Saturday, June 23, 2012

Falafel, Vegan Snack

A delicious and easy-to-obtain vegan fast food option is falafel. Falafel is a Middle Eastern snack consisting of fried balls of ground up chick peas and/or fava beans and mild spices. Usually these crunchy balls of yum are put into a pita bread and topped with veggies and tahini (sesame paste). Some places also top with yogurt sauce, if you are not doing dairy it's easy enough to leave it off. The bean/bread/seed combination renders this meal and excellent source of complimentary proteins. My criteria for choosing a good falafel are as follows:
1. Has it been contaminated with meat? I do not eat from the Halal carts as they appear to fry the meat in the same oil as the falafels, this is a matter of preference in how much of a purist you are regarding animal products.
2. Is a whole wheat pita an option? (If not, I may skip the bread and order as a salad if possible: the white bread doesn't digest well and is just empty calories.)
3. Are there lots of veggie toppings? The more veggies available, the yummier and more nutritious the sandwich.

Here are some of my favorite spots for falafel in the city:
Maoz, which has rapidly become ubiquitous, is an all-vegetarian falafel spot which offers whole-wheat pita and has a DYI salad bar. Their falafel is tasty and inexpensive. The negatives about Maoz are that I find their falafel excessively salty and they stuff the pita so chock-full of falafel balls there is little room for salad (an ideal falafel sandwich for me would be a pita bursting with veggies and a couple falafel balls floating around, the whole thing dripping with tahini.)

Moshe's is a kosher, all vegetarian falafel truck on the corner of 46th and 6th which appears to be open only weekdays (and probably closes early on Fridays as the owners are Orthodox.) I have to admit, rated based solely on quality of falafel balls, theirs are RIDICULOUS. I have no idea what they do to make their falafel so superb, but flavor-wise they  undoubtably reign supreme. I foolishly ordered the full-size sandwich, piggishly demolished it all, and was unable to eat anything else for about 16 hours subsequently, so I would suggest the half-size portion. On the down side, their pita is white, and their salad is meager (lettuce, tomato, and onion only, with a side of extremely yummy pickles which they are a little stingy with.)

Mamoun's is a well-known haunt with a few locations in the East and West Villages. At 2.50 a piece, their falafel sandwiches are among the least expensive, but are smaller and more like a snack than a meal. Their falafel balls are tasty, whole wheat pita is an option, but salad is basic (lettuce, tomato, onion.) They have a host of tempting desserts which are decidedly NOT vegan (laden with butter and honey) so don't be fooled. Some side salads like tabouli and babaganoush can be ordered separately.

There is another spot I am going to recommend despite not actually having had their falafel in Midtown East. When I visited Soomsoom I was intrigued by their more unusual options, which included some sort of "Sabich" (Israeli sandwich) which was sort of like a potato knish stuffed with fried eggplant (too greasy for my taste). After ordering I noticed their incredible salad bar which included options such as roasted butternut squash and various types of beets, cabbage, and olives (to name a few-- there were seriously about 20 vegetable options). I regretted not ordering a falafel sandwich with salad toppings included, and will be returning at some point to sample their fare.

An honorable mention goes to Duzan Mediterranean Grill in Astoria Queens off of Steinway Street and Astoria Boulevard. I am too suspicious of their grill to order a falafel there, but I have on many occasions had a hummus pita which is absolutely divine. A host of pickled this and that (red cabbage, beets, cucumbers, etc) tops a creamy homemade hummus in a whole wheat pita topped with an equally delicious tahini. The workers are also friendly, which is great, because sometimes I stay a little longer and have seconds. 

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