Monday, March 4, 2013


The last time I had falafel was in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome a couple weeks ago. It really hit the spot that day, and underneath the hot and crispy brown exterior was a vibrant green inside. I love falafel, but it's not as prevalent as I think it should be. I'd wanted to make some for a long time, but it never quite happened until now.
Maybe we can call it a Roman Ghetto falafel impetus.

Lots of people don't know what to do with chickpeas (garbanzo beans) other than hummus. (It's difficult to force something to come to mind.)
And really, the texture of canned chickpeas all by themselves can leave something to be desired- just like that of lima beans.
I've never had fresh chickpeas, but I've heard they're quite different from the canned or dried variety. Maybe someday.

For falafel, you need to start with dried chickpeas to get the right consistency in the finished product. They should be more firm than the canned version so that when they're ground down they don't end up becoming a mushy and not-quite-hummus bean dip. The texture you're looking for is almost like a nut in this case- not as soft as a bean.

This would be the reason to start with dried. However, please remember that they're thirsty little things and will soak up lots of water. Better safe than sorry: give them plenty to drink overnight. Another tip about chickpeas is that the older they are, they harder they'll be.  If they're old, you run the risk of them remaining pebbles no matter what you do to them. Make sure they're from a store with good turnover, and if pre-packaged, check to see if there's a date on the package.

You won't see a lot of fried options here on this blog.

Admittedly, I fear frying. It's not my favorite thing to do- first, there's an extreme aversion to the amount of oil used. Due to this, I usually use less than what's called for. Second, burns along my arms and hands are not my favorite (and kids, burns can be nasty things). Plus, I have a fear of grease fires...  I'm not sure where this came from because I've never experienced one. Horror stories? A home-ec safety video?
But, I do utilize a pot of hot oil every now and then, and it's probably not a bad thing.
The really nice thing is that these falafel cook pretty quickly. There won't be a lot of standing around or flipping on this one.

Once the gorgeous little fritters are cooked you could choose to do several things with them.
Eat with pita, as part of a salad, with hummus, tzatziki, tahini sauce, feta cheese, chili sauce (sriracha or harissa), tomato, cucumber, plain yogurt, lettuce (as a wrap or shredded in the pita), mint, extra parsley.

Today we just mixed plain yogurt with a little salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and dipped them.

I think falafel are just about the best thing you could do with a pound of chickpeas.

makes about 45
Based on Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything

1 lb. (454 g) dried chickpeas
6 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly minced
1 medium onion, quartered and cut into large pieces
1 1/2 c (75 g) roughly minced parsley and/or cilantro leaves
1 1/2 t (4 g) ground coriander
1 generous T (7 g) ground cumin
1 t (4 g) cayenne pepper
1 1/2 t (11 g) salt
3/4 t (3 g) freshly ground black pepper
1 t (6 g) baking soda
2 T (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste)

Optional additions:
sesame seeds
lemon zest
a pinch of cardamom
a little cinnamon
1 beaten egg (if the ground chickpea mixture is not holding together when it's moulded)

Neutral tasting oil (peanut, corn, canola, vegetable, grapeseed), for frying

Place chickpeas in a large pot and cover with about 3 inches cold water. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, give the chickpeas a stir, and let them soak overnight. 

Remove some of the cooking water and reserve. Drain the beans well and add them to the bowl of a large food processor (if yours is smaller, you may want to do this in a couple rounds).

To the beans, add the garlic, onion, and parsley/cilantro. In a small bowl, mix together the ground coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and baking soda. Add the spice mix to the food processor along with the lemon juice. 

Pulse the whole mixture several times, until broken down and the chickpeas are about the consistency of finely chopped nuts. Scrape down the sides of the food processor and re-process as necessary. 
If necessary, add some of the reserved water, a little at a time (no more than 1-2 T/15-30 ml total) and process until the falafel mixture holds together when moulded (if it holds together without the water, which it may well do because of the moisture from the other ingredients, don't add water as excess moisture may cause the falafel to fall apart when being fried). 
Pour the mixture out into a large bowl and give a few stirs to make sure everything is fully incorporated.

Scoop up a generous 1 T (generous half-golfball) sized portions of the falafel mixture (mine were around 25 g in weight after frying). Shape into slightly flattened discs and set aside on a pan. 

Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a tall stockpot over medium-high heat. When the mixture reaches about 350 F/175 C (or when it shimmers), carefully add some of the falafel. Do not crowd the pan as the temperature will drop and the falafel won't have room to cook properly (I cooked about 6 at a time). Let the falafel fry until a deep golden brown- it only takes a few minutes. 
Remove the falafel to a paper towel lined sheet pan to blot excess oil.
Serve hot or room temperature. 

Note: Once falafel are cool they can be frozen if well-wrapped.  Frozen falafel can be and re-heated in a moderate oven until hot all the way through and the outside is crisp.


  1. Those are so pretty. What is that green spaghetti at the end of the recipe? Does this mean March's color is gonna be green, or brown like the outside of the falafel? I just love your blog Natalie.

  2. It's my collection of parsley and cilantro stems.
    Not brown, the color is green.
    Thank you!

  3. When dealing with dried chickpeas you see some variation in soaking times.
    Mark Bittman says to soak for 24 hours. I didn't have the time for that because I was impatient for falafel- thus the simmer and shorter soak (maybe 14 hours total) to speed up the process.
    I like how they turned out, consistency and all, but I will be trying the 24 hour soak for the next batch to see what kind of a difference that makes.

  4. Probably the best, cheapest, most wonderful& filling thing when you're starving and only have 3 euros in your pocket.

  5. One note: sometimes you'll have bits of falafel that come off the discs when you fry them. Or maybe you'll have one that falls apart in the oil completely. The bits are still edible! Drain them as you would whole falafels and sprinkle them on top of a salad, or maybe eat them with plain yogurt for a savory version (like falafel granola or muesli).