In 1999 I traveled to Egypt, which was quite a rigorous yet rewarding trip. I discovered many cool things during this sojourn through the Sahara, not the least of which was these delicious little bite-sized delicacies: falafel.
Overall, the food was hit or miss in Egypt, but when I saw falafel on the menu, I knew at least I wouldn’t go hungry. These little treats are not only delicious, but quite nutritious as well; they’re so packed with protein they are considered a good meat substitute for a vegetarian diet.
I set about trying to make falafel when I got back home, but my first attempt was an abysmal failure. (More on that later) But after taking a Lebanese cooking class at Central Market, which included a great falafel recipe, I was on my way to making my favorite Middle Eastern dish.
1 Cup Dried Chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 Cup Dried Fava Beans, soaked overnight
½ Cup Bulgur Wheat
1 Medium Onion, diced
2 to 3 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
½ Bunch of Fresh Cilantro, stemmed and chopped
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
2 Teaspoons Cumin
2 Teaspoons Paprika
½ Bunch Fresh Parsley, finely minced
Peanut Oil or Vegetable Oil
Soak the fava beans and chickpeas overnight.
Drain the beans and rinse them thoroughly. Place them in your food processor and pulse until the beans resemble coarse bread crumbs.
Add the bulgur wheat, onion, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, baking soda, sea salt, cumin and paprika. Start pulsing the mixture until it resembles a coarse pasty consistency. Add the parsley and pulse until the mixture is a fine, gritty paste.
Take a small amount of the mixture in your hand and form it into a small patty. Place this on a tray lined with wax paper. Continue making patties until you run out of batter. This recipe usually makes around a dozen medium-sized patties.
Next, place the tray of falafel patties in the fridge for about two hours to firm up and set, or if pressed for time, you can place them in the freezer for about thirty minutes.
When you’re ready to cook, fill a large skillet about a half inch deep with peanut or vegetable oil. I like to use peanut oil as it produces a good flavor and has a high smoke point, but any vegetable oil or even canola oil will work. I’ve also experimented with using olive oil in an effort to be more ‘Mediterranean,’ but I haven’t noticed much difference in flavor, and the olive oil can get a bit smoky. If you go this route, make sure to use a light olive oil.
Heat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, then carefully use a fork to lower your patties, one at a time, into the oil. Fry in batches of four to six patties, about a minute and a half to two minutes a side, until they are golden to deep brown in color.
Drain on paper towels
and serve immediately on their own, or with some hummus, tahini or tzatziki sauce.
One final note. I have found a wide variety of falafel recipes, but I feel the one above comes closest to the flavor of what I tasted in Egypt (other places may differ) while staying true to authentic Middle Eastern ingredients. The first time I attempted to make falafel, however, the patties immediately disintegrated when I put them into the oil. I researched matters and some recipes called for using an egg in the mix. I tried this, and the patties did hold together fine, but from what I gathered this wasn’t a very traditional Middle Eastern ingredient. I tried other methods, and finally came up with the recipe outlined above. One thing I note, in my first attempt I had no bulgur wheat in the mix, and I also just formed the patties and immediately fried them. I think that is the reason they disintegrated. The time in the fridge or freezer allows the patties to firm up somewhat, so make sure you don’t skip this step, as it also allows the glutens in the bulgur wheat to set, further helping your patties stay together.
Note, the falafel I made with egg tasted virtually identical to the version sans egg, so there is nothing really wrong with using this, as far as the final product is concerned, unless you are serving some of your vegetarian/vegan friends. In that case, skip the egg for sure.