Recipe for Falafel and Syrian garlic sauce Toum
PUBLISHED: 08:14 30 October 2020 | UPDATED: 08:02 02 November 2020
Kerstin takes inspiration from her former upstairs neighbour Medyan and his family’s restaurant in Willesden Green to cook two Syrian specialities
Refugees are once again in our thoughts with the tragic deaths of a whole family just off the coast of Calais.
Some years ago, Syrian refugee Medyan Aldandan became my upstairs neighbour in Kilburn.
When he moved in with his wife and four year old daughter, they barely spoke English and seemed pole-axed by the change of culture. Medyan had left Damascus when his wife was pregnant and had waited four years for them to join him, so he’d never met his daughter. Within a year they had settled, added another baby and gradually I got to meet the extended family.
Unable to practice as a lawyer in the UK, he retrained as a chef and now works in his brother-in-law Amer Kawaret’s restaurant in Willesden Green. (thebestbroasted.com)
The Best Broasted is fast gaining a reputation as the best Syrian restaurant in the UK. Families travel across London from as far as Reading to eat the food. “It’s the nearest to eating in Damascus,” one family told me.
The titular dish is a Syrian speciality, using a pressure cooker full of bubbling oil and chicken, marinated in a secret herb mix, then deep-fried at 180Cº rendering it particularly juicy. It’s served with thick game chips, tangy pink and green pickles and the Syrian garlic sauce ‘toum’.
For vegetarians there’s tabbouleh, falafel and flat breads - a baker stands all day next to an oven rolling them out and peeling them into the flames so they puff into charred footballs of dough, sometimes filled with garlic or cheese.
Sitting with Amer over Syrian coffee, he recounted his passage to England five years ago.
“When I finished my studies, I left for Lebanon. The war was getting worse, I had a sister in London and already spoke English. I took my 16 year old brother, whose best friend had been killed in the war, to make the journey across Europe. Sometimes walking, sometimes with transport. When we got to Hungary, they’d closed the border just that day, then we got word that Croatia had opened the border.
In Syria we are taught that all Arabs are our brothers but what I discovered is that what we used to call ‘strangers’, Westerners, Europeans, Americans, are our brothers. We are brothers in humanity. Croatia had never had refugees before. On the day the border opened, at 3am, hundreds of Croatians, young, old, came to welcome us. In the freezing weather, they came in their cars, opened up their boots and gave us hot food.
When we got to Calais, the camp, we were shocked, it was dirty and dangerous. There is no law. One guy promised to take us over to the UK that day. My brother said ‘No way can I stay even one day here’. But we ended up staying 40 days. It was the hardest of my life. We were waking up during the night from the cold and then sleeping again from the tiredness, then waking up again, this is how we spent the nights. One morning we woke up and discovered a guy who got killed in his tent. They found him stabbed, 20 times, in his bed.
“You can’t stay in a hotel for 40 days, It’s too expensive. But every week, I tried to go for one day to have a shower.”
“If you look at pictures of Damascus before the war, it was a pretty good place to live. I had everything I have here. It’s not that different.
“It cost £5,000 for us to travel from Lebanon to Calais. But from Calais to the UK, it cost £7,500 pounds each. I borrowed the money. I managed to pay it back two years ago. We were on top of a lorry, brought here by Romanian smugglers.
“When we got to Dover, my brother-in-law came to pick me up. I cried. It was finally over. He drove us to London and showed us the sights, the London Eye. Then I went to my sister’s and took a shower. Then we called my family in Syria, my mum started crying.”
Amer says his fellow countrymen are “still suffering every day”.
“They line up for hours just to get flour for bread, to get gas to cook on. There are kidnappings, bombs, violence. I’d like to go back but it’ll be 20 years before Syria recovers.”
150 g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
150 g dried ful mesdames beans, soaked overnight
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pinch bicarbonate of soda
1 large brown onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp coriander, ground
bunch fresh coriander leaves
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp sea salt
vegetable oil for frying
Drain the chickpeas and grind in a blender or food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients except the oil. Form the falafels into small balls, golf ball size.
Heat the oil in a frying pan to 190ºC. Fry the balls, a few at a time, until golden.
Serve with Toum, some parsley and flatbread
Toum Syrian garlic sauce
In Syria, they tend to thicken with cornflour, but I’ve created a version without. Drizzle the oil in very slowly so it emulsifies. It’s delicious. You’ll want it on everything.
5 cloves garlic, peeled, green germ removed
2 tbsp water
1 tsp sea salt or more to taste
1 lemon, juice of
400 ml sunflower oil
Prepare the garlic and put it in a food processor or blender. Add the water, salt and lemon juice and, with the processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil to make a fluffy light sauce.
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