Friday, June 10, 2011

Falafel – If you love them, this recipe will change your (falafel eating) life

Bold statement I know, but let me explain. 

Falafel are yummy. Having once been vegetarian for about 10 years, I feel qualified. I still favour falafel over a shawarma (lamb kebab), even though I am back to eating meat now. So, as a falafel lover, I have been making them for years but I could never get that delicious crisp outside with light fluffy insides – you know what I mean.

I’ve tried all the same recipes you have. On all those websites, in all my (many) cookbooks and food magazines, from blogs and the tried and tested ones scribbled on paper. Most of them were fine, but none of them were perfect or close to authentic and not one of them used (what I now know to be) the proper method. 

The main problem was that, without fail, they fall apart in the pan. So then of course I would add egg and rice flour to bind the mix – which in turn makes them hard, dry and yuck. Every.single.time.

Then last year after searching for some authentic recipes and chatting with a Lebanese friend,  I found the answer. I didn’t believe it at first. Soaked, and not cooked, chickpeas. NEVER tinned. The not boiled bit was what threw me, but who am I to argue with hundreds (thousands?) of years of cooking falafel? (Incidentally I stupidly did try and defy those many generations of experience by using boiled peas on my first attempt at this method. GUARANTEED FAILURE, but by all means do feel free to try it out yourself.)

So, believe me (and the many, many middle-eastern families who’ve been doing it this way for generations) it works. You can thank me later for all the testing and practising I’ve done for you. Why didn’t I go down this path earlier?

Before I share the recipe I use, here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way through trial and error.
  • Soak your beans for a LONG time. At least 24 hours – or they will not hold together. Just put them in a bowl, cover with water and ignore them on the bench for a day or two. Sometimes I even leave them for two nights. But replace your water once or twice if you remember. 
  • You can use just chickpeas or broad beans or a combination of both.  You will need to shell the broad beans though (after they are soaked).
  •  You will need to scrape down the sides of your food processor when you blitz them. Probably a couple of times. Persist with it, if it’s not blitzed well it won’t cook well.
  • Make a double batch and freeze half of the made up mix. Revelation I tell you! Works perfectly. Just defrost, roll into balls and fry. Falafel whenever you feel like it.
  • You can buy dried pulses from the supermarket, but I prefer to get mine from the market. Buying in bulk is fine, they keep for ages. I also boil up a big batch (not for falafel, of course!) then freeze with a bit of the boiling water in small containers or ziplock bags. Cheaper and much yummier than tinned chickpeas and with less salt.  Also, a good way to afford organic. 
  • You can shallow pan fry the falafels in oil if you prefer not to deep fry them.
  • If you’re new to deep frying, you can use a small saucepan to deep fry in batches so that you don’t need to use as much oil. Just make sure your saucepan edge is high enough so the oil won’t overflow when you put your felafel in to fry. Fill the saucepan with oil about 5cm high and make sure you turn your felafels during cooking to brown all sides.
  • Add some sesame seeds to the mix. 
And now the recipe. You will find most authentic falafel recipes are pretty much like this. Some use more garlic, some ask for baking powder instead of bicarb soda, whatever the slight tweaks, the soak - blitz with flavour -fry method remains the same.

1 cup dried chickpeas (DON'T shortcut with tinned or boiled it will not work)
1 cup dried broad beans (as above cannot be stressed enough!)
1 small red onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley (can add or substitute with fresh coriander)
1 tsp bicarb soda
1 1/2 tsp salt flakes (less if using table salt)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
Water (a couple of Tbsp)
Oil for frying

Soak the chickpeas and broad beans for at least 24 hours. Shell the broad beans when they are soft enough to pop out of the shells. Do NOT use tinned or boiled beans, they must be dried and soaked.

Drain the beans and rinse.

Place all ingredients, except the water and oil, in the food processor. Pulse the mixture until it is gritty, but fine.

You will need to scrape the sides of your bowl a few times. Add the water to help the mixture along. You might need lots, you might need a little – it depends on the mixture. Give the mix one last blitz for good measure.

Heat deep fryer (or oil in the pan). Throw in a parsley leaf to test it. It should sizzle well, but not too vigorously. (If the oil isn’t hot enough your felafel will be oily, but if it’s too hot the outside will cook before the middle).

Roll balls (not too big 1 – 2 Tbsp of mix) of falafel mix and carefully drop into the hot oil. Fry until brown and crisp all over.

Drain on paper towels and serve hot.

Download recipe with tips here. 

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