Falafel have been a staple part of my diet for as long as I can remember. As a child, my favourite restaurant was the Cedar Tree, a Lebanese restaurant in Dublin. How exactly my parents managed to get two incredibly fussy eating children to devour falafel, hummus and other things that were incredibly exotic in Dublin in the eighties is beyond me, but it was one of the few places the whole family loved. One of my favourite childhood memories is emerging from the basement restaurant onto the street above to discover that the whole city had been freshly coated in snow while we’d been having dinner.
When I first arrived in Holland, with a giant suitcase, a map, and very little else, falafel was my first meal. It hadn’t really occurred to me that not speaking a word of Dutch might pose any problem, until I realised I was hungry and had no clue what anything on any of the cafe menus were. Too embarrassed to ask, I ended up finding one of those fast food places with pictures of everything, relieved I could recognise a plate of falafel. Later, living in Aarhus, a roll of freshly baked flat bread stuffed with falafel, cabbage, chilli sauce, leaves and tahini from the Palestinian take away a few doors from my flat cost about €4. It was one of the few things my two day a week salary would stretch to, and became a weekend staple.
I was always disappointed when I tried to make falafel myself.Many past attempts ended with bland results. The key to this recipe is using dried chickpeas soaked overnight, but not cooked. I tried using tinned chickpeas, and ended up with spicy garlic mush that dissolved on the frying pan. Being completely honest, this recipe, while delicious, is a million miles away from the falafel you get in Middle Eastern cafes, with their crispy brown deep fried shell giving way to tiny grains delicately spiced grains of broad beans. For starters, broad beans are difficult to track down in Dublin, so I make these with chickpeas. Also, pan frying just doesn’t give quite the same effect.They’re inspired by falafel sold from a Turkish deli stand at the market in Leiden. The recipe makes about 20 falafel. They freeze and keep well, and are great combined with tabbouleh to make a packed lunch for work.
- 250g dried chickpeas, soaked in lots of water for 12 hours
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 chipotle chile in adobo
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 8-10 slow roasted cherry tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or coriander
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
- Rapeseed or sunflower oil
- Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl or measuring jug.
- Use a stick blender to break them down and mix them together.
- The chickpeas should take on a consistency like grains of sand, you don’t want them completely pureed to a paste.
- Check the seasoning, they can take a good amount of salt.
- Form the mixture into golfball sized balls, flatten them slightly into patties, and then roll them in a bowl of sesame seeds to coat.
- Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
- Fry the falafel in batches, about 2 minutes on each side (watch carefully, they burn easily).
- Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm.