*thanks to our guest falafel writer this week. The editor is currently travelling/honeymoon-ing and will be back shortly. (Don’t worry, falafel has featured heavily in these…travels and will be discussed at length during the next few posts).
Quick, Easy, Delicious cook-at-home Falafel. (disclaimer: not quick, not easy)
I’ve eaten so many falafels in my life – made by so many establishments and nationalities of chef – Australian, Lebanese (hard to beat) British, Israeli, Turkish, Moroccan and Egyptian – yet I never knew it was such a controversial dish.
The origin of falafel has been hotly-contested, although it now seems to be generally agreed that it was originally made in Egypt with Fava beams, while the Israelis developed the chickpea version.
If you decide to embark on making your own homemade falafel, this hot contesting continues in cookbooks and on recipe websites and apps. There’s a range of views about the best ingredients and the best method.
I thought I might whip some up and save some money in the process.
First off, I needed to weigh up the need for speed and instant gratification, versus authenticity and texture.
Most aficionado middle eastern chef types are very clear that canned chickpeas are not even worth the discussion. Many feel the need to emphasise this point in CAPITAL LETTERS mid-recipe. Buy the beans, soak the beans overnight, do not cook the beans, do NOT use canned beans. It’s to do with moisture content, apparently.
Other recipe sites are cool with cans (and hence, speedy results.)
I decided to go hard-core and was pleasantly surprised how cheap dry chickpeas are for a kilo bag. You only need about a quarter of a bag to make a dozen.
The inclusion of baking powder and flour is also cause for debate and dispute, with those in either camp warning of dire consequences…
They all agree that some ingredients must be fresh – so you need to go shopping and make sure you get things that you probably don’t currently have – like flat leaf parsley and fresh coriander. Make sure that sesame seeds, sunflower oil (or other non-olive oil), ground cumin and other spices of choice are all in your house before you begin.
Another essential check before you start is some sort of food mixer/ blender. I have a cheap, complicated, multi-part Ninja device, which is neither a kitchen food processor nor a blender. It turned out fine, but you will find it very hard to make these falafel without owning something that can whiz up the uncooked soaked beans.
I eventually chose the recipe of middle eastern Israeli sensation duo Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian chef partner Sami Tamimi from their cookbook “Jerusalem”.
This actually recommended using a meat grinder – which (obviously) I neither own – nor know anyone who does. It also recommends baking powder and plain flour which other recipes avoid.
So, a full day after thinking about rustling up these quick friend snacks, I had finally got the soaked beans and all the fresh herbs assembled.
It was all pretty logical for the next step – chopping things up (garlic, onion, herbs) blitzing the beans and mixing it all together to produce a very pleasant bright green concoction.
The oil can go in a saucepan – 7cm in depth and hot enough to bubble up around the falafel mix. Creating the falafel with your hand and tablespoons is tricky as the mixture falls apart. That’s why you often see little plug-like falafel shapers in falafel vans and restaurants. Indeed there’s a picture of a happy chef in the Jerusalem recipe book wielding one; another piece of equipment that would help at home but which no normal person possesses.
It’s also near impossible to get sesame seeds on both sides.
But after a few minutes frying – and holding my nerve as they became quite dark – the first two falafel were on draining paper and ready for tasting.
Verdict? Crunchy and authentic.
They could use salt after cooking, but sauces or hummus deal with that. My non-vegetarian husband deemed them “aromatic and crispy”.
All that was now required was to make all the others, clean up lots of bowls, chopping boards, kitchen-whizzing bits and blades and oily spoons and pots, and then finally eat some myself.
Final Analysis : delicious and cheap – but what a bloody faff! I really doubt I would do it again (although I may try the quick canned chickpea version and report back.) It is probably more fun if there are loads of you (to eat immediately and help clean up), and if you are a well-prepared type. Also, they do keep for a few days but are no longer crispy or as good.
Thank you to our guest reviewer this week! She wished to remain anonymous.