Days of hummus and falafel

Mike recalls vegetarian menus with a Mediterranean flavor.

By Mike Lewis

In the place where I grew up, the staple fast foods - although no-one used that term in those days - were hummus, falafel and tahini. No, this wasn't some exotic outreach of the Mediterranean. It was a corner of north London with a southern European immigrant community, plus an indigenous Jewish population that was anxious to forge links with what was then the new state of Israel.

Our local hangout was a dive called Amando's, just off the Finchley Road. In the mid 1960s, Amando's enjoyed a brief spell of fame and prosperity, thanks to a mention in that bible of budget travel, Europe on $5 a day. Scores of backpacking Americans would descend on the place. They would stare around, bemused at the scruffy surroundings and the spartan decor. But they never hesitated to indulge in the ample portions of sustaining food.

Armando's specialité de la maison consisted of a huge pitta, stuffed full with a generous helping of falafel and salad, and topped with a large dollop of tahini. It costs just half a crown, which is 12.5p in modern British money, or about 20 US cents. A more nutritious meal could not be had for the price in the whole of London.

Today, the type of food that Armando's served is available just about everywhere. Tahini comes in jars, and you can buy falafel mix in most health food stores - though making the real thing takes only a little extra effort. In many ways, these are ideal foods for vegetarians and vegans.

Tahini spreads and dressings

Tahini consists entirely of pureed sesame seeds. You can use it straight from the jar as a spread. Or you can thin it with a little water to make a tasty sauce or salad dressing.

My favorite dressing is made from three quarters of a cup (about 6 fl oz, 180 ml) of tahini, one and quarter cups (10 fl oz, 300 ml) of water, the juice of one lemon, a crushed garlic clove and a little ground cumin. You simply mix the ingredients together, varying the amount of water according to how thick you want the result to be. There are plenty of variations on the theme, for example using soy sauce or tamari in place of some of the water.


Hummus is made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and tahini. You can use either a cup (8 oz, 225 g) of dried chickpeas, soaked and boiled, or one 14-oz (400 g) can. Crush the chickpeas, then blend them with three quarters of a cup (6 fl oz, 180 ml) of tahini, the juice of two lemons, a crushed garlic clove and six tablespoons of olive oil. The result is a delicious spread or dip.


Falafel is also made from chickpeas. You can use either two cans of chickpeas, or a pound (450 g) of the dried variety, soaked and boiled. Blend them with two minced garlic cloves, a couple of teaspoons each of ground cumin and ground coriander, and enough water to make a very thick paste. Form into balls the size of walnuts, coat with flour, and deep fry for about three minutes.

You can serve falafel hot as part of a main course, or cold with hummus and salad. For a picnic or barbecue, make a crunchy salad with lettuce, celery and cucumber. Stuff into pittas, adding a couple of falafel balls to each one. Finally, pour on a good tablespoon of tahini. The result: A delectable snack, plus happy memories for anyone who grew up in N.W.6.

March 2003

Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.

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