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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Selling falafel to Eskimos

Nadav Weiss with his creation.

Think it's impossible to sell ice to Eskimos? Try selling falafel in Alaska?

If you compare Nadav Weiss, 30, to a salesperson selling ice to Eskimos, he will laugh. Ice to Eskimos? That is no match for the challenge he took upon himself: selling falafel to the residents of Fairbanks, Alaska without ever cooking it before and in a place where most have never heard of the national Israeli food.

Yet, the risk paid off. Nadav's "Falafel Place" that is open four hours a day, sells about 200 falafel meals. The locals love it.

Weiss arrived in Alaska after his army service and instead of continuing on the world tour he planned, he fell in love. Twice. First with the place, then with Terry – his Alaskan wife. When they made the ice state their home, they looked for a fulfilling job and a challenge. They decided on falafel.

There was only one problem with Nadav and Terry's Cinderella story: the couple couldn't cook falafel, nor could they find a pita in the entire state; so they opted for learning to make both. Four months of trials-and-errors later, they stumbled upon the winning recipe and opened a stand in Fairbanks.

"At first, our stand was located in the middle of the Framer's Market in town. As the lines grew longer and longer, we were moved to a corner where our customers wouldn't be in the way of shoppers," Nadav said.

Although the resemblance to the original is evident, there is one big difference: Nadav's $7 pita is stuffed with falafel, tehina, parsley and… lettuce. "Although I tell my customers that in Israel we prefer our falafel spicy and with pickles, the Alaskans' craving for lettuce couldn't be squashed. So I agreed," Nadav explained.

Despite his success, Nadav remained humble: "This story is not about an Israeli who traveled to Alaska to conquer it. I love this place but I wanted something to remind me of home.",7340,L-3488654,00.html

Falafel fact sheet

At times it is shaped like a ball, sometimes like a flat burger. It may have a pale brown color, or be darksome. It can have a smooth or grainy texture, and be eaten inside a pita or Turkish bread. Make way for hummus’s brother: falafel

Falafel is the second-most common dish made of chickpeas, after hummus of course. It is eaten in many Arab and Mediterranean countries, each with its own special version.

You can find falafel all around the world today. But when in the US and North Europe, is it usually made by ex-Israelis, Lebanese, Egyptians or Turks. Falafel is very common in these countries (except Turkey).

Is falafel an Israeli food?
Well, there is that theory about how the ancient Jews invented falafel during their slavery in Egypt, and brought it back with them to the Holy Land. Doesn’t sound too convincing to me, but falafel does owe a lot to Israel, where it is highly popular. In Israel, falafel has first found its way into the pita bread. Israelis were also the first to spread it to Europe and the US, somewhere around the early 1970s.

But where did it come from?
A common theory suggests falafel was invented some 1000 years ago by the Egyptian Copts, who brought it with them to the rest of the Middle East. Another theory dates the invention of falafel as far as the 6th century AD, or even earlier, placing it on the subcontinent of India, which is known until today for making various chickpea-based dishes. And like anything else - some say it was invented by the ancient Egyptians.

What is falafel made of?
There’s a falafel recipe here which you can check for yourself and see. To make long things short: soaked chickpeas, coriander, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper. When it is greener, it usually means there’s a lot of coriander in it. Some add onions, parsley, paprika and sesame seeds to it. Soaked bread and baking soda are often used to make it more airy.

Even today, Egyptian falafel is made of ful (brown dried broad beans). Surprisingly, not only is the taste pretty similar, but falafel made of chickpeas is also considered healthier.

Is falafel good for you?
Falafel contains around 325 calories for 100 grams. It’s made out of 35 percent water, 30 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein and some 20 percent of the rest - which may include some fat and also vitamins and minerals, such as potassium and magnesium. When deep fried, the falafel contains relatively little fat, and when eaten with salad it is both satiating and healthy.

Is there a correct way to eat it?
In Berlin, where it is fairly common, falafel is usually made by Turks. They serve it in a Turkish toasted bread, with salads, and some spicy sauces. In the Middle East, it is eaten inside a pita bread, mainly with vegetable salad and tahini. In Israel you also usually get some French fries, pickles and pickled cabbage. In Arab countries, it is traditionally eaten as a stand-alone side dish.

What makes the different texture in different places?
The best way to make falafel is by grinding the ingredients through a meat grinder. In some places, a simple food processor is used, so the texture is smoother and it is less crunchy.