In 1994, my generous parents paid for me to go on a tour of Israel. I was single at the time, and went with my sister, brother-in-law, and a friend who was my roommate. We joined a group who went on a 10-day packed tour all over the country. To be honest, I’m not really a tour bus kind of person, but in a place like Israel, where everything seems to mean something, or where ‘this olive tree dates back 2,000 years’, a guided tour is not just appreciated, but necessary.
It was unlike any place I’ve ever been. The varied beauty, from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee, the desert of Masada, Jerusalem and its walls, and the markets full of the brightest colors I had ever seen. There were also things I never had dealt with before, such as unrest between religions and cultures, which led to us being restricted from visiting certain areas and towns because it wasn’t safe. Travel really is the best education.
I distinctly remember this tour taking us to a falafel stand during one of our first few day trips. I must have had falafel before; after all, I lived in Toronto, but I knew this was going to be a different experience.
It was a modest stand, probably family run. I had no idea how or what to order so I just followed whatever everybody else did and had the classic falafel and asked for all the toppings I could see. I was a little concerned, after all, how could a fried legume be any good?
It. was. perfection. It must have been, because I still have a picture of the man who made it for me over 25 years ago. Not a great picture, but I obviously thought the moment was worth remembering.
It was perfectly cooked, seasoned, sized. The pita it came in was warm and obviously a family recipe that had been perfected for years. Sigh. Sadness ensued when I realized I would probably never eat here again.
I ate at many other falafel stands during my stay in Israel, but seeing as that was my first authentic one, it will always be the one I remember most. Last year, we took our children to Israel, and saw much of the same sights that I saw when I was their age. We let them experience foods there like they will also probably never have again quite the same way, unless they return to that beautiful country. Like this hummus and this falafel.
A few years ago here in Mexico, one of our gatherings was themed middle-eastern. I LOVE any food themed gathering, but something like that in this part of the world? I was afraid it would not be easy to make food for. However, I decided to do my best and try to make falafel. Surprisingly, it was easy to find all the ingredients; after all, nothing in it is out of the world that we couldn’t get our hands on.
In this year of eating at home as much as we did, it’s fun to make things that we normally only go out for or order in. But you have to agree that it’s a different kind of joy that we get from creating something in our own kitchen with our own hands that pleases our palates. And trust me, it’s never as scary as you think.
NOTE: Authentic falafel recipes call for dried chickpeas that have been soaked overnight. I’m not going to lie, these DO work better and do make a difference. It gives a bit more of a texture to the balls which I personally love. However, we don’t always have the foresight to soak our beans and wait for 12 hours until they are ready so I developed this recipe for canned chickpeas. But promise me that you will try it with the dried chickpeas one day!
- 2 (400 g/200 g drained) cans chickpeas OR 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas soaked overnight
- 1/2 large onion
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped,
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- a pinch of salt and pepper
- 4-6 TAB flour (all-purpose or chickpea)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- canola, sunflower, or grapeseed oil for frying (do not use olive oil)
- serve with diced tomatoes, onions, pita, and tzatziki
Drain chickpeas. Using a food processor, add chickpeas, onions, parsley, cilantro, salt, red pepper flakes, garlic, and cumin. Pulse until blended but not pureed.
Sprinkle in baking powder and 4 tablespoons flour and pulse until the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate covered for at least one hour.
I don’t like to waste oil so I use a small pot and fill it no more than 2/3 of the way up. Heat oil for about ten minutes on medium high. Test the oil by making a small ball of falafel and lowering in gently. If it starts to bubble and float up relatively fast, the oil is ready. You can also try with a little piece of bread. Roll mixture into the size of a ping pong ball. Drop gently into oil and fry one ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour to the mixture. Fry about 4-6 balls at a time for a few minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Stuff falafel in pita and add diced tomatoes and onions and sauce of your choice.
Makes about 25 falafel.