When falafel is done right—crisped to perfection, warm enough to eat without burning your tongue, and maybe even served with an exotic sauce to maximize its flavor—you just know it. Your average halal cart probably serves a version with varying levels of success (you can usually tell by its queue), but making it at home for yourself? Yeah, we thought you might like to figure that out.
So, what exactly is falafel?
Falafel has two main ingredients: Dried chickpeas and fava beans, though some chefs choose to go either all chickpea or all fava. Depending on regional variations, they may also contain a variety of spices and herbs—coriander, allspice, cumin, onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and baking soda.
It is rumored that falafel originated in Egypt. However, in my humble opinion, the sandwich was perfected in Lebanon. The addition of pickled turnips, fresh mint, and tomato created an amazing balance in the sandwich, brought freshness to every bite and created a lot of hardcore followers and mini addicts. It quickly became, and remains, a staple in the Lebanese street food category.
How can you perfect your own falafel?
We believe that the quality of all the ingredients—freshly grated spices; high quality chickpeas, not from the can, of course; and fresh olive oil—add to the taste and texture of the falafel. We pass our falafel mixture through the food processor twice, then add the sesame and soda water, mix to combine, form balls, and fry them.
Chef Sammy recommends that all the ingredients should be ground down well to form an even consistency. Then, it’s all about deep frying one ball at a time. You need to make sure that the oil is not too hot and that the falafel is not too wet. Otherwise it will not hold its shape and consistency. The falafel, while initially sinking in the oil, should float as it is close to being done. A perfect falafel has a toasted baguette consistency on the outside, and pound cake on the inside, you should make sure during the frying process to use a quality oil and ensure it stays clean the entire time.
Lebanese Falafel Recipe
The best falafel are moist, tender, packed with flavorful seasonings such as onion and herbs, and sturdy enough to form and fry. We started by soaking dried chickpeas overnight to soften them slightly before grinding them into coarse bits along with onion, herbs, garlic, and spices. Instead of binding the dough with uncooked flour, which yields dry, bready fritters, we mixed in a cooked flour paste that added moisture without making the dough too fragile to form and fry. Cooking the fritters at a relatively low 325 degrees allowed their particularly moist interiors to fully cook by the time their exteriors were brown and crisp.
8 ounces dried chickpeas, picked over and rinsed
¾ cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems
¾ cup fresh parsley leaves
½ onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
⅓ cup tahini
⅓ cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
¼ cup water
MAKES 24 FALAFELS; SERVES 4 TO 6
This recipe requires that the chickpeas be soaked for at least 8 hours. Use a Dutch oven that holds 6 quarts or more. An equal amount of chickpea flour can be substituted for the all-purpose flour; if using, increase the water in step 4 to ½ cup. Do not substitute canned or quick-soaked chickpeas; they will make stodgy falafel. Serve the falafel with the tahini sauce as an appetizer or in Pita Bread with lettuce, chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, fresh cilantro, Quick Pickled Turnips and Carrots with Lemon and Coriander, and Tomato-Chile Sauce. Serve the first batch of falafel immediately or hold it in a 200-degree oven while the second batch cooks.