Food Stories: Falafel

Published June 9, 2015
This Mediterranean delight is the second most common dish made from chickpeas, the first one being hummus. —Photo by author
This Mediterranean delight is the second most common dish made from chickpeas, the first one being hummus. —Photo by author

With Ramazan around the corner, my children are already demanding a variety of foods to be enjoyed at iftar time in the upcoming weeks. Hence I decided to start a little early this time, and upon research decided that the Mediterranean falafel would make a delicious addition to the iftar platter. Apart from the necessary pakoras and samosas, of course.

Falafel is traditionally an Arab food and is a derivation of the Arabic word falafil, meaning pepper. A crisp, wholesome snack, its origin goes back millenniums. The very first legume falafel in the region is said to hail from Egypt, and was made from dried white fava beans.

Traditionally fafafil is a vegan food and a great source of protein. It is popularly believed that falafel was the Coptic Egyptians food of choice, they also claim to have invented the ta’amia, the fava bean fritter, which is likely an ancestor of the modern day falafel.

It was said that falafel travelled from the port of Alexandria to the Middle East. Sailors carried it for it was a dry, convenient and nutritious food.

Another theory that I am inclined to believe, but then I am biased, places a falafel kind of food originating in the subcontinent during ancient times. And since the sub-continental cuisine offers a wide variety of chickpea flour based fritters, this theory may very well be true.

In an article titled The Hummus Blog by Shooky and Tal Galili it is said;

Sometimes it is shaped like a ball and sometimes like a flat burger. It has a pail brown color, and may have a smooth or grainy texture, and can be stuffed inside a pita or Turkish bread.

Falafel is the second most common dish made from chickpeas, the first one being hummus. It is eaten in many Arab and Mediterranean countries, each with it’s own special version.

It is commonly believed, though most believe it to be a myth, that the slaves at the time of the pharaohs may have made a food similar to falafel and brought it to Jerusalem when they migrated to the Holy Land thousands of years ago from Egypt.

The Egyptian falafel is made from brown broad beans and not from garbanzo beans like it is in the Arab countries, though the taste of the two is very similar, but the garbanzo bean is a healthier bean to eat.

The delightful cookbook Jerusalem by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi talks of this ancient food saying the following;

Falafel and hummus are the ultimate daily grub in Muslim Jerusalem. As a little boy, Sami used to be sent out to the shops every morning to buy breakfast for his older brothers: hummus and freshly fried falafel balls. Over on the west side of the city, Yotum had a similar experience. In West Jerusalem, as in the rest of Israel, it was Yemini Jews arriving in the country in the first half of the 20th century who set up falafel shops and introduced the street food to the Jewish society for the first time.

The falafel recipe I share with you today is absolutely delicious; it is quick and ready to serve in no time and my Moroccan friend Mrs. Bachir graciously shared it with me.

It goes great as a sidekick to dahi bara, chana chaat, samosa and pakora come iftar time. Here it is from my kitchen to yours.


Falafel


Ingredients

1 ½ cup boiled chickpeas
½ small onion
3 tbsp. chopped parsley
3 to 4 cloves garlic
1 heaped tbsp. flour
Salt to taste
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. coriander powder
Pinch of black pepper powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 green cardamom

Method

Put all the ingredients in a food processor, once it forms a coarse mixture, cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Heat oil, form little balls, approximately the size of a golf ball, fry for 5 to 7 minutes.

Serve hot with a side of hummus or tahini sauce, it tastes great with yogurt raita too.

Tahini sauce

2 garlic cloves
½ tsp. fine sea salt, or to taste
½ cup well-stirred tahini (Middle Eastern sesame paste)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup water
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ tsp. ground cumin

Method

Crush garlic, and mash to a paste with the sea salt.

Whisk together garlic paste and remaining ingredients until smooth.

—Photos by author.


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