Ask Peter: Falafels (+ recipe)
I’ve been buying pottles of falafel mix to keep in the fridge because it is quick and easy for the kids to scoop a few spoons, fry and eat on pita for a quick feed. I’d quite like to make my own to keep in the fridge. What would I need to do to make a ready-to-use mix? How long would it keep in the fridge?
Falafel are relatively cheap to make from scratch and the only thing you need to plan for is that you must soak the chickpeas the night before, at least eight hours, so this may not work for you and your family’s habits. However, the mix will keep for two days in the fridge if tightly sealed.
The most delicious falafel I have eaten were (unsurprisingly) in Jerusalem, with my friend Yotam Ottolenghi. We ate them at an old Arab trader’s shop in the old city alongside an oily, lemony tahini sauce, flat bread and red onions. I can still taste and smell them now, served fresh from the deep-fryer, hot and crisp on the outside, slightly moist but not pasty in the middle, pungent with cumin, onion and sesame seeds and definitely the sort of falafel that makes you want a third and fourth.
Falafel and tahini yoghurt sauce
So, start by rinsing 125g chickpeas in gently running warm water for a minute, then soak overnight in 1.5 litres of cold water. Keep them out on your kitchen bench, at room temperature, covering the bowl with cling film. Next day, take them out of the water with your hands and drain in a colander, discarding the water.
Mix the drained chickpeas with half a peeled, sliced onion. I use red, but any onion will do. Add 1-2 cloves peeled, sliced garlic, a small handful parsley, and you could add some sliced green chillies and coriander leaves here too if you want. I’ve also been known to add 20 curry leaves, which I think give my falafel an extra oomph factor.
Pulse-blitz it all in a food processor, scraping down every 10 seconds to give you even-sized small crumbs — definitely not a paste and not too coarse, as the falafel won’t hold their shape when frying. Tip the mixture into a bowl. Now it’s time to add spices and this is where you can add your own twist. There are as many ways of flavouring falafel as there are ways of cooking eggs. On the same trip to Israel, I ate some in Tel Aviv that were quite different, and some I’ve had in London are almost aromatic, with cinnamon and cardamom. But, start with 2 heaped teaspoons each of ground cumin, coriander seeds and cinnamon and you’ll be heading in the
Add 2 Tbsp sesame seeds, 1 tsp fine salt, 1½ tsp baking powder and 2 heaped Tbsp chickpea flour (which will keep these gluten-free — if you can’t find it, then use white flour). Press cling film on to the surface of the mixture and leave in a cool spot for an hour before mixing again and cooking.
Heat a plain oil to 170C and shape the falafel. On the outside gates on the old city they sell them shaped like feijoas — but these, in my mind, remain quite pasty in the middle and there’s not the right “crunch to moist centre” ratio. I prefer to roll mine into walnut-sized balls and then slightly flatten them. Don’t overcrowd the fryer and cook until a dark golden colour — around 3 minutes.
If you’re going to make these, you might as well make a tahini yoghurt sauce to go with them. Mix into a medium thick paste ¼ cup each of tahini and water along with the finely grated zest of ½ a lemon and the juice of the lemon. Mix in ½ cup thick strained plain yoghurt and season with salt. You can also add crushed garlic, shredded mint and coriander to taste. Serve this with your falafel, some warmed flat bread and a rocket and red onion salad and your lunch is made!
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