Watch Publican Anker chef A.J. Walker make gluten-free falafel

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In our gluten-averse society, a gluten-free grain that's virtually unknown sounds all but impossible. Job's tears, which have been consumed for centuries across Asia, are technically not a grain (the plant is part of the grass family), but that didn't stop Bon Appetit from declaring them "the next cult gluten-free grain" last year. In the case of the wild strain, Job's tears are often dried and used as beads, while the softer domesticated version can be steamed like rice, ground into flour, boiled to make tea, and brewed into beer.

But when Dan Snowden of Bad Hunter challenged A.J. Walker of Publican Anker, to create a recipe with Job's tears, it was nothing new for the chef. Back when he worked at the original Publican restaurant, he says, they used the pseudocereal—but it doesn't seem to have made a lasting impression on him. "We did something with grilled squid and Job's tears tabbouleh, or something like that . . . I can't really remember," he says. He describes Job's tears as having "a sweetness like corn, a nutty thing. There's not a lot of flavor, really."

The wild strain of Job's tears are often dried and used as beads, while the softer domesticated version can be steamed like rice, ground into flour, boiled to make tea, and brewed into beer. - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • The wild strain of Job's tears are often dried and used as beads, while the softer domesticated version can be steamed like rice, ground into flour, boiled to make tea, and brewed into beer.

Still, Walker took advantage of the ingredient's lack of gluten, making falafel with it. "I think if I made it with a grain that contains gluten, it would have been a bready, chewy mess," he says. "This just gives it an interesting texture."

After soaking the Job's tears overnight, Walker whizzed them in a food processor with sesame seeds, sugar, baking soda, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, black pepper, dashi powder, garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, parsley, and onion. He formed the mixture into balls, dropping them into the deep fryer to cook before turning his attention to the accompaniments.

Pita bread was a given: Publican Quality Bread provides dough for the restaurant, which Walker rolled thin and grilled on the open wood-burning range. His twist on tzatziki sauce includes sour cream, butter, labneh (strained yogurt), cucumber, and the Middle Eastern spice mixture za'atar. The finishing touches were a simple salad of cucumber, pickled Fresno chiles, and scallion, and a drizzle of wildflower honey spiced with espelette pepper and fennel seed.

A.J. Walker, chef de cuisine of Publican Anker - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • A.J. Walker, chef de cuisine of Publican Anker

"It's a little sweeter than a regular chickpea falafel," Walker says. But the difference is subtle. "I don't know if people would even know it was Job's tears unless someone told you. It's the texture that changes more than anything."

Who's next:
Walker has challenged Ben Lustbader of Giant to create a recipe with a type of seaweed called dulse.

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