How to make falafel at home
This classic Mediterranean dish can be made just to your liking.
All over Israel, falafel joints dispense hot, crunchy falafel balls packed into fresh pita bread and topped with all kinds of relishes. It's hard to stop eating, but not hard to make at home.
So what fixings do you like with your falafel? Do you like lots of chopped cucumber and tomato, or do you prefer strips of fried eggplant? Some people adore a good smear of hummus on the inside of their pita, while others go with a generous dose of tahini on top of the ensemble. Some like both. How about tucking some thinly sliced onion into the corners, or pickles – or a dribble of hot sauce? And there’s amba, the turmeric-yellow mango curry that marries so well with falafel. Amba can usually be found in Mediterranean-themed grocery stores throughout the United States.
Those additions add relish to your falafel, but the heart of the matter lies in the freshly fried chickpea balls and their seasonings. Adapt garlic and green herbs according to your personal taste. It’s easy to do: make up the basic recipe, fry one ball, and taste. Then you can decide how you want to change the rest of the falafel batter – or if you like it just the way it is.
There are three things to keep in mind when you make falafel at home.
1. The chickpeas must soak 8 hours, so you need do that first step the night before – or early in the morning, if you’re planning to serve falafel at dinnertime.
2. The oil has to be very hot before you start frying – it should shimmer.
3. You should have your pitas ready and your vegetables or relishes pre-chopped and set out in bowls, so you can fill up and serve as soon as the falafel balls come out of the oil.
Commercial falafel restaurants usually put the ingredients through a meat grinder, but home cooks produce good falafel out of food processors, and that’s what I recommend.
- 1 1/4 cup dried chickpeas
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley or cilantro leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon powdered cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered coriander
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- 3 cups cooking oil (or 1 bottle)
Falafel balls on a bed of lettuce. (Photo: Piccia Neri/Shutterstock)
Soak the chickpeas in plenty of cold water overnight. Check them after several hours to make sure that they remain covered with water as they swell.
Drain the chickpeas and put them in the food processor. Add the onion, garlic, and herbs. Pulse until you obtain a mass that sticks to itself. Scrape the sides down a few times.
Add the spices, flour, baking powder and salt. Add 3 tablespoons of the water. Run the food processor again to blend. Add the final tablespoon of water if it seems necessary to hold the mass together.
Pour the chickpea mass out into a bowl.
Heat the oil in a heavy pan until it shimmers.
Wet your hands and form a round ball about the size of a walnut in its shell. Compact it between your palms. Fry this first falafel ball. Taste it and adjust seasoning in the raw mass if needed.
Roll each ball in sesame seeds. Fry balls in batches but don’t crowd them in the pan. Cook until their outsides are brown and crisp, and the inside is cooked through. The first ball will tell you how long to keep them in the oil, although as you proceed, they will fry more quickly.
Drain on crumpled paper.
Pack into pita breads. Top with your favorite vegetables and tahini and serve right away.