Friday, January 21, 2011

Aah, Falafel. Think you can't? Think again!

It turns out that Falafel is considerably easier than you'd think. Heck, it's considerably easier than I thought, too! (and fresher!)  I will say, it did take me 2 tries to get it right....   However- now I've done the legwork for you, so you can get it right at first crack! 

The first time I tried it, it was a "falafel mess."  The chickpeas fell apart when I fried them.  I phoned a friend, and thanks to Chef Donald @ Forepaugh's, the second try it was a success.  The key: let the chickpeas process for longer in the food processor so that the starches are released and helps it to stick to itself!  That will make more sense once you read the recipe.  I've included all of the necessary recipes to make a full falafel meal:  falafel balls, salad, tahini sauce, pita bread(store-bought)  Here goes!   Have fun! 

4 cups dried chickpeas, picked through and rinsed.
2 tsp baking powder
1 lg onion, roughly chopped
10 garlic cloves
2TB whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground *See instructions at bottom*
2TB whole corander seeds, toasted and ground (you can sub pre-ground cumin & coriander, it just won't be quite as fresh tasting, but it will still be delicious)
1 tsp red chili flakes
3 handfuls of parsley leaves- roughly chopped
2 handfuls of cilantro leaves- roughly chopped
kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
canola or other high-heat oil to shallow fry the falafel
2 pkgs of any whole-wheat pita pockets.
Tahini Sauce (recipe follows)
Salad (recipe follows)

Soak the chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with cold water.  Cover by at least a few inches.  Soak them in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours. Check on them to be sure they are covered with water at all times.  They will swell to 3x their normal size.  Drain and rinse well.

Put the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse to coarsely grind.  You don't want any whole chickpeas, but you don't want it to be smooth either.  Add the baking powder, onion, garlic, spices and herbs.  Process until it turns into a nice paste, scraping down the bowl as needed. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes. I recommend rolling out your falafel so they are all ready before you heat your oil, so that you can keep a close eye on it.  I fry my falafel in a 12" cast iron skillet.  You just need something that will hold a good inch and a half of oil, and you can retrieve your falafel from easily (so it can't be super deep). 

Fill your skillet or other pan with about 1 1/2 or 2" of oil.  Don't heat yet.  Roll your falafel into ping pong size balls and set on a  plate or sheet pan that you can carry to the stove with you.  I use a 2 oz scoop.  Heat your oil to about 375. It really is pretty important that you temp your oil, unless you are very familiar with oil and can tell whether it's hot enough. Carefully slip a 3 or 4 balls into the oil (you can do larger batches once you feel more comfortable). Make sure they don't stick to the bottom!  The oil should cover the falafel. If it doesn't, make sure you are rolling your falafel so it browns and cooks evenly.  It should take about 4-5 minutes per batch to cook. You want them to be a nice golden toasty brown.  Remove the falafel with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate with paper towels.   Voila!

For Tahini  Sauce:
Tahini is sesame seed paste.  All you do to make sauce is basically thin it out and add a little bit of flavor. It's really easy.
1/2 c tahini paste (use middle-eastern rather than greek if you have an option.)
1/2 c water
juice from 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced very finely
kosher salt
chopped parsley for garnish

VERY slowly, stir the water into the tahini tablespoon by tablespoon.  You don't want to stir fast- you need to stir it as slowly as possible, so it doesn't become a weird starchy texture.  Add the lemon juice and garlic.  Season with salt.   Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish it with the chopped parsley.

Falafel Salad:
Cut a red onion into quarters from root to tip.  Thinly slice the onion.
Dice a handful of Roma tomatoes, or sub grape tomatoes- cut into halves.
Cut a cucumber into half lengthwise. Slice thinly into half-rounds.
Coarsely chop a handful of parsley.
Mix all ingredients.

*For toasting cumin & coriander seeds, do them one at a time.  Heat a small frying pan (not a non-stick), add the seeds, roll them around pretty much continuously for a minute or so- you are watching for them to become extremely fragrant, and toasted but you want to stop before there are any hints of burnt to it.  Remove the seeds, throw in a spice mill or food processor and grind to a fine powder. Repeat for the other spice.  The fresher ground your spices are, the fresher they will taste, which is why you'd want to do them to order instead of making them ahead or pre-buying the ground spices.

To serve falafel:
Scoop salad into pita pocket, top with a few falafel balls, drizzle with tahini sauce.