn’t heat up and seems to have been the cause of the blown fuse that went this morning (a problem that we’ll have to face sometime soon). Instead, I poured a little olive oil over them all and put them under the fan grill for five minutes or so until the breadcrumbs were crisp.