Forget the precooked, dried-out ones to be found sitting in the bain-marie at the dodgy kebab shop – homemade falafel are a world apart. It’s a crime, really, that such negative associations abound. Perhaps we should start calling them by their other name, ta’amia, to indicate the difference.
These little rissoles are a staple of Egyptian food, their provenance extending way back to the Egyptian Copts. They’ve since made their way through the Middle East in various guises, most popularly in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The Egyptian version uses dried white broad beans, while in other areas,some recipes call for half broad beans, half dried chickpeas or even all chickpeas. Of course, each group claims their own recipe to be the best and looks askance at the others.
Regardless, the common theme is that, unusually, the dried pulse isn’t cooked before it’s used. Rather, it’s soaked in cold water to soften, then ground finely and mixed with chopped onion, a good measure of garlic, a hint of spice – ground cumin and coriander are de rigueur – and finely chopped herbs such as parsley and coriander. We’ve gone fresher still for our variation and used fresh broad beans, which are at their peak right now. The result is a vibrant green colour and earthy, herbaceous flavour. While purists may be up in arms at this development, our tip is to give broad beans a go while they’re still in season and by all means revert to the dried variety at other times of the year.
The mixture is rolled into walnut-sized, torpedo-shaped patties and deep-fried until browned and crisp on the outside, yielding to a fluffy interior. We’ve added another layer of flavour by tossing the freshly cooked falafel in a spiced chilli and cumin salt spiked with fresh lemon rind.
Traditionally, falafel are wrapped in warm pita bread along with chopped herbs and a tahini sauce. Pickled chillies add heat and piquancy, lifting the whole thing above and beyond the negative connotations of fast food. Dodgy kebab shop, eat your heart out.