Guest Author - Julie L Baumler
As a vegetarian, I've long been familiar with falafel, but until recently I didn't know how easy it was to make from scratch. In its simplest form falafel is chickpeas, onion and green leafy spices ground together and fried. Although falafel recipes in the US often call for canned or cooked chickpeas, traditional falafel uses soaked dry chickpeas which gives it a much more textured result than you can achieve with cooked chickpeas. Prepare to make falafel by covering a cup of chickpeas with plenty of water and refrigerating for at least 8 hours. When your chickpeas are ready drain them and grind with an onion and/or a couple cloves of garlic, and about 2 ½ handfuls of fresh spices – an ideal mix would be a smallish handful each of parsley and cilantro (coriander) and half a handful of mint. Depending on what I have on hand, I've also mixed in oregano, sage, and epazote. (Epazote, or epazoto, is a Mexican spice that helps with bean digestion - it grows better than cilantro in my yard.) I usually toss in a small dried hot pepper as well.
Most of the falafel recipes I've seen call for grinding the beans and herbs together in a food processor. Lacking a food processor, I use my blender and a lot of patience, someone just gave me a meat grinder and I suspect that would work better. If you are very patient (or desperate), you could chop them very finely with a knife. Add 2 tablespoons cumin (ground or toasted seeds), a teaspoon of baking powder and salt and pepper to taste. If the resultant mixture is overly crumbly and doesn't stick together, you have two choices – you can chop it finer or mix in a small amount of bread crumbs until it does stick together. Form the dough into balls about the size of golf balls and then flatten slightly.
Heat about an inch of olive oil or other vegetable oil in a fairly deep frying pan. If you are using an electric fry pan, set it to just below 350 F. Otherwise, you want the oil hot but not smoking. Fry the falafel in a single layer for a few minutes on each side. They should be a nice golden brown on the outside and evenly cooked on the inside. Drain on paper towels and enjoy!
Note: If you are trying to avoid fried foods, you can place raw falafel patties on a cookie sheet sprayed with pan spray, spray the patties themselves lightly and bake until crisp on the outside. Depending on your oven, you may want to flip the patties half-way through. This doesn't give the same crispy texture as pan frying, but it is still tasty and satisfying.