One of the truths about living in a small town in the US: if you want groovy global cuisine, you’d better learn how to make it yourself. It’s gotten considerably more food-diverse here in the past few years so I have less and less reason to kvetch, but nonetheless there are foods I like to eat that are difficult to come by. Falafel is one of them. Raw materials = abundant. Final product = scarce. Since we are learning creatures, we adapt. We even compromise. There are not a lot of foods I’m willing to fry in my house, but falafel is one of them. Because oooh, crispy balls of fried chickpeas, how I love you so. Here’s what you need:
- 1 16-oz bag dried chickpeas, picked through and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 handfuls fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped
- 1 handful fresh cilantro, leaves coarsely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Candy and fat thermometer (really, you need this)
This is a recipe that requires a bit of prep work, since you need enough oil for frying, a high heat, fat-friendly thermometer, and time to soak the chickpeas overnight. Don’t use canned. Plan ahead. I also highly recommend getting a kitchen spider, if you don’t have one yet, for working with food in hot oil. Anyway.
Empty the bag of dried chickpeas into a strainer and give them the ol’ once-over to check for stray rocks that have been collected with said legumes. Rinse them, then put them in a pot and cover them by 2 inches with water. Lid, overnight, leave it alone on the stovetop, done until tomorrow.
Next day! Drain your swollen chickpeas. They’ll be nice and plump and definitely softer than they were, but not smooshy. Which is good; when you process them, you want them to maintain their integrity, not turn into a paste. Take cumin and coriander seeds and put them in a dry pan. Turn your heat on to medium-low and let them start to toast. In about five minutes (give or take) they’re get slightly brown and super-fragrant. Don’t wander too far away because once they reach the oh-hell-yeah fragrant part, they’re close to burning. Take them off the heat and put them in a spice grinder. IF you don’t want to do this step–you don’t have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, you just don’t feel like, whatever–that’s fine. You can skip this part. The spices just won’t taste as “deep”. It will still be yummy. Trust me on this one.
Put everything–chickpeas, and everything on the ingredient list from baking powder to fresh cilantro–into a food processor. Whirl it all together until you have a mix that is nicely ground together but not paste-y. You may have to whirl it in batches (like I do); if that’s the case, once everything is ground to the right size then put it all in one big bowl and mix well until all ingredients are evenly combined.
See how the falafel mix is kind of nubbly and not smooth? That’s what you want. Taste it, then season with salt and pepper and give it another stir. Roll them into ping-pong sized balls, then put them in the fridge and let them set while the oil heats up.
Of course, the oil is the fun part.
Pour 3 inches of a mild-tasting oil (vegetable, canola) into a nice, deep, heavy pot. I used this fantastic cast-iron Dutch oven my boyfriend has had for years; make sure your pot is sturdy and deep, and can provide a place to clip on a candy and fat thermometer, because you’ll need one. Clip the thermometer to the side of your pot, making sure the end does not touch the bottom of the pot, since that will give you an inaccurate temperature reading. Turn on the heat and let the oil come up to 375°, which is the temperature you’re going to try and maintain during the cooking process (there will be more on the importance of temperature in a minute). While the oil is heating, set up your workstation. You’re working with hot oil, so you don’t want to mess around. Get a spider so you can lower the falafel balls into hot oil and retrieve them, with as few burns as possible. Have a plate lined with paper towels as a landing pad. Have more paper towels at the ready so you can stack layers of draining falafel.
Once the oil hits 375°, get to it. You want to maintain that temperature as consistently as possible because it will cook the falafel balls thoroughly and create a lovely crisp exterior with a nice light center, without soaking in and making heavy, greasy balls of oily chickpea meal. If the oil gets too hot it will scorch the outside while the inside remains untouched. If it drops too cold it will…well, see “heavy greasy balls of chickpea meal”. Both are bad outcomes. Ideally, this is what you’ll want in a finished falafel.
Load up your spider with four or five falafel balls and lower them into the…
Please be careful.
After frying each batch for 4-5 minutes, you can go from raw green falafel to beautiful fried goodness.
Falafel is often served as an appetizer, or in a wrap or pita with lettuce/tomato/cuke/red onion and a tahini dressing, which I love and you are more than welcome to do. BUT. What I don’t love is buying an entire can of tahini paste to make the dressing, using a small portion of it for one recipe, and let the rest go bad in my fridge. Or, I’ll feel a bizarre pressure to use it all (and experience a sense of failure when I have to throw out the gone-bad portion anyway). Who needs their dinner to shame them? So. We had a mid-east feast and served the falafel with a super-simple tzatziki sauce (recipe coming soon), over fattoush salad (recipe coming soon).
This recipe will make a ton of falafel and those of you cooking for one or two…or might have a large family with eaters who wouldn’t dream of eating this so you’d only be making it for yourself…cheer up! Cooked falafel freezes beautifully, so you can stash them in your freezer for months with the help of a little wax paper and an airtight container.