The first time I had falafel was over 20 years ago at Mamoun’s in New Haven, CT. Incredibly, I didn’t even really know what it was that first time I tried it, but friends insisted I would love it and I did.
Fried balls of ground chickpeas may not sound like much but when combined with garlic, onion, spices, and fresh herbs, they become tasty little fritters that you can serve as an appetizer or pile into a pita for a vegetarian sandwich.
I don’t eat very many fried foods but it’s the best way to go with falafel. I’ve tried baking them but they tend to dry out more in the oven and don’t get that beautiful mix of a crispy outside and tender inside.
Also, don’t make these with canned chickpeas – they have to be dried chickpeas to achieve the right texture. I soak mine for a full 24 hours, plus I refrigerate my uncooked falafel for a few hours so it does take a bit of planning ahead to make these.
This recipe makes about 65 falafel with a full pound of chickpeas. I can easily pile 10 into one sandwich, if that helps put the amount in persepective.
(Tahini sauce recipe follows, below)
- 1 lb dried chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 large onion, cut into thirds
- 3 scallions, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Canola, corn or other vegetable oil for frying
- Place chickpeas in a large bowl or pan and fill with cold water. Make sure they’ve covered by at least 4-5 inches of water.
- Let sit for 24 hours.
- Drain, rinse and drain again well in a colander.
- Place cumin seed and coriander seed in a small pan and toast over medium heat for about 5 minutes, tossing the seeds often.
- Put toasted seeds in food processor
- Add garlic, onion, scallions to the food processor
- Pulse until everything is finely chopped
- Add 1/2 of the chickpeas & blend well, stopping to scrape the sides and the bottom a few times. You want a nice fine meal but don’t want to puree it until everything’s liquified.
- Scrape everything out into a large bowl
- Add remaining whole chickpeas to food processor
- Add cilantro, parsley, salt, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and lemon juice to food processor
- Blend well, scraping sides and bottom a few times
- Transfer to the same large bowl with the other 1/2 of chickpea mixture
- Stir everything to combine it all very well
- Refrigerate for 2-3 hours
- Gently form golf ball size balls – try not to pack them too tightly, just tight enough to hold together well. Place finished balls on a large baking sheet or serving plate (I typically use 2 baking sheets) If you just cannot get the balls to hold together, add 2-3 tablespoons of flour to the mixture and mix well. I’ve never had to add flour to mine but a number of things could result in their lack of stickiness, such as old beans or not grinding your mixture enough.
- Fill a large skillet (my big cast iron works great for this) with about 2 inches of oil and heat over medium heat
- Pinch off a bit of a ball and put it in the oil to test the heat
- When the bit of batter sizzles, test one or two balls in the center of the pan
- When oil is ready, fry the balls for about 5-6 minutes in all, turning about 3 minutes in, until nicely browned all the way around. I can typically fit about 10-12 into my large skillet and still be able to move them around easily.
- Using a slotted spoon or tongs, carefully remove cooked falafel and place on paper towels to drain.
- Repeat with remaining falafel
- Don’t crowd the pan with too many at once
- Don’t try to turn them until they’ve been in the oil for a couple of minutes – this will assure that they hold together
Here’s a shot of some of my falafel pre-frying:
You can serve falafel a number of ways, such as an appetizer with a tahini sauce or hummus served alongside it. My favorite way (and the first way I ever had it) is piled into a pita with fresh veggies and tahini sauce.
Here’s how to make tahini sauce:
Tahini Sauce Recipe
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup tahini – make sure it’s been stirred very, very well before using
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- Juice of 1 large lemon; about 2 tablespoons
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- In a food processor, blend garlic until finely minced
- Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well blended, about 2-3 minutes
- If the sauce is still a little thick, add 1 tablespoon of water and blend well again
- Transfer to a bowl and set aside
When I make falafel sandwiches, I may not make them in the traditional way but this is the way I love them; piled with falafel, onion, tomato, thin cucumber slices and tahini sauce. I cut my falafel in half before adding them because they are easier to eat this way, plus I can stuff more of them in. 🙂 I can typically fit 8-10 falafel into one pita half.
Making falafel at the holidays serves double duty since one batch makes so many. I can serve half of them as an appetizer at holiday gatherings, and then make sandwiches for me and my husband when it’s just the two of us. Works out perfectly!
These are also really good with tzatziki sauce and, when making sandwiches, don’t be shy with your topping. Add what you love and make it your own.
I hope you’re all enjoying your holidays!