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Of the several tomatoes still ripening on our kitchen counter, one was just right for eating. What could I make that would do justice to this precious fruit, relic of summer warmth and sunshine? Falafel seemed like the perfect choice.
Falafel, a popular street food in the Middle East, is a spicily delicious dish made from ground and seasoned chickpeas (garbanzos) or other beans. Usually formed into balls and deep-fried, falafel is often served with tomato and lettuce in pita bread. Various sauces, including tahini and hummus, may be added.
Loaded with protein, fiber, and flavour, falafel is easy on the dietary conscience and the waistline (if you skip the deep-frying, that is).
Many people prefer to make falafel from a boxed mix, which is definitely the quick-and-easy route - but boxed mixes too often contain MSG which I try very hard to avoid. That's why I like to make falafel from scratch.
Here's the recipe I use, adapted from Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook.
Yields 12-15 patties, 1/2" thick and 2" across.
Start several hours ahead. May also be started the day before serving.
1 cup dried chickpeas*
1 large onion, quartered
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne OR red pepper flakes
*I have tried using canned chickpeas but they're simply too mushy.
Soak chickpeas overnight in 3-4 cups water, OR do a quick soak: bring water to a boil, then drop in chickpeas. Let boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to sit for at least 1 hour before draining. (2 or 3 hours is even better. The beans will absorb more moisture and be easier to shape later on.)
Using a food processor, grind the heck out of the drained chickpeas, onion, and parsley. (How's that for precise culinary terminology?) You may also use a food grinder if you have one. The particles should be very small (about the size of dried bread crumbs) and should clump together easily. Add the garlic and spices, and mix well.
Allow mixture to sit for 1-4 hours so the flavours can mingle. (Mixture may also be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to a day.) Just before cooking, taste and adjust seasoning. Pretty yummy, isn't it? I could happily eat it just like this.
Now for the fun part: the cooking. I like to shape the falafel into patties rather than balls, as patties are easier to cook. I fry them in a very shallow layer of olive oil.
Line a plate or small baking pan with paper towels. Start heating some oil in a large heavy skillet. You may use as much or as little oil as you like (I use about 1/8").
While the oil is heating, shape your falafel into patties or balls. You can use spoons, a melon baller, or your hands. I like to use a 2" spring-loaded scoop. I pack the mixture firmly into the scoop, then invert it onto the cutting board and flatten it with my hand. Any pieces that fall off may be stuck right back on.
|Bring on the boiling oil|
When the oil is shimmering hot, use a spatula to transfer the patties or balls to the pan. Cook several at a time, but don't crowd the pan. If the ball or patty breaks, quickly and gently push the pieces together with the spatula. For falafel balls, slide the pan around to rotate them in the hot oil. Patties can be left for a minute or two until they've browned on the bottom. Then flip them and brown the other side. Falafel cooks quickly, so don't stray far from the stove.
|Crisp and delicious|
Remove the fried falafel to the paper towel-lined dish. When all the falafel has been cooked, serve with pita bread (for extra cooking points, you can bake your own - I will post a recipe in a few days) and the fillings of your choice (try lettuce, tomato, cucumber, or sliced peppers). Tahini sauce and hummus are the traditional sauces for this dish, but I think tzatziki would be delicious as well.
|Falafel in a freshly-baked pita, with cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and an|
impromptu sauce of soured heavy cream mixed with goat cheese.
Hot and spicy and cool and delicious, all at once.
P.S. Leftover falafel is tasty either hot or cold. Try it crumbled and served over salad.
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