Falafel aren’t the sort of thing you would think to make at home. First of all they are fried, and fried can be very controverisial. There are the people who love fried, wanna marry it, have it’s babies and dip them in batter and fry them. Then there are the people who eschew it either for health reasons or simply because they don’t want to stink up their houses in the process.I’m not going to go all Paula Deen on you and try and convince you that you should eat fried foods every day, but a little fried never hurt no one, especially if you don’t eat processed fried foods and the fried food in question happens to be chock full of dietary fiber, folate, magnesium and vitamin C. Chickpeas are very nutritious. And cheap. You can balance out the fried with a myriad of salads and pickles to be served in the pita along with them.

As far as the frying thing goes, I like to make flat patties instead of spheres, so you don’t actually have to deep fry, therefore using less oil. It would be like making chicken cutlets. I can’t really help the smell in the house thing but to me I happen to think it smells good! It’s not like it’s a scallop or something (which might be the worst after cooking smell EVER!)

So just to be clear, falafel are Middle Eastern patties or balls of chickpeas and herbs, fried  and served with salads and sauces, sometimes in a pita. And my answer to the inevitable question of whether you can use canned chickpeas or not is an emphatic NO! First of all, you will never be able to get the texture you want out of canned chickpeas. They are wetter, almost mushy and already cooked. Secondly, the flavor of dry chickpeas is so much better than canned.  Thirdly, you really aren’t saving yourself anything by using canned. Canned are more expensive and it’s not like you have to cook the dry ones first, you just soak them the day before and then grind them up. Easy.

My favorite recipe is Mark Bittman’s, published in the New York Times in 2008. I use that as a guideline, with a few touches of my own. I don’t like ones that have breadcrumb or flour in them. It definitely makes the batter easier to handle but I find that it makes the falafel too dense. If you make patties instead of balls, it will be easier to handle anyway.

Falafel

Adapted from Mark Bittman for the New York Times, 2008

serves 2 adults, 1 toddler and leftovers

1 and 3/4 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1 small onion, quartered

1 teaspoon coriander, ground

1 tablespoon cumin, ground

cayenne to taste

1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves or 1/2 cup each

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Neutral oil, for frying*

1. Cover chickpeas in a non-reactive bowl or container with 4X the amount of water to beans. Refrigerate overnight uncovered. This will hydrate the chickpeas and get them ready for cooking. This is pretty standard procedure for any dry bean. Chickpeas will double or triple in volume as they take in the water. You don’t cover them because they can ferment.

2. The next day drain beans well discarding liquid. Some people like to save the liquid and use it, but although there is a slight loss of nutrients there are also compounds in the liquid that cause flatulence and by discarding it you reduce the likelihood of it.

3. Place beans in a food processor and add all the remaining ingredients except spices and oil and Falafel "batter" after grindingpulse. You want to chop all of the ingredients finely but not make a puree. You may have to do it in batches, and you will probably have to scrape down the edges of the bowl a few times in between pulsing. If you absolutely must, add a few drops of water to get it going, but the more water you add, the harder the mixture is going to be to work with, and then you might have to add a bit of flour to get it to bind up again.

4. Once mixture has come together, transfer to a bowl and add your spices, season with a bit of salt and cayenne to taste. You can taste the batter raw, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s just going to be mealy, but you can get an idea. I also always like to fry one off as a test to really see how it’s going to taste, so you don’t end up cooking an entire batch of underseasoned falafel.

5. Heat about an inch of oil in a saute pan with sides. You want the oil to be shimmering. Test the oil by adding a pattie. It should start sizzling immediately. If your oil is too cool, your patties will soak up too much oil and fall apart. Conversely, if too hot, you will get brown too quickly before the inside is cooked and could even burn. You want the oil about 350 degrees if you have a thermometer.

