Falafel: The Original Arab Nugget
By: Blanche Shaheen / Arab America Contributing Writer
Before chicken nuggets existed, there was falafel. The perfect falafel is browned and crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside, flecked with fresh herbs and sesame seeds for extra crunch and nuttiness. Ideally, the inside is green to reflect the infusion of either parsley or cilantro, depending on region and preference. Speaking of the region, the word falafel first appeared on paper in Egyptian literature in 1882, which is why many historians conjecture this delicacy is more modern than most Arab cuisine. There was a copious amount of fava bean crops in Egypt, so this legume became a staple in that country, particularly under the Muhammad Ali dynasty from the 19th to the mid 20th century. The first Egyptian falafel recipes contained fava beans, but as this street food traveled to Levantine countries like Lebanon and Palestine, favas were replaced with chickpeas. Some recipes combine both legumes together. Today this street food is enjoyed throughout the Middle East, and Lebanon set a new world record for the largest serving of falafel that weighed in at 5,173 kilograms (about 11,400 pounds).
How to Make Falafel–The Basic Ingredients:
While people might think falafel is difficult to make, in truth the recipe is quite easy and economical as well. A large bag of dried chickpeas can make several dozen falafel, and once the chickpeas are soaked overnight all you need are some herbs, spices, and a food processor to bring this nugget to life. The falafel batter can be formed into small nuggets or large vegetable patties. You can pan-fry them, deep fry them, or air fry them depending on your dietary preferences. Traditionally they are made into small patties fried in vegetable oil. Once cooked you can tuck them into a fresh pita or sesame bread with a yogurt tahini sauce, vegetables, and pickles. Or you can serve them in a mezze, or appetizer plate along with dips like hummus and baba ghanoush.
If you want to save time, there are some great falafel mixes in the market with minimally processed ingredients. Most mixes require that you only mix them with water, and set them aside for at least 30 minutes before shaping and frying. To add homemade touches to the mixes, you can add more spices like cumin and chile powder, or more herbs like parsley or cilantro. Add some nutty crunch with sesame seeds, or more moisture with grated onion.
To see how the top 5 falafel mixes in the market rated for taste and texture, click on the video below:
Homemade Falafel: Video and Recipe
To learn the techniques of how to make falafel at home, click on the video below:
2 cups dried chickpeas
1 large onion, coarsely chopped (can use red onion, too)
6 cloves of garlic, minced
½ bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 rounded teaspoon cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 tsp baking soda
Salt and Pepper to taste
Vegetable or sunflower oil for frying
Place dried chickpeas in a bowl, covering with cold water. Allow to soak overnight. Rinse chickpeas and change the water about 2-3 times before using it for falafel.
In a food processor, grind chickpeas, until grainy in texture. You don’t want to grind the chickpeas too smoothly or else the falafel will fall apart. Add the rest of the ingredients without the baking soda if you plan to freeze the falafel, or refrigerate the felafel until later use. If you plan on frying right away, add the baking soda, which will help the felafel rise. Make sure the mixture is pasty enough to shape into balls without falling apart. Shape the mixture into 2-inch spheres and slightly flatten. Fill a fryer ⅓ full with oil, and heat over medium heat. You can test the heat of the oil by placing a tiny piece of falafel first in the hot oil—once the piece rises to the top it’s hot enough for frying. Place 3 to 4 falafel at a time, and fry until golden brown (5-7 minutes). Makes about 24 falafel. Serve hot.
Falafel is one of the most exciting foods you can make as it is extremely delicious. Falafel has a lot of history behind and it varies by region, in Egypt, they make it with Fava beans, and throughout the Levant, it is made with chickpeas. Enjoy learning how to make falafel!
Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine” which you can order here: https://secure.mybookorders.com/mbo_index.php?isbn=9781545675113She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/
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