Why Feel Awful When You Can Cook?

It's bound to happen to anyone who leaves New York. Wandering down Michigan Avenue here in Chicago, surrounded by Midwestern tourists (with a few Germans thrown in), I'll frequently feel a pang of longing that is so palpable and intimate it usually throws me for a loop. I won't go as far as saying that I reel, or anything like that. But it's like missing a long-gone person you're still in love with, somebody you always believed was just right for you, someone you couldn't get enough of, even though the relationship was a bit one-sided. 

I bring it up because if you live in Chicago you have to keep this kind of love a secret in sort of the same way you should hide carrying a flame. Never tell a Chicagoan you miss New York. For a more precise elucidation on my reasoning on this, one more eloquent than I could ever provide, read A.J. Leibling's "Chicago: The Second City," which seems mean but nonetheless evergreen in its incisiveness, though it was written half a century ago. 

I'll generalize wildly here and say that Chicagoans love to have friends in New York as long as the friends stay there. They'll tell you about visiting them, and how they go to NYC all the time and know it like the back of their hands. 

But if you move here you better never mention New York to any of them ever again. Especially if you work at a newspaper. Because Chicago is just as good as New York! You don't like it here, go back! Bleh! Take that!

But just as good is not the point, of course.  And, I understand the bad reception to such longing, because it is the equivalent of saying to a spouse: "Now that Bob, he was a fun guy. So well-adjusted. Such a charmer.  We had the best time when we were dating. And handsome? You never saw such a handsome man." 

However, if you really know the two cities (living in NYC for 6 months and then leaving does not count; nor does visiting Chicago for a Cubs game and having a hot dog), you know that they cannot be compared. And should not be. Each has a distinct personality; if you want one, the other just won't do. And it cuts both ways. 

Anyway, this is sort of sad, but one of the things that really makes me lonely for NYC is the fact that Chicago does not have street carts or corner deli/grocers on practically every block. In fact, there aren't really many street carts to speak of; they are not a part of the urban landscape.

I loved walking outside on a workday and buying a giant bag of cherries for lunch, or a pint of ridiculously delicious ripe figs, for what now seems like almost no money at all. I took it all for granted. I hardly see fresh figs at all in my life here, and when I do, they're a million dollars. I miss the Halal chicken and rice cart at 43rd and 6th. I miss the salad man, who was outside Grand Central, before he moved inside Grand Central. I miss the banged up taco truck in my old Upper West Side neighborhood. 

And whenever anyone says "I feel awful," I kind of do, too, because it makes me think of the falafel cart at 46th and 6th Avenue, Moishe's. You get a pita crammed to bulging with giant crunchy-fried balls, lettuce, tomato, tahini, hot sauce, and great pickles. Sometimes, the guys give you a pickle while you wait. They are ridiculous street food, because standing and eating them on the street is like eating the giant barbecued turkey let that Chicagoans consume at Taste of Chicago, a festival that happens only once a year, and inspires many restaurants to sell their food from stands in the park. It's very popular, and you'd think Mayor Daley would get the big idea; but he doesn't like the cart/stand thing. Such a prissy pot.  

I know that I will never be able to replicate Moishe's street falafel. So I don't try. Instead, recently, I made a version that a person could serve to man and child seated at the dinner table, as a casual supper. 

It's a combination of the old reliable Moosewood version, combined with the amazing Joyce Goldstein version, from her fantastic newish cookbook, Mediterranean Fresh. My own crazy thoughts: I will make it in patty form (Moosewood), serve it on an English muffin, and rather than tahini we'll have it with a yogurt sauce and some cukes

So that's what I did. I added an egg and some baking soda, as Goldstein does for her "chickpea croquettes," and we made Goldstein's unbelievably good yogurt dressing and a cucumber, red onion, tomato and avocado salad splashed with cider vinegar (I am a huge fan of plain cider vinegar), olive oil, salt and pepper. 

Falafel to Feel Better
Makes 6-8  patties

4 cups cooked or 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup of flour, plus more for dredging
1  teaspoon baking soda
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon turmeric
sea salt (I used about a teaspoon)
4-6 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/4 cup water, more or less to bind mixture
canola oil, for frying
English muffins
Joyce Goldstein's yogurt dressing (see below)

  1. Mash the chickpeas with a potato masher. If you did not give away your food processor when you moved into an apartment with a smaller kitchen, use it, pulsing until coarsely ground. Add remaining ingredients, except the canola oil, and stir until you have an unlumpy doughy batter, thick enough to form into patties. If it is too thick, stir in a bit of water. 
  2. Form hamburger-thick patties with dough, a little larger in circumference than an English muffin, then dredge patties in flour and set aside on a cookie sheet or large plate. Heat 3-4 tablespoons canola oil in a large, heavy skillet, until a bit of the dough sizzles when dropped in. 
  3. Carefully place patties in skillet (they may break easily before cooking); fry 6-8 minutes per side, until they form a crunchy, dark golden exterior forms; you may need to add extra oil before cooking on second side. Drain briefly on paper towels. Keep warm in a 300 degree oven if necessary, before serving. 

You can eat these, as we did, on warm English muffins, topped with Goldstein's yogurt dressing. Maybe a little hot sauce. She suggests tahini sauce, and that of course is traditional. Lettuce tomato and thin slices of cucumber are good, too. Or served topped with a cucumber, onion, tomato, avocado salad dressed in olive oil and cider vinegar. Or serve in pita (warmed in the microwave still in the plastic bag; that's how Goldstein does it), topped with vegetables, drizzled with whatever sauces you like. You decide. 

Joyce Goldstein's Yogurt Dressing
Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 cups thick yogurt (I used Fage nonfat Greek; it's amazing)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
sea salt
2-3 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Whisk together yogurt, oil, lemon juice and salt to taste (I used about 1/2 a teaspoon); fold in garlic and herbs. So so so so so good. 


  1. Wow. I didn't know you could make your own falafel. I thought you had to buy it at a street cart. Or a storefront dive. Or Kalustyan's.

    I also own that Joyce Goldstein book, and appreciate being directed to one of the dressings, because they all sound so good I can never make up my mind what to do. Thanks!

  2. Be still my heart, this was beautiful and true! Thank you for sharing.