Long ago, before I came to live in Israel, I dated a guy who turned out not to be the right one. We took a walk one night, sauntering along in the friendly dark and enjoying the fresh breeze that brought a scent of jasmine and faintly, tobacco – a neighbor’s cigar. Someone nearby was doodling around on the guitar, eventually breaking into a soft Spanish ballad. It was all so romantic. My boyfriend gazed up at the sky and remarked, “What a lovely moon.”
Yes, the moon was like a silver coin, only a coin broken in half. “You like half moons?” I said.
“It’s just that it looks like a falafel in the sky…a half falafel like the ones you get in Israel, you know…”
That boyfriend didn’t last too long, but once I got to Israel and ate falafel for the first time, I understood. Those savory, crunchy little brown spheres, tasting mildly of cumin and garlic and so appetizing. Hard to stop eating them, but not hard to make at home.
So what fixings do you like with your falafel? Do you like lots of chopped cucumber and tomato, or do you prefer strips of fried eggplant? Some people adore a good smear of choumous on the inside of their pita (here’s a recipe for choumous and other good things), while others go with a generous dose of techinah on top of the ensemble. Some like both. How about tucking some thinly-sliced onion into the corners, or pickles – or a dribble of hot sauce? And there’s amba, the turmeric-yellow mango curry that marries so well with falafel. You can buy amba at almost any supermarket in Israel. Middle-Eastern stores in other countries often carry it too.
Those additions add relish to your falafel, but the heart of the matter lies in the freshly fried chickpea balls and their seasonings. Adapt garlic and green herbs according to your personal taste. It’s easy to do: make up the basic recipe, fry one ball, and taste. Then you can decide how you want to change the rest of the falafel batter – or if you like it just the way it is.
There are three things to keep in mind when you make falafel at home.
One, the chickpeas must soak 8 hours, so you need do that first step the night before – or early in the morning, if you’re planning to serve falafel at dinnertime.
Two, the oil has to be very hot before you start frying – it should shimmer.
And three, you should have your pitas ready at hand and your vegetables or relishes pre-chopped and set out in bowls, so you can fill up and serve as soon as the falafel balls come out of the oil.
Commercial falafel stands put the ingredients through a meat grinder, but home cooks produce good falafel out of food processors, and that’s what I recommend.
Yield: about 20 falafel balls
250 grams – 1- 1/4 cups dried chickpeas
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons fresh parsley or cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon powdered cumin
1/2 teaspoon powdered coriander
1- 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons water
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 bottle cooking oil – 750 grams – 3 cups
Soak the chickpeas in plenty of cold water overnight. Check them after several hours to make sure that they remain covered with water as they swell.
Drain the chickpeas and put them in the food processor. Add the onion, garlic, and herbs. Pulse until you obtain a mass that sticks to itself. Scrape the sides down a few times.
Add the spices, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add 3 tablespoons of the water. Run the food processor again to blend. Add the final tablespoon of water if it seems necessary to hold the mass together.
Turn the chickpea mass out into a bowl.
Heal the oil in a heavy pan until it shimmers.
Wet your hands and form a round ball about the size of a walnut in its shell. Compact it between your palms. Fry this first falafel ball. Taste it and adjust seasoning in the raw mass if needed.
Roll each ball in sesame seeds. Fry balls in batches but don’t crowd them in the pan. Cook until their outsides are brown and crisp, and the inside is cooked through. The first ball will tell you how long to keep them in the oil, although as you proceed, they will fry more quickly.
Drain on crumpled paper.
Pack into pitta breads. Top with your favorite vegetables and techinah and serve right away.
By the way, the right guy and I celebrated nineteen years of marriage not long ago. He doesn’t eat falafel. But never mind, the kids eat most of it, and I like him anyway.