I didn’t like meat growing up. I thought this surely meant a life of alternating peanut-butter and grilled cheese sandwiches. Then in college, Anna introduced me to the wonder that is Indian food–only to be followed by my love and exploration of many ethnic foods. Hellllllllo falafel.
One bite of this fried chickpea patty and you’ll understand why I planned my entire budget birthday around this delight. Serve it traditionally in pita (the “Israeli hamburger” said my friend Johanna) and drizzle with a store-bought yogurt sauce like tzatziki. Or let it accompany a knockout mixed grain dish.
A food processor is best for making this dish in a pinch: mix, chill, fry. That’s it!
My Favorite Falafel
1 cup dried chickpeas OR 2 15-oz. cans
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1/2-1 teaspoon dried cayenne
4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon baking powder
4-6 tablespoons stone-ground white corn meal (or flour)
Grapeseed or vegetable oil for frying
Prep the Mixture
Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.
Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, cayenne, garlic, and cumin. Pulse until just evenly chopped.
Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour (or cornmeal—I found the cornmeal achieves the perfect crunchy exterior), and pulse. You want to add enough cornmeal or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Do not overmix, or the falafel will be tough. Leave a little chunky.
Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours. I’ve found one hour sufficient, but you could also prep the mixture the night before.
Fry the Falafel
Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts—squashing into a disc fries faster and makes for easier sandwiches. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test.
If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. I find they fry well if lowered gently into the oil with a chinese strainer. Drain on paper towels. Falafel does not absorb oil, so it is not a greasy food—despite being fried.
Joan Nathan’s tips:
Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper, and pickled turnips. Drizzle with tahina thinned with water.
Tahina is an oily paste made from ground sesame seeds. It is available in Middle Eastern markets and at www.ethnicgrocer.com.
To garnish your falafel in true Israeli style, try adding one or several of the following condiments: harissa hot sauce, pickled turnip (both also available at www.ethnicgrocer.com), mango amba (pickle), or sauerkraut.