If you happen to ask someone you know what’s the most famous Middle Eastern food they can think of—and their answer isn’t hummus—then it’s most certainly going to be falafel. But, what exactly is falafel? And are we all pronouncing it correctly?
Well, worry not. Falafel is nothing but a delicious deep-fried chickpea (or fava bean) ball with all the typical spices often found in Middle Eastern cuisine, such as black pepper, cumin, coriander, and even some cayenne pepper.
Falafel can be a very interesting food concept. You can usually find vendors on street corners selling it as fast food just like you would find hot dog stands in New York City. But if you’re looking for more of a sit-down experience, falafel can also be served as a main dish. It can be sandwiched in some pita bread with tomatoes, lettuce, and tahini or even served on a salad with hummus!
History of Falafel
You can’t go anywhere in the Middle East and not enjoy a delicious deep-fried ball of chickpeas, but where exactly did this mouth-watering ball of vegetable goodness come from? It’s guaranteed that you’ll get some very different answers on that. Some will say it's Egyptian, others say it’s Lebanese, or even Israeli. The origin of falafel is unknown and controversial, to say the least.
Many believe that falafel came from the Egyptians, the Christian Copts of Egypt to be more specific. With Egypt becoming an important religious center for Christianity through the first century A.D., many scholars and theologians flocked there. Egyptian Christianity grew, shaped by the culture, words, and history of ancient Egypt. This led to the creation of the Coptic Orthodox Church, with its followers gaining the name of Coptic Christians.
According to this belief, the Coptic Christians were forbidden from eating meat during certain holidays (Lent being one of them), which led them to come up with an alternative dish they could enjoy. Made from fava beans the original falafel was created, known back then as ta'amiya.
While the Israelis have taken this dish as part of their national cuisine, the Palestinians, on the other hand, have perceived this as a “theft” of their own Arab specialty. That takes us to an interesting theory, back to the 19th century. The Jews of Kerala and Calcutta had a characteristic appetizer of fried split green balls known as parippu vada or filowri, which was very similar to what we now know as falafel. These small green balls were essentially made of split green peas.
Another emergent theory is that Alexandria was the birth city of falafel. As a port for British and European troops, it is believed that after acquiring the taste for fried vegetable croquettes in India, British troops may have asked the Egyptians to prepare a similar recipe using their local ingredients. With their vast and local production of fava beans, this dish came to life.
From Alexandria, falafel spread throughout the country gaining such popularity that it migrated to Lebanon, Yemen, Libya and even Turkey. Even though the recipe was left barely unchanged, some ingredients were replaced according to each country’s local ingredients.
Fried vegetable specialty in India
Homemade Falafel Recipe
Servings: 24 falafel balls
- 1 cup dried chickpeas
- 1⁄2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 tablespoons chickpea flour (or regular flour)
Start by soaking the chickpeas for 24 hours in a bowl. They should be covered by a couple of inches of water. After draining them, put them in a food processor along with onions, garlic, parsley, salt, cilantro, ground coriander, and cumin and process until everything is blended together but not pureed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl where you will add the chickpea flour and baking powder, mixing it with a spatula or wooden spoon.
Now you get to the fun part where you start forming the falafel mixture into little balls. They should be about one tablespoon size. Line up a tray with parchment paper, place the little balls on it and keep it in the fridge for about an hour to let them set.
Fill a large skillet with oil, and after letting it heat over medium heat, gently lower the falafel balls into the oil. Don’t overcrowd them in there so they don’t stick to each other. Depending on the skillet, it should fit about 5 to 6 small balls at the same time.
Cook each side of the falafel ball for about 30-60 seconds without touching it, or it might start falling apart. You’ll notice that it’s ready to be flipped when it reaches a golden color.
After they’re equally cooked on both sides remove them to a paper towel-lined tray and let them rest for 1-2 minutes.
Tried making your own version of falafel at home? Then make sure to share your creation on social media and tag us at @skyhour for a chance to be featured on this article.