How to Make Perfect Falafel Every Time

 

Falafel almost whipped me, but I prevailed in the end.

My friend Salwa, a Christian Palestinian, gave me her recipe ages ago, when I first started working on the book that became Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska (a fundraiser for Alaska’s only Greek Orthodox Church). She made the recipe sound simple. Initially, it wasn’t.

The first few times I made falafel were miserable failures. Because I couldn’t get them right before the book went to print, the first edition of Tastes Like Home didn’t include a falafel recipe (the second edition will).

After re-consulting Salwa several times and reviewing other recipes for this wonderful Middle Eastern treat, I eventually had an epiphany and figured out how to make great tasting falafel every time. Trust me; if you follow the directions, falafel are simple.

The key to making tasty falafel is to use dried chickpeas (my first batch was made with cooked chickpeas; the texture was awful), soak the chickpeas at least 24 hours (I only soaked the chickpeas overnight for my second batch; everything about those falafel were wrong), and purée the soaked chickpeas until very smooth (in my third batch, I ground chickpeas to the size of dried couscous; these fell apart in the hot oil).

The precise origins of falafel are lost in the mists of time. In The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, Claudia Roden, who grew up in Egypt, says falafel is “one of Egypt’s national dishes, welcome at all times, for breakfast, lunch, or supper.” She says the recipe originally came from Egyptian Copts, who make “mountains” of them during Lent.

Not everyone agrees that Copts invented falafel. As with many traditional foods in the Mediterranean basin, including moussaka and baklava, there are lively debates about falafel’s origins. In recent years, falafel debates have sometimes devolved into political discussions about the relationship between Arabs and Israelis.

It doesn’t matter who invented a recipe, whether it be baklava or falafel, so long as it tastes good. I agree with Dr. Zafer Yenal, a Turkish sociology professor, who says disputing the origin of recipes is a form of nationalism that can lead to dangerous “we and they” attitudes. Dr. Yenal says foods should be identified by the regions where they’re eaten today and not by who originally invented them.

Egyptian falafel is made using peeled and dried fava beans (not the yellow split pea Greeks call fava). In Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, Claudia Roden says falafel is made with a mixture of chickpeas and fava beans, while Israelis and Palestinians prefer it made only with chickpeas.

I wondered whether there was a significant flavor difference between falafels made with chickpeas and those made with dried fava beans. Last night, I made separate batches of falafel made with each bean. My husband couldn’t tell the difference. I tasted a slight difference, but not enough for me to prefer one over the other. Both were great.

I served falafel with Salwa’s tabbouleh recipe from Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska. The fresh flavor of tabbouleh (bulgur, parsley, and tomato salad) marries well with fried falafel. A simple tomato and onion salad is another great accompaniment.

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:

 

27 Responses to How to Make Perfect Falafel Every Time

  1. I’ve only ever made these once and they disintegrated on frying! I will try your trick of soaking the chickpeas for 24 hours Laurie. Thanks for the tips. Cheers.

  2. flyingfork says:

    I heart falafel. I make a coarser version – falafel burgers, if you like – which I must post about soon. But you can’t beat the real deal!

  3. I hear ya on the debate on where falafel comes from. Here in Toronto, I would give the Lebanese community credit for bringing this delicious and healthy food to our city.

  4. Gretchen Noelle says:

    I have loved eating falafel but have never tried to make them. Thanks for a easy looking recipe. Yum!

  5. i love falafel, but like you, my recipe never came out standard. i had some failures too, so i hope i can try this one out and be successful right from the first.

  6. These look like they turned out perfectly. I think I may now have a new favorite recipe for falafel. Thanks for this!

  7. maybahay says:

    these falafels look perfect. i adore falafel w(ith hummous and tabbouleh) but have never made them. i’ve never tried them with fava beans. do you think chickpea flour could also work?

  8. I had the same experience as peter g. with my one and only attempt at homemade falafels — oily disintegration. Now I’ll have to dig out my falafel scoop and try out your great tips. Thanks for making it work!

  9. Peter G, that is exactly the experience that made me give up putting falafel in the book – falling apart in the oil. I believe this is caused by inadequately grinding or processing the chickpeas. If you try again, good luck!

    Flyingfork, falafel burgers sounds pretty good to me! Looking forward to your recipe.

    Peter M, I’d love to visit Toronto one day; it sounds like such a vibrant city.

    Gretchen, one of the best things about falafel is you can make up the mix way ahead of time.

    Maria, if you make them, they’ll turn out!

    Lisa, you’re most welcome!

    Maybahay, I don’t think chickpea flour would work, as the texture would be off. Although I’ve only tried making them with chickpeas and dried fava beans, I’d guess the recipe would work with pretty much any kind of white bean.

