I love meat, but there’s really nothing wrong with meals without any. In fact, it’s a lot better for you to miss it out often. One of my favourite non-meat-related meals is anything to do with falafel. The herby, soft interior within the crunchy shell is a thing of beauty; slathered it in hummus in a pita bread and you’re on to a winner. Falafel are also a great option for vegetarians and vegans as they’re full of protein and relatively low in fat for something that’s fried.
There are two different major types of falafel found across the middle east, with tonnes of regional varieties in addition. In Egypt, where it originated, falafel are made with fava beans (ful mudammas), whereas in Israel they’re primarily made with chickpeas, as in the recipe below. It’s Jewish immigrants in Israel that actually came up with the genius idea of stuffing falafel into pits, so they clearly knew what was up.
So if the original Egyptian falafel recipe called for fava beans, then why did the Israelis swap over to chickpeas? Well, many Jews carry a mutation in G6PD, a gene involved in supplying energy to cells. Consuming fava beans if you have this mutation can cause your blood cells to break down; so yeah, best avoided then…
The variety of herbs and spices used in falafel varies across Northern Africa and the Middle East, but there are some more common than others. Leafy herbs such as coriander parsley appear frequently but can be adjusted to taste. Personally, I like quite a lot, and they provide a pleasant green colour to the insides. As for spices, cumin is the most common, but I bolster that with good helpings to ground coriander and paprika. Feel free to ramp up the spiciness with chilli powder, but I like to keep my falafel more on the mild end of things.
Deep frying is the most traditional way to cook falafel, but shallow frying and baking also work, although the results are obviously going to be a little different. Deep frying lets you get the traditional ball shape, which gives you an excellent inside-outside ratio for your falafel. If you just want to shallow fry, shape the mixture into hockey puck-type shapes and flip halfway through cooking when a good crust has formed on the bottom. If you want to go for a more healthy option, bake at around 180oC, either in muffin tins or on a greased sheet. I’m not sure of the timings here, but I expect it will take 10 to 15 minutes.
Notes on Cooking
Make sure you use dried chickpeas when making these falafel. The tinned ones contain too much moisture and you’re not going to reach the right consistency. Also, it’s important to use uncooked chickpeas.
When food processing the chickpeas down you want to aim for a consistency between a paste and couscous. I found that it was best to blitz everything once and then return it in batches to the food processor until I reached the desired consistency.
Herby, crispy, and soft inside, these falafel make the perfect meal when stuffed into pita bread or a great party food when laid out with a garlicy hummus. Simple to make and a great crowd pleaser.
- 500 g dried chickpeas/garbanzo beans
- 5 spring onions
- 5 cloves garlic
- 80 g fresh coriander
- 20 g fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 1/2 tbsp chickpea flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 3 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder
Soak the chickpeas overnight in water at room temperature. Make sure the cover them by about 5 - 10 cm with water, as they will soak up a lot.
Rinse the chickpeas and drain them well.
Blend in a food processor along with the onions, garlic, coriander and parsley. Mine is quite small, so I just did it in batches. You want to aim for an almost paste-like texture, with plenty of couscous like bits in.
Remove to a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well with a fork to fully combine while preserving the light texture.
Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Remove the falafel mix from the fridge and press (quite hard) 1 heaped tablespoon of mixture into a ball. They will be very fragile at this point so be gentle with them. If they don't hold together, they’re probably not ground fine enough, so return to the food processor for a bit longer.
Meanwhile heat 6 - 8 cm of oil (peanut/groundnut oil is great) in a large saucepan to 170oC. I use a sugar thermometer to check the temperature. Never fill a pan more than ⅓ full of oil.
Gently lower the balls into the hot oil in batches of around 4, depending on the size of your pan. Don’t overcrowd. Monitor the oil temperature and try and keep it between 155oC and 170oC. You’ll find the falafel bind well once they start frying.
Fry for around 4 - 5 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Start with one and get a feeling for the timing and temperature before you commit.
Drain on paper towels while you fry the rest. If some of your balls break as you pick them up to put in the oil, just set them aside and use another one. You can reform the mixture while others are cooking.
Falafel are best when served hot with hummus or another tahini sauce. Stuff into pita bread and munch away.