Falafel is usually a welcome option on any menu for vegans and vegetarians. The small, fried and often delicious balls of chickpeas, onion and parsley are a common staple in many Middle Eastern cuisines. Falafel is usually served in a pocket of pita with tomatoes, lettuce, hummus and tzatziki sauce, but it can also be added to salad or pretty much anything you want to make it tastier.
However, all falafel is not created equal. This week, columnists Napolitano and Aiyar look at two of Westwood’s falafel restaurants, Bella Pita and Falafel King, and crown a falafel champion. And, if your wallet is crying and you can’t think of spending any money eating out, there’s a recipe provided so you can make falafel in the comfort of your own home.
I was so in love with Bella Pita that I couldn’t imagine walking one street over to eat at Falafel King. On Thursday, however, I was forced to betray Bella Pita when I realized that Falafel King actually has better falafel.
After glancing at the menu, my companions and I decided to opt for Falafel King’s special, the Vegetarian Favorite.
At $8.95 it’s pricey for the average college student, but the dish comes with five pieces of falafel, five side salads, a few deep fried potato chips and pita bread. It is more than enough for two people, and happily fed all four people I ate lunch with that day.
Everything included in the Vegetarian Favorite was tasty and fresh, with the exception of the potato chips, which were leathery and nearly impossible to effectively chew. For our sides we chose hummus, tzatziki sauce (a yogurt and cucumber condiment), an eggplant and yogurt side, a lentil salad, and a cucumber, tomato, and red onion salad. The hummus and lentil salad were particularly good and my co-columnist’s favorite was the eggplant side. The restaurant also has many additional sides we didn’t try like tabouli and baba ganoush as well as a salsa bar.
As excellent as Falafel King’s sides were, the real star – as their name implies – is its falafel. The product was the perfect balance of crunchy and moist, likely due in part to the small hole Falafel King pokes in its falafel balls, which causes them to fry them more completely. We devoured our entire dish.
Although Bella Pita offers a tasty product, its falafel isn’t quite crunchy enough and its sides fall short of Falafel King’s. Its pita sandwich is actually more affordable at $5.25 than Falafel King’s, which is priced at $6.95, and the pita bread is crunchier and of higher quality than Falafel King’s. While Bella Pita still holds a place in my heart, Falafel King offers more variety and overall quality and that is why it is indeed the king of falafel, at least in Westwood.
After my falafel adventure on Thursday, I decided to try to make falafel for a potluck I went to. This recipe makes about 20 falafel, so why not make it and invite some friends over to bask in your culinary gifts?
3 cans of chickpeas
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
½ cup of fresh parsley, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup of the chickpea water (just keep some of the water you drain from the cans)
⅓ to ⅔ cup of flour
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Vegetable Oil (canola and grapeseed oil will also work)
1) Add chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, water, flour, cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne to a bowl and mix together.
2) Place the mixture in the food processor (alternatively, you can mix it with a fork, but that will take a lot longer). If the mixture is not staying together, add a few more tablespoons of flour.
3) Add 1½ inches of vegetable oil to a large, deep skillet. Turn the burner to medium-high heat.
4) Form falafels the size of golf balls, but DO NOT add the falafels to the pan until the oil is hot otherwise the falafel will fall apart in the oil.
5) Flip the falafels when the edges are browned. Cook on the other side for one minute and then remove falafel with a slotted spoon.
6) Place falafels on paper towels to remove excess oil, let cool and enjoy!
BY SHREYA AIYAR
Bella Pita, a restaurant hidden behind a tiny storefront overlooking Gayley Avenue, is very easy to miss – I’ve overshot it every single time I’ve attempted to eat there.
But its Mediterranean cuisine, boasting a variety of pitas, signature wowshis and appetizers, is an important part of a beloved Westwood restaurant staple that has made a distinctly flavorful mark on students and faculty alike.
We walked into the restaurant on a sunny Thursday afternoon. The counter was virtually empty of customers, and the cashier greeted us with a warm smile and vegetarian recommendations. Our options consisted of the black bean wowshi, a pita bread with black beans baked into it, and the falafel pita, which we decided to order.
The falafel was cooked to order while we waited and upon arrival, the pita bread was hot, chewy and soft. We then customized our order with various toppings from the self-serve salad bar, adding vegetables, hummus, hot sauce and other Mediterranean toppings. The falafel’s exterior didn’t compare to Falafel King’s – it was slightly soft and only partially fried, while Falafel King’s was crispy and thoroughly browned. The “beans and greens” filling, however, had a delicate chickpea flavor that complemented our choice of salad bar toppings well, and the hot sauce and hummus tied all of the flavors together nicely.
The distinct advantage of Bella Pita’s falafel pita over Falafel King’s lay in its portability and affordability. Our order at Falafel King was expensive at almost $10 and arrived on a large plate which was difficult to finish in a hurry, while Bella Pita’s $5.25 falafel pita was wrapped in waxed paper and allowed us to grab our meals and go.
Overall, Bella Pita’s falafel wasn’t as delicious as Falafel King’s, but for those in Westwood in need of a quick, cheap and delicious alternative to a more traditional sit-down restaurant, you can never go wrong with this hidden culinary gem tucked away in the recesses of Westwood.