    Manju, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one with falafel disintegrating in oil! I hate it when recipes don’t work, and so glad I finally figured this out before I got a complex.

  10. melusina says:

    Looks absolutely delicious, and completely nistisimi! If only I could make a good tahini sauce – I tried to make it last weekend, to horrible results (I made tahini paste, and it tasted terrible!).

  11. I can see why you had problems with these…I would too, if not reading your post. The idea of using chickpeas that have been soaked but not ‘cooked’ would seem strange… and I always cut corners like not soaking long enough.
    You inspire me to give them a try!

  12. Melusina, are you saying you ground your own sesame seeds? If so, that is definitely ambitious. On the island, there are two kinds of tahini – one light and one dark. The dark kind makes awful tahini sauce, you really need to use the light. This probably wasn’t your problem, but thought I’d mention it just in case.

    Katie, exactly – I used cooked chickpeas the first time because I assumed I had skipped a step when I was taking notes while talking to Salwa. And who knew that soaking so long would be necessaray? I’m glad to do the experimenting for you!

  13. Bellini Valli says:

    I love falafels. I recently made them with a tahini sauce, but my favourite way is still with a feta cheese or tzatziki sauce…and yes soaking dried chickpeas makes all the difference:D

  14. I adore felafel and can’t tell you how much I appreciate you spelling out how to make them. Even though, as Peter M has pointed out, we can get terrific ready made felafel relatively easily here in Toronto.

    It would never have occurred to me to use pre-soaked UNcooked chickpeas!

    -Elizabeth

  15. Val, tzatziki is great for anything fried and would definiely go great with falafel. As for the extra long soaking, I should have talked to you before I began my falafel odyssey!

    Elizabeth, exactly. That’s why I foolishly ignored the instructions – I couldn’t believe they were right! I guess I’m just one of those people who have to learn the hard way!

  16. Most enlightening. Like Elizabeth, I never imagined the chickpeas in the falafel patty were raw before frying. Makes sense though. I love falafel, great post!

  17. Thanks for the recipe. I’ve always been too intimidated to try falafel, but your step by step instructions gave me confidence.

    The first few were a little pasty on the inside, so I lowered the oil temp and fried them longer.

    I had them with a tomato, parsley mint salad (it would have been tabbouleh, but no bulgur in the house), tahini sauce, and some lebanese hot pink pickled turnips that I canned last weekend. Thanks again!

  18. ThreadBeaur says:

    I will get some dried chickpeas. I hope that works, because these look great. Thanks for the easy to understand instructions. This will be one of our go to meals this year!

  19. I know you posted this a while ago, but I just have to come on and thank you for this recipe. I've tried falafel 6 times and each attempt ended with a ground chickpea/hot oil soup. I tried yours, step by step, and they turned out perfectly the first time. We've made it about 5 times since then. Thanks!

  20. Luke, thanks so much for the note – I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one with falafel failures (and also that my method works for others). Mmmm, we haven't had falafel lately – think I'll start some chickpeas soaking right now!

  21. Meadow Scott says:

    Hey there! Wow, crazy to have found you. As a temporarily displaced Alaskan who adores Mediterranean food (particularly Arabic) I am so excited to read your cookbook! I found you searching for a falafel recipe, and your looks exactlynlike what I wanted, the traditional soaking instead of cooking the beans way. Can’t wait to try.
    Thanks!

  22. I thought i had really missed something! Tahini sauce AWFUL and falafels disintegrated! So comforting to have so much company!

  23. These turned out great! I followed your recipe exactly. I was nervous up until the moment the little patties hit the oil. I really thought the soft dough would come apart, I considered adding chickpea flour to thicken it up or maybe at least coat the patties in it, but I didn’t, I decided to listen to you and try it and it worked. I think letting the patties rest – dry out a little – before going into the oil is key. They were so good. We rolled them up in lavash with a tahini yogurt sauce and tomato onion salad and grated carrots and shredded lettuce and sriracha for the grown-ups. The kids loved getting to fix theirs however they wanted it. Fun dinner. Thank you so much!

    • Hi Trina, So glad these turned out for you! Falafel are tricky because it seems like you should be able to make them with canned chickpeas. But you can’t! Thank you so much for writing and letting me know! Laurie

  24. Hi Laurie. It is an old posting, but I can tell you some interesting facts.
    Falafel really started with Egyptian copts, that ate vegetarian food on their Easter holiday. They made it solely with Fava beans, that is very filling. Israelis and Palestinians did the same and it was very popular until about 1947 when a big immigration of Jews from Iraq and Iran started to arrive to Israel. In between those new comers were a lot that had a G6PD deficiency is also known as “favism,” They had few cases of death and Israelis changed the recipe to Garbanzo beans.
    Thanks for the recipe it is great.

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