I know it’s getting tiresome, but I have to say it again: everyone can cook. And you can cook anything you cook your mind to. If you cannot cook something, it’s often merely a matter of picking the right ingredients and being familiar with the proper technique.
Which brings me to the topic of this post: falafel. I have always enjoyed eating falafel, and as someone who has always loved cooking, I eventually wanted to make my own. So, years and years ago, I gave it a go. I soaked chickpeas overnight, I boiled them, I pureed them and added chopped onions and garlic and spices, I formed them into golf-sized nuggets and put them into the hot oil in my pan. There, my falafel, which I had made with so much love and effort, began frying and soon after proceeded to fall apart into a sandy mass, eventually making an oily, crumbly soup consisting out of one part vegetable oil and one part disintegrated falafel. I soon tried this again, this time with falafel out of a can. Again, a failure!
Ok, so I read a bit and realized: I had apparently committed an epic mistake and shouldn’t have cooked the chickpeas, and pureed them raw instead. So, again, I soaked chickpeas overnight, I pureed them, added spices and set off to fry them in a lot of hot vegetable oil. And again, my falafel collapsed, this time into smaller pieces, meaning we could eat very oily, very small falafel nuggets. We had something else for dinner that day.
I gave up. I tried making falafel from dried mixes, but it just was not the real thing. Something about them tasted off. I ate falafel out of home, some were delicious, others not so much. I envied all these people who were apparently in on a secret that was probably going to stay out of reach forever. I didn’t dare ask. I found some organic refrigerated falafel at an organic supermarket, and would make those. It was easy: open package, fry and eat. They were nice falafel, my husband also liked them, but not comparable to the delicious ones you are served at typical Middle-Eastern restaurant, not as crunchy, because they’re not fresh. Plus, they were not very cheap.
Then I was diagnosed with celiac disease eating a quick falafel in a pita bread on the go was no longer an option, because the oil the falafel are fried in may be contaminated with gluten. And I would have to sit down in the restaurant or take away the falafel and eat them with a fork out of a plastic container while sitting down. Now it REALLY bugged me that I couldn’t make my own falafel. Especially when I would watch my husband eating it whenever he brought some take out from one of the small Kebab restaurants near home. The falafel (and the fries they were served with) always looked and smelled delicious and I couldn’t eat any of it, because I didn’t know whether they or the sauce they came with was contaminated. I could only enjoy the smell, which grew yummier every time this process repeated itself.
Eventually, I got so frustrated with my inability to make falafel, that I set out to find my mistake. I asked for a proven falafel recipe on Facebook and obtained many replies. Everyone said: I know what you are talking about, it has happened to me, too. I don’t know what you and I are doing wrong and I cannot help you, sorry. But do let me know if you find out, I’d also love to make my own falafel. A couple of people suggested I try one of the million recipes on the internet (this was not what I wanted to hear, I needed to hear from someone who had succesfully tried falafel and could help me if I failed yet again), and someone even went as far as to suggest that it’s just not worth making your own falafel (after all, a lot of restaurants sadly don’t do this either), you can just use a mix from the supermarket, no? No!
Then, my friend Jenn came to the rescue and posted a link which pretty much answered my questions. Apparently my falafel mixes had been too wet. So, I needed to let them rest and perhaps even use a bit of flour and then I may have better results. I would give this a go. And I would not fail. No, this would be falafel success galore and if it was the last thing I cooked! Granted, the person who suggested I use a ready-made mix had it right anyway, she did suggest that I make sure my falafel mix is fairly dry and that I ensure to put enough pressure onto the falafel nuggets and that the oil be very hot before I do. So thank you, too!
I then did undertake a small field trip into the online recipe world settled on making the My Favourite Falafel recipe off Epicurious, which has been my go-to recipe website for years. The recipe has four forks? You can be certain it’s really good!
What happened afterwards, you ask? Success! My husband and I wolfed our falafel down, eating the last falafel on their own without anything but a bit of salt. See, they were not salty enough, so I have doubled the one teaspoon indicated in the Epicurious recipe for the purposes of my recipe. You can of course add less salt, but trust me, you will need more than just that one teaspoon. Other than that, my falafel were perfect. They were absolutely crunchy on the outside and chunky and somewhat frothy and firm on the inside. I was a bit worried that they may look cooked from outside, but still be raw on the inside, but no! such! thing! Yay! I wish I had made a double or quadruple batch, I’ve been craving falafel ever since. I will be making these again. But in a baked version though. l I hope this will significantly slash calories. Like it says in the “collapse of the falafel” discussion I linked above, falafel are thirsty little things. They love oil. They relish in it. And they give it all back to you, because falafel are not also thirsty, but generous as well. But this is also probably why they are so good. I will also make a bit more than I did this time – I think freezing individual falafel nuggets should also be do-able and leave me with falafel on the go – and in the comfort of my own home. I will let you know how those two experiments go.
Thank you again, Jenn! You’re amazing and all of these falafel are for you!
Ingredients for about fifteen to twenty falafel:
250g dried chickpeas
2 tbsp fresh parsley
2 tbsp fresh cilantro
2 tsp of salt
½ tsp chilli powder
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mix of guar and xanthan gum and arrowroot and carob flours (you can omit this or use just one of these gluten-free helpers. They only bind water and I used them to make extras-sure that my falafel would not collapse).
4 tbsp gluten-free flour mix
Schaer Focaccia, salad (shredded), tomatoes (chopped) and watercress for garnish
For the Tahini sauce:
1 part tahini
1 part water
½ part lime juice
chopped cilantro to taste
Soak the chickpeas in a pot full of water overnight (at least twelve hours). Drain.
In a food processor, blend together the shallots, the garlic, the parsley and the cilantro. Add the chickpeas, bit by bit and puree. You want to have a chunky, but even mass. I accomplished this, by moving the chickpeas around with a spoon from top to bottom and vice versa, removing part of the already blended chickpeas and allowing the still whole ones to be blended better. Add the chilli powder, the gluten-free flour mixes, the gluten-free helpers and the baking powder and mixed everything together well with a spoon.
Place the mix into a bowl, press the mass well together against the bottom of the bowl and into itself, put a lid on it and refrigerate it for four hours.
Make the tahini sauce: blend together the tahini, the water, the lime juice and the chopped cilantro with a spoon. Add salt to taste.
In a pan or preferably a wok heat a good amount of vegetable oil (about an inch and a half high). Form one walnut-ball-sized nugget (always pressing the dough into itself with a lot of effort) and place it into the hot oil. When nothing falls apart, repeat process with the rest of the falafel mix until all is used up. If your falafel falls apart, guess what: you’re a loser and it’s over! No falafel for you! I’m of course kidding: just add more gluten-free flour and try again. It will work. There is hope for you and your hungry stomach, don’t despair!
Fry about six falafel at a time and turn them over until all they are golden-brown on each size. Place the cooked falafel into a bowl that was lined with two layers of kitchen towels, eventually adding a second layer of kitchen towels for the second batch of finished falafel. Remove the kitchen towel and dab any rests of oil from the falafel.
Grill the Schaer Focaccia for four minutes (I did this in my small microwave with a grill function), then cut it in half vertically and serve with the still hot falafel (I cut them in half in order to better distribute them within the focaccia), garnished with the salad, the watercress and the tomato and topped with tahini sauce. Feel free to add more of these as you eat your falafel, it’s the combination of the tastes that makes this dish so unique.
Behatslacha with your own falafel endeavours and lehitraot!