When made correctly, falafel is a revelation. The ingredients—just rehydrated dried chickpeas and a combination of fresh herbs—harmonize in deep-fried crispy perfection outside while staying moist, tender, and light on the inside. Traditionally gluten-free and vegan, the real deal has never contained flour or eggs. Unlike today, when you may find all kinds of fillers.
“I don’t know why anyone would put eggs in falafel,” says Karimah Omar Nabulsi, owner of Karimah’s Kitchen, a prepared food company in Kensington, New Hampshire, that uses fresh local ingredients to make authentic Lebanese food. “Once you add eggs, it’s not falafel anymore.”
Nabulsi, who grew up in Lebanon, has similar disdain for chocolate hummus—and honestly any variation on hummus beyond the traditional blend of chickpeas, garlic, tahini, and lemon.
And that has worked out just fine—for more than a decade, customers have come to trust that familiar Middle Eastern foods, like hummus and pita, and not so familiar items, like Arnabeet Tajin—an addictive dip of cauliflower baked in tahini sauce—will be delicious and freshly prepared.
Which doesn’t mean that people don’t occasionally stop by her farmer’s market stand, looking for flavored hummus or other less-than-authentic products. But through patient conversations over the years, Nabulsi and her staff have successfully broadened horizons.
“My biggest advertisement is that direct connection with the customers,” Nabulsi says, noting that she is always happy to take the time to explain each of her dozen or so prepared dips and salads. Before the pandemic, that also involved allowing folks to taste anything they’d like. “Even people who have never tried Middle Eastern food before, when they hear how the dish is made and what’s in it, they take the risk and try it. And that’s where they fall in love.”
Of course, it helps that all of Nabulsi’s foods are prepared fresh, using local ingredients wherever available. In her kitchen, housed at the Farm at Eastman’s Corner, she can be found daily with her small staff, chopping tomatoes and cucumbers for the tabbouleh, grinding the chickpeas for falafel, and dicing and deep-frying mountains of eggplant for one of Nabulsi’s specialties: fried eggplant fattoush. The cubes of eggplant, blended with an assortment of fresh peppers, tomato, spices, cilantro, garlic, and lemon juice, can make a convert of even the most hardened detractor of the nightshade family (as this writer can attest). Bright and savory, with none of the bitterness or weird texture sometimes associated with eggplant, it’s an addictively welcome dip with some Karimah’s Kitchen pita chips.
The eggplant fattoush or any of Nabulsi’s other dishes would be a delicious addition to the dinner table. Try several for a mezze-themed meal, or just offer a few as an appetizer.
But if you are looking for a real show-stopper, track down the trays of Middle Eastern pastries Nabulsi offers. Growing up, Nabulsi, who is Muslim, celebrated holidays like Ramadan with joyful visits to family and friends to exchange many different kinds of pastries. The treats go well beyond baklava—the mixture of nuts and sugar syrup pressed between sheets of phyllo that is most familiar around here. Think Kanafeh: a combination of mozzarella, ricotta, and sweet cheeses soaked in rose and orange blossom water and baked between layers of shredded filo dough. Or Maamoul—semolina shell pastries filled with dates or walnuts.
While North Shore residents have missed the Karimah’s Kitchen stand at the Newburyport Farmers’ Market, which has been closed since last spring because of the pandemic, Nabulsi has recently started selling her goodies at Appleton Farms in Ipswich. And will most certainly be offering those cookie trays there, as well as at farmers’ markets in southern New Hampshire and at the Farm at Eastman’s Corner.
“I love showing customers the kinds of cookies we make for special occasions,” Nabulsi says. “We brought all those beautiful memories with us here. Memories that we love sharing with our kids, our loved ones, and our friends.”
244 Amesbury Road, Kensington, New Hampshire, 603-397-7994, karimahskitchen.com