Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Learning About Falafel

I had heard of falafel for a very long time. With all the foods I have made and eaten, I had never yet tried falafel, and yesterday I wondered to myself why that might be? I have no good response for that question in my mind, so I did what I usually do. I  went online and looked up falafel, and read, and read some more, and then more. All in all I spent about 3½ hours reading about falafel, what they are, how they are made, the differences between recipes, the "right" and "wrong" ways of going about making them.
Falafel in flatbread with hummus, cucumber and arugula
Falafel in flatbread with hummus, cucumber and arugula

While 3½ hours online does not an expert make, still, I learned quite a bit. Though I had heard the word falafel, knew it was a food, and even that I believed they were fried, that is about the sum total of my knowledge until yesterday. What they were made of was a total unknown. So, here are some things I learned:
  • Falafel are made from a base of chickpeas and/or fava beans.
  • While many use canned chickpeas, they do not provide the correct consistency, thus necessitating the addition of flour (wheat, chickpea or other), baking soda, and sometimes even egg to bind the mixture enough to shape.
  • Falafel are traditionally made into round balls and deep fried.
  • Falafel are eaten as street food in many Middle Eastern countries.
  • The word "falafel" can refer to the little fried balls themselves, or to the "sandwich" made of them using pita bread.
  • Falafel are high in complex carbohydrates, proteins and fiber and contain no cholesterol until they are fried.
  • Falafel are often served alongside hummus.
  • Falafel are often served with a yogurt sauce, or even tzatziki
  • Falafel are served similarly to gyros, folded into a warm pita or flatbread, with cucumber, tomato and a tzatziki type sauce.
Since my husband and I have been eating a more healthy diet of late, the concept of falafel, made with mainly chickpeas (which we both like - we love hummus) and the addition of other good things like parsley, cilantro, mint and some spices, these sounded like a good thing to try. The only sticking point is the deep-frying part. I absolutely hate to deep-fry things. I don't like heating up that much oil. And then what to do with it once I'm done? The likelihood of me deep frying anything else within a 5 year period is slim to none. So the oil is all wasted.

At that point, I started looking for recipes to bake falafel. And while there are many recipes out there for baked falafel, I was getting the distinct impression that even if they are just pan fried in a little bit of oil, they taste better than baked. I decided to try it both ways and see how things come out. As it turned out, I ended up pan-frying the whole lot, so I never even got to testing the oven baked concept. But this will not be the last time making them. We both were completely enchanted with them!

While most of the recipes call for using a yogurt type sauce and/or hummus as sides to the falafel, one place jumped out as different by using a red sauce. I kept in mind the main ingredients, but did not write down the recipe. All I knew is that roasted garlic and roasted red bell pepper were involved, and those two ingredients had me salivating. I went ahead and made a sauce, and I am absolutely sure it will be great with falafel, I am also sure it would be great on a lot of things. Omelets come to mind! Or burgers, or even fries! It's that good! I'm foreseeing a lot of this sauce being made in the near future also!

Roasted Garlic & Red Pepper Sauce
Roasted Garlic & Red Pepper Sauce

Roasted Garlic & Red Pepper Sauce

makes about ¾ cup

4 or 5 roasted cloves garlic
1 large red bell pepper
1 large shallot
1 Roma tomato
1 teaspoon tahini
1 teaspoon ground sumac
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt

If roasted garlic is not already made, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut of the top portion of a whole head of garlic. Set it into a piece of foil large enough to enclose the head of garlic. Drizzle a little olive oil over top, seal the package and set into a small, oven proof ramekin and bake for 45 minutes. Once baked, simply squeeze out the garlic.

Preheat the broiler. Set the bell pepper onto a foil lined baking sheet and place under broiler so that it is about 3 to 4 inches away from the broiler element. Allow the skin of the pepper to completely blacken before turning it so another side is exposed. Once it has blackened all around, remove the pepper to a zip-top bag and seal, allowing it to steam for a few minutes. Once cool enough to handle, remove all skin, then remove seeds and membranes and place the roasted pepper into a blender container, along with the garlic.

Once the pepper is done, cut up the shallot into some few pieces and set onto the same foil lined pan and roast until it smells sweet and there are a few little darkened patches. Add the shallot pieces to the blender with all the remaining ingredients. Blend to a smooth puree. You should have approximately 1½ cups. Pour this into a non-stick skillet and cook down to about half, leaving a thickened ¾ cup of sauce. The sauce will keep for about 5 days in the fridge.

Typically, falafel are served in pita breads. For some odd reason, the stores here had not carried pita breads, but only flatbreads. Now, just the other day, suddenly there are pita breads in the section with cheeses, so they are chilled. The breads themselves were hard as rocks, so needless to say, flatbreads it is for this first try!


Makes about 30 to 35 two-inch patties
Falafel, sprinkled with salt
Falafel, sprinkled with salt

1¾ cups dried chickpeas
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 jalapeno, seeds removed
½ cup parsley
½ cup mint leaves
1 cup cilantro
2 teaspoons cumin, ground
2 teaspoons coriander, ground
½ teaspoon black pepper, ground

The day before making falafel, place the chickpeas in a bowl and cover by at least 3 inches with water. Cover the bowl and leave them to soak for 18 to 24 hours. Once ready, they should break apart between two fingers. Once ready, drain the remaining water and place the soaked chickpeas in the container of a food processor, along with all the remaining ingredients. Process, stopping to scrape down frequently, until the mixture is like coarse sand, leaving some texture, not a paste. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 2 or 3 hours.

Once ready to cook, you may deep-fry them, of course, but they were just perfect made in a skillet with oil added as needed. If you own a little cookie scoop, one that scoops about a tablespoon of dough, this worked perfectly. The falafel are small, but very easy to manage in the skillet. Scoop out a tablespoon-sized portion, flatten in your hand, then set into the hot skillet with enough oil to fry them easily.
Scoop, flatten and fry the falafel
Scoop, flatten and fry the falafel
Fry the patties on medium to medium low heat. They can take about 2 or 3 minutes per side, at this size. If larger, they may take longer. The patties should be dark brown on the outsides and cooked through, but still tender, in the centers.

At this point, the falafel may be eaten with hummus, or with a yogurt and tahini sauce, or wrap them in pita or flatbread with the additions of cucumber slices, tomato slices and lettuce. Another addition seems to be pickled turnip, but I have yet to try that.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.