Asma’s Kitchen serving Middle Eastern food in Shelburne Falls

  • Asma Abdelmeguid of Asma's Kitchen in Shelburne Falls fries up some falafel made of chickpeas, fresh herbs and spices. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Asma Abdelmeguid of Asma's Kitchen in Shelburne Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Asma Abdelmeguid of Asma's Kitchen in Shelburne Falls plates up some fresh falafel with sauces, lettuce, rice and pickles. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Asma Abdelmeguid of Asma's Kitchen in Shelburne Falls fries up some falafel made of chickpeas, fresh herbs and spices. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For The Recorder
Published: 11/9/2021 2:20:21 PM

Walk up Bridge Street in the village of Shelburne Falls any day of the week except Monday, and you’ll come across a colorful food truck labeled “Asma’s Kitchen.” Inside a smiling woman will be preparing aromatic Middle Eastern foods.

That woman is Asma Abdelmeguid. She and her family moved from Egypt to Shelburne Falls five years ago. She began operating the food truck last year when many local restaurants couldn’t serve customers. She leases the land on which the truck sits from potter Molly Cantor.

Photographer Paul Franz and I stopped by recently to watch Abdelmeguid make falafel, fried spicy balls that are delicious and vegan. I asked the chef how she ended up in the United States.

“I came here to try a different life for my children,” she replied. Her two sons, 16 and 19, go to school in Shelburne Falls.

Abdelmeguid learned to cook from her mother and mother-in-law, she informed me. She enjoys sharing her knowledge, skill, and recipes with her neighbors.

“I like to make people happy, to make people taste different flavors,” she explained.

She stated that operating a food truck was her longtime dream. Judging by the size of the lunch crowd when Paul and I visited, she is successful. Many of the people who visited appeared to be satisfied repeat customers.

Among them was a close friend, Sarah McKusick, who chatted with me while Abdelmeguid was busy with other customers. McKusick met the Egyptian woman about four years ago when Abdelmeguid was a student at the Center for New Americans in Greenfield.

The center offers instruction and citizenship counseling to immigrants here in Western Massachusetts. McKusick not only taught Abdelmeguid English as a second language; she also offered her new friend driver’s education. Abdelmeguid absorbed both types of subject matter brilliantly, according to McKusik.

“When she got here, her English levels were quite low,” said McKusick. She added that she admires Abdelmeguid. “She’s an example of an immigrant who came here to make a better life for her kids.”

McKusick noted that Abdelmeguid was required to pass the ServSafe exam in order to start her business. ServSafe ensures that food operators know the basics of safety and hygiene in the kitchen. “It’s not an easy test even if English is your first language,” McKusick said with a smile.

Paul and I savored the falafel, which had just the right amount of spice. They didn’t seem greasy because Abdelmeguid fried them carefully in very hot oil. She told us that they make a great snack but are also perfect for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast.

The cook also sent me home with a taste of her most popular dish, chicken shawarma, which like the falafel can be ordered in a platter or a wrap. The flavorful shawarma is the Middle Eastern version of the Greek gyro.

I asked whether the food truck would stay open during the winter. Abdelmeguid replied that unless the weather is terrible she plans to cook for her customers regularly. She may close the truck early on particularly bad days. Her regular hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I enjoyed everything Asma Abdelmeguid served me. Even more I appreciated the warmth of this woman’s personality. McKusick told me that family and community are very important to Abdelmeguid, who supports causes in the village of Shelburne Falls with donations of food.

I see that spirit of caring even during my brief encounter with Abdelmeguid. She seems to prepare food for a living because she gets joy from nourishing others and sharing her culture with those around her.

She cooks with love, and that love is apparent not just in the flavor of her dishes but also in the radiance of her personality.

Someday Asma Abdelmeguid hopes to open a restaurant. Meanwhile, she enjoys her tiny domain in Shelburne Falls and plans to do some cooking soon on the internet. I’ll certainly watch her.

Asma’s Falafel

Ingredients:

for the falafel:

1 pound dried chickpeas

1 medium onion

5 cloves garlic

1/2 cup water

coriander seed to taste

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 cup herbs—parsley, cilantro, and maybe a little dill

canola oil as needed for frying

for the tahini sauce:

1 cup tahini

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup hot water plus a little more if you like your sauce very liquid

salt and cumin to taste

1 clove garlic, mashed

chopped coriander (cilantro) to taste (optional)

Instructions:

Begin the day before you want to serve your falafel by soaking the chickpeas in water overnight or even a bit longer.

To make the falafel, drain the chickpeas. Place all of the ingredients except the canola oil in a food processor. Preheat the oil to 350 degrees in a pan. The oil should be at least a couple of inches deep.

When the oil is good and hot, scoop the falafel into balls using a cookie scoop or two spoons. Gently place the balls in the hot oil. They will sink at first but will soon rise to the top of the oil. Do not overcrowd the pan.

Fry the balls until nicely browned, stirring gently and turning as needed. They will take 5 to 10 minutes to cook.

Drain the balls and serve them hot or at room temperature with tahini sauce. Abdelmeguid serves tiny ones as an appetizer. She also makes a falafel platter with rice, lettuce, and fresh coriander and even a falafel wrap. This recipe makes a lot of falafel so feel free to halve it.

To make the tahini sauce, combine the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Drizzle the sauce over your falafel to taste. You may refrigerate leftover sauce for up to one week.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.


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