Even for the avid home cook, certain foods are worth buying at a street cart in the middle of a particularly tough day, biting in when you know they’re still too hot, letting the sauce dribble down your chin. There’s satisfaction is tossing those flimsy paper napkins into a wire trash can on the street corner, checking your teeth with a shop window glance, and stepping back into the office as if the whole salacious affair never happened. The escapism’s the thing.
I used to think falafel was one of those escapist foods. If you’d still like to think of it that way, please, don’t let me deny you the pleasure. Honestly, it’s only since Shake Shack entered my life that I’ve been able to see falafel as anything more than a fling—as something to bring home to my family. If you’re not ready to take the leap, I won’t mind if you sit this one out.
It was Kim O’Donnel, writing about Meatless Monday back in the days of A Mighty Appetite, who convinced me to try falafel at home. The glug-glug of a quart of oil pouring into a Dutch oven on your very own stovetop may just be the antithesis of escapism. But it turns out that falafel is not only easy to make at home—it’s also dearly beloved by children and adults, zealots and skeptics, veg-heads and carnivores alike. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, is what I’m trying to say here. And if there’s one thing better than escaping from the crowd, it’s being responsible for putting soulful, herb-flecked grins on their faces. It’s a wholesome, grown-up pleasure, to be sure, befitting of cloth napkins more than paper ones. Still and all, I highly recommend it.
Adapted from A Mighty Appetite by Kim O’Donnel, who adapted it, in turn, from Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks. Got it? Makes about 60 1-inch balls, which is a huge amount. I doubled the original recipe, because if you’re going to make falafel, you might as well make alotta falafel. If you like, you can freeze some of the raw balls (after Step 3 below) on the cookie sheet until firm, then transfer to an airtight bag and keep frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw before proceeding.
4 cups dried chickpeas
2 medium onions, finely diced
12 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1. Place chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water by at least 1 inch. Soak for 24 hours. Drain well.
2. Half at a time, pour chickpeas into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary, until chickpeas begin to form a very coarse paste. It should just hold together when you squeeze it in your palm but still be made up of thousands of little chickpea bits. Scrape the chickpea paste back into the large bowl. Add the onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, baking powder, coriander, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Mix well but gently with your hands (as you would for meatballs). Refrigerate until firm, about an hour.
3. Using a measuring tablespoon if you wish, or just your hands, shape batter into 1-inch balls. The balls should stick together well, but try not to work the batter too much. Divide the balls between two half-sheet pans or cookie trays lined with parchment, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make a sauce, such as tahini (click and then scroll down for recipe) or yogurt sauce.
4. Pour oil into a large, heavy pot to a depth of about 1 inch (I use a 5-1/2 quart Dutch oven). Insert a candy/deep fry thermometer and heat oil over medium heat until it reaches 350°F. Carefully drop balls one by one into the hot oil. Don’t crowd them—you’ll fry in batches of about 8 at a time, depending on the size of your pot. Fry until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 250°F oven if you like. Serve with pita, tahini or yogurt sauce, raw onions, cucumber, parsley, and tomato—or any or none of the above.