January's Can't-Miss Dish

Spinach Falafel at Sofra Bakery and Cafe
Credit: Chris McIntosh
By Ellen Bhang · 01/03/2023

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it. 


Spinach Falafel


On the plate: Spinach Falafel  

Where to find it: If you have made a resolution to eat more adventurously in 2023, there’s no better place to visit than Sofra Bakery and Cafe. Since 2008, this cozy Cambridge spot—the brainchild of Oleana executive chef Ana Sortun and executive pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick—has served up vibrant fare showcasing the flavors of Turkey, Lebanon, and Greece. You need not be familiar with these cuisines to navigate the menu. Sofra’s friendly employees are happy to explain the difference between ma’amoul (a date-stuffed shortbread cookie) and mana’eesh (a focaccia-like flatbread) so you can select the perfect bite, whether you lean sweet or savory.

On a blustery afternoon, friends and neighbors have come in from the cold to sip house-made chai, dig into plates of Shakshuka, and peruse shelves of syrups, teas, and spices for purchase. Some have snagged two-tops (precious real estate in this compact space) while others perch on stools at a communal table near a deli case full of dips, desserts, and meals-to-go. Sofra’s general manager Payal Parikh doesn’t take the convivial atmosphere for granted. She’s thrilled that patrons can dine in again after more than two years of takeout-only service. “Being inside is something that our guests had really been wanting,” she says, adding that a big part of the Sofra experience is feasting one’s eyes on the “beautifulness in front of you”—the tempting array of pastries and colorful mezes displayed at the ordering counter—before making a selection.

Notes on the nosh: Sofra’s Spinach Falafel will update your notion about what chickpea fritters can be. Parikh explains what makes them so singular: “Ana mentions that when she was visiting the Turkish city, Gaziantep, she tasted how falafel there was ultra-light,” she says. The chef eventually landed on her own approach that whips together simmered chickpeas, chickpea flour, and spinach. (Sortun shares the recipe in her cookbook, Spice, as well as in The Food Lens’ digital cookbook, Dining In Boston.) At Sofra, the batter-like mixture is steamed, rolled into balls, and deep fried. Parikh loves how those steps result in falafel with a “crunchy exterior, and a lovely, smooth interior.”

Assembling the dish, which appears under the menu header “Stuffed Flatbreads & Shawarmas,” starts with a rectangle of flatbread made from whole wheat yufka dough, thought to be a forerunner of phyllo. On one half of that bread, four meatball-sized falafel—each topped with a dollop of satiny tahini sauce—sit in a neat row on a fuchsia-hued tzatziki, a spread made with shredded beets and yogurt-like labneh. On the other half is arugula, dressed with lemony vinaigrette. On the day we visit, coins of crunchy pickled carrot are nestled next to those greens. (Pickles in the dish rotate frequently.) You might be tempted to attack this generous presentation with a knife and fork; but rest assured that this flatbread is surprisingly sturdy. You’ll have no trouble folding it down the middle and picking up the wrap with ease.

Sip alongside: Just when you thought it was impossible to reinvent the espresso drink, Sofra has done just that. To make Sesame Caramel Latte, a barista melts halva, a tahini-based confection, into house-made caramel sauce, then steams that delectable concoction with your choice of milk. Combined with a shot of espresso crafted from small-batch-roasted beans by Sudbury’s Karma Coffee, this warm beverage will provide delightful fuel for your next big adventure.  

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