Region: Arab Levant
Category: Antipasto, Meze, Tapas, and Hors d'Oeuvres
Difficulty: Labor Intensive
Falafel are little hockey puck-shaped spiced bean rissoles fried in oil and typically served as street food or as a meze in the Levantine Middle East. They are made with crushed dried fava beans called ful madshush or crushed chickpeas or a mixture of both. Claudia Roden, the author of a number of books on Middle Eastern cooking, says that falafel are made with ful nabid, which are fava bean sprouts, but I’ve never seen them made with sprouts. In Palestine and Israel, they make falafel with chickpeas. But it is the Christian Copts of Egypt who claim falafel as their own, and theirs is a more delicate, spicier version of the Levantine falafel, made into the shape of a lozenge about 1 1/2-inches in diameter and called ta’miyya. It’s basically the same thing as a falafel, usually made from fava beans and sometimes stuffed with a little spiced ground meat and using much more coriander and parsley.
Falafel should be served hot with Arabic bread, cucumber salad, and tahini and parsley sauce or a tarator sauce made with one-third cup tahini, on-third cup fresh lemon juice, a little water for thinning, two tablespoons plain yogurt, and two garlic cloves crushed with salt. Other relishes to put on the falafel, which then get wrapped in thin Arabic bread, are chopped onions, chopped scallions, chopped garlic, chopped fresh coriander leaves, and chopped fresh parsley leaves. A relish made of chopped tomato, cucumber, green bell pepper, chile pepper, parsley, fresh coriander, and lemon juice can be made too.
When making falafel, it’s important that everything be rather dry, otherwise the rissoles will not hold together when you fry them. After the beans soak, drain them and dry them by leaving them out on some kitchen or paper towels. Let the onions and garlic sit in a strainer for 2 hours to let them drain. The dried beans can be found in Middle Eastern markets. You may be tempted to use a falafel mix for making these, but this personal rendition is so much more memorable.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 50 falafel; about 15 servings if served plain, with no bread or accompaniments
Preparation Time: 1 1/2 days in all
1. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together except the vegetable oil. Place in a food processor, in batches if necessary, and pulse until everything is very well ground and smooth. Return to the bowl and stir several times with a wooden spoon. Transfer to a strainer and let drain for 2 hours.
2. Form the dough in tablespoon increments into hockey puck-size rissoles about 1 3/4-inches in diameter. Arrange on a tray and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the frying oil in a deep fryer or an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert to 375 degrees F.
4. Fry the falafel in batches of 5 or 6 in the hot oil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined tray. Serve with a wrapping of Arabic bread and any of the garnishes mentioned in the headnote. Let the frying oil cool completely, strain through a porous paper filter, if necessary, and save the oil for a future use.