6. Shape patties by using a tablespoon, scooping some batter up and using the palm of your other hand to smooth the edge. The batter is wet, so you can’t pick it up and roll it like a meatball. In falafel houses they will often use an icecream scooper and drop the scoops into the deep fryer. So scoop instead with your tablespoon, round it with the palm of your other hand, and then gently hold the spoon horizontally over the pan of oil and shimmy it in. If your oil is nice and hot it will start to cook it immediately setting the shape. Continue doing this so that your pan is full, but not crowded. It is important you don’t crowd the pan, or your oil will cool down, the steam emitting will get caught between instead of evaporating and the falafel will become soggy and fall apart. It’s not that hard, I’m just giving you all the information you need.

7. Flip them over when they are golden brown and cook the other side.frying falafel

8. Drain on paper towels when evenly browned and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

* For frying, you not only want a neutral oil, but you want one with a high smoke point. Olive oil does not have a high smoke point and is not suitable for frying. Canola oil, grapeseed oil and corn oil are all better choices, but you need to be careful of where you buy them from. If you would like more information on this subject you can read it here.

I serve them with whole wheat pita and salads. On the simple end you can just cube up tomatoes and cucumbers, shave some red onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper, maybe some lemon juice. Shaved savoy cabbage tossed with a little red wine vinegar is really good too. If you’re feeling adventurous you can pickle some beets, turnips or carrots, with cumin and serve those. As for the sauces they are super easy.

For the tahini sauce, you buy sesame paste (tahini) and mix it with about equal parts water. The tahini behaves weird when you add water to it. It starts out looking smooth and pourable, then you add water and it seizes up and becomes all pasty. Keep stirring it vigorously and adding water, a little at a time until it becomes a smooth loose sauce. Season with salt to taste, fresh squeezed lemon juice and I also like to grate some garlic in there with a fine grater or microplane.

I also love to make a tzakiki or raita type yoghurt sauce. If you buy full fat greek yoghurt, (like Fage total) it is the absolute perfect consistency and doesn’t need to be drained. I love the stuff but it’s not what I use on a regular basis for my normal yoghurt eating needs because in around 2008 it’s popularity forced production out of Greece and into upstate NY. I did some research trying to find out if they are using grass-fed milk, including writing to the company and they never got back to me, which basically tells me they don’t. It’s highly unlikely that a large processing facility owned by Dannon in New York is using grass-fed milk, especially if it’s not labeled as so. It does say that they don’t use the rGBH hormone, which is a good start I guess.  rGBH is a hormone that cows are given to keep them lactating year round, because just as humans, even if the demand is there, our supply will dwindle and even dry up over time, especially if it’s not a baby suckling and instead a machine. rGBH has been thought to pass into our bodies through milk and be the cause of early puberty in girls that has become a staggering epidemic in this country. The FDA issued a statement saying that they have found no difference between cows given the hormone and not, which means absolutely nothing. They need to protect their interests, being big dairy industry and Monsanto (who if I’m not mistaken are the manufacturers of the hormone) and they haven’t done any solid reseasrch on the subject, they just haven’t received any proof saying otherwise. But I digress. For this application, I have yet to find a grass-fed organic yoghurt that is thick and luscious so when I make falafel I still use the Greek stuff and for my daily needs I go with something else.

Back to the sauce: finely dice up some red onion and toss it with fresh lemon to marinate for a bit. Mix into the yoghurt. You want it to be chunky but still have room for the herbs- I like to use mint, and a lot of it. Shred the mint finely with a sharp knife and mix in. Add a pinch of ground cumin  and if you like it spicy, a bit of cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you need a bit more lemon add it. This dip has so many uses. My husband hates yoghurt but loves this dip and can find so many creative things to rip apart and dredge in it.

Like I mentioned before, you can serve the falafel in pita with a simple cubed up salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. Or you can go a bit more fancy and pickle some turnips, beets or carrots.

Falafel hold leftover fantastically. They stay crispy and heat up well. We always have leftovers with this recipe and love eating them the next day.

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