I can’t remember the first falafel I ever ate. It must be one of those foods that made it’s way onto my culinary radar during my first years at university, like sushi, phad thai, and dal. Originating in Egypt and proliferating throughout the Middle East, falafel is now popular around the world over as an affordable and delicious street food. With a crispy, fried exterior that gives way to a fluffy, spiced interior, falafel is the perfect combination of flavour and texture. Made in a traditional way, falafel is also totally gluten free and vegan – pretty much universally dietary friendly! I struggled for years to make homemade falafels. It wasn’t until this past summer that I discovered the secret (to be revealed shortly) to making homemade Authentic Chickpea Falafel.
Finding the Falafel Secrets
Most falafels we find in the West are made primarily of chickpeas. However, in the Egypt episode of ‘A Cook Abroad’ (on Canadian Netflix), Hairy Biker Dave Myers assists a street-side vendor in making fava bean falafels, which are the most common in Egypt. At it’s most basic, falafel is a mixture of beans, herbs, and spices fried until crisp and golden. To get a truly Authentic Chickpea Falafel the mixture does need to be fried. Trust me, I’ve tried pan-frying and baking and it just isn’t the same.
Frying is just part of the falafel secret. For years I tried to make my own falafels, carefully measuring out spices, frying the onions and garlic, and faithfully using a can of chickpeas. After using an immersion blender to break-down all the ingredients, the mixture inevitably turned into a gloopy, hummus-like consistency. I added breadcrumbs and oats in an attempt to bind everything together, but I could never successfully replicate the flavour and texture of the street-side falafels I’d tasted.
After yet another failed attempt at making falafel early last summer my frustration got the better of me. I scoured the Internet, looking for the secret to making a crisp, fluffy Authentic Chickpea Falafel.
The Authentic Chickpea Falafel Secret Revealed
Gaining insight from fellow bloggers, Tori Avery and This Mess is Ours, I discovered the Authentic Chickpea Falafel secret: ALWAYS use dried chickpeas, NEVER use canned chickpeas. Canned chickpeas are already cooked – they have too much moisture and will always yield a dense, mushy falafel. If you’re looking to create more of a patty, than this might would be okay. But to make a fluffy falafel, it’s essential to start with dried chickpeas.
You don’t even need to worry about cooking the chickpeas, as frying will take care of this for you. Simply soak the dried chickpeas in water at room temperature for 12-24 hours. As they absorb water the chickpeas will expand back to their full size, so it’s important to make sure the chickpeas are well-covered by water at all times.
Once the dried chickpeas are plump, I stirred together the drained chickpeas and all other ingredients in a large bowl. I have a small food processor so had to process the falafel mixture in two batches. However, if you have a large food processor you can just combine everything at once in the food processor. If you don’t own a food processor, I’ve heard a meat grinder does an even better job of breaking the ingredients down into the right consistency. But I’m not sure how many people own a meat grinder anymore? It might just be easier to borrow a food processor.
It’s important not to over process the mixture, or you might end-up with hummus! It should resemble the texture of cooked coucous or fine breadcrumbs when processing is finished. I thoroughly stirred together both my batches of processed falafel mixture before proceeding to shape the mixture into balls.
I covered a cookie sheet with parchment paper to drop the finished falafel balls onto. Using a tablespoon and my hand I packed the mixture together to form a rough ball. A light flick of the wrist should release the falafel ball from the spoon – it takes a bit of experimentation to get the right motion. You can also find falafel scoops at specialty food stores.
Rather than fully deep frying my falafels, I used the shallow fry method in order to use less oil. It sort of seems healthier, right? To shallow fry you need to add just enough oil to cover the falafel halfway (just under an inch or so). I like to use a cast iron pan for frying, but whatever you have on hand will work. After the falafels are fried to delicious golden, brown on both sides a simple garnish of fresh kosher or sea salt is all that’s needed.
The Falafel Stoke
After I made my first batch of Authentic Chickpea Falafel, the only word I could find to describe the feeling was “stoked” – that feeling you get when you do something awesome. I love solving problems, so it was incredibly rewarding to finally make a falafel I was proud of after years of failed attempts.
My favourite way to eat falafel is accompanied by a simple, tahini dip and fresh tabbouleh or Greek Quinoa salad. However, if you’ve got a devoted meat eater coming over for dinner, rosemary-lemon chicken thighs easily round out the meal. Falafels are also excellent rolled up in a flatbread with creamy tzatziki, lettuce, tomato and cucumber. I once found a satisfying and delicious falafel wrap in Athens for only 2 Euros!
I really hope you enjoy this falafel recipe! Just remember to start soaking your chickpeas the night before you want to make falafel. Please leave any feedback in the comments below!
Authentic Chickpea Falafel
- 2 cups dried chickpeas
- 1 cup fresh parsley leaves, loosely packed
- 5-6 mint leaves
- 6-7 oregano sprigs (optional)
- 1 yellow onion, small
- 3 cloves garlic, small
- 1/4 tsp cayenne powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander seed
- 1 tsp cumin seed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Tahini Dipping Sauce
- 2 tbsp tahini paste
- 2 tbsp water
- 1/2 tsp cane sugar
- 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- pinch of salt
The night before you want make falafel, soak chickpeas in a large bowl of water. Leave on the counter at room temperature until ready to prepare falafels (at least 12 hours).
When ready to prepare falafels, toast the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat until fragrant and beginning to pop.
Drain the chickpeas and return to large bowl. Remove tough stems from fresh herbs and roughly chop onion and garlic.
Combine all ingredients in the large bowl. Process the ingredients in food processor until a fine meal forms (like breadcrumbs). Work in batches if you have a small food processor. Make sure all ingredients are well combined after removing from processor.
Using a tablespoon and the palm of your hand, shape the falafel mixture into balls and drop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Fill a cast iron pan with just under an inch of oil. Heat oil over medium-high until the temperature reaches 375°F. Lower 5-6 falafel balls into the oil and fry for about 3 minutes per side, until the exterior is crisp and a dark, golden colour. Turn the falafels over and cook the opposite side. Remove from oil and allow to drain in a paper towel-lined bowl. Repeat with remaining falafels.
Garnish falafels with kosher salt or sea salt and serve with tahini dipping sauce.
Tahini Dipping Sauce
Whisk together all ingredients until smooth and creamy. Add a bit more water if a thinner consistency is desired.
Storage: This recipe makes quite a large batch of falafels. I think it's best to fry all of the falafels. Any leftovers should be cooled completely, then stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer. To reheat, bake in the oven at 350°F for 15-20 minutes, or until full heated throughout.