My first experience making falafel was a huge and embarrassing disaster. I was in my late 20′s and living as an intern in an intentional community. Once a month, I had to make dinner for all the interns and residents of the community.
I wanted to prove what a great cook I was so I decided to make a traditional Middle Eastern meal. The menu was tabouleh, bread with olive oil, salad, and the main course was falafel with tahini sauce.
The plan was to look like I had spent hours sweating over the stove while, in fact, I would use pre-made mixes and throw away all the evidence before anyone arrived for dinner.
In the two hours before dinner, I (nervously) mixed the tabouleh, made the salad, and then mixed the falafel. I made about a hundred small falafel patties.
A half an hour before dinner was to start, I heated a cup of oil in each of the two large cast iron pans and started filling them with falafel patties. Everything was going just fine until I started turning the patties over and noticed that they were crumbling apart. Desperately, I tried to be more careful with the flipping. Still, the falafel patties were quickly disintegrating into the oil. Soon, there was no evidence that the falafel was ever in patty form at all. I tried more patties and the same thing happened over and over.
People were beginning to walk in for dinner and I was in a panic. What would I serve them besides salad, bread, and tabouleh? In the end, I ended up serving each person a teaspoonful of overcooked, oily, falafel crumbles topped with tahini sauce. Not one of my better cooking moments.
The Trouble with Falafel
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered I’m not the only one who has experienced the disappearing falafel trick. There are tales of falafel woes all over the cooking stratosphere. Apparently, many meals have been ruined by the main course disintegrating into nothingness.
Solutions abound on the internet including using a binding agent such as flour or an egg to help keep everything together. Another trick I discovered was refrigerating the falafel patties before cooking.
In the end, I am in a constant state of creating my “perfect” falafel recipe. Below is my latest version which is getting close to perfect. I use chickpea flour as the binding agent.
If you have a falafel trick or amazing recipe, please share on my facebook page (link above right). If I use it, I will give you credit and you will get a free copy of my cookbook (written with Koula Barydakis): Foods of Crete: Traditional Recipes from the Healthiest People in the World.
Traditionally served in a pita pocket with tahini dressing
4 cloves garlic
1 small onion, quartered
2 cups chickpeas (canned), rinsed and drained
handful of parsley, chopped
handful of cilantro, chopped
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon dried coriander
¼ cup chickpea or white flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
- Mince garlic and onion in a food processor.
- Add all other ingredients. Pulse only until chickpeas are chopped.
- Form 2” round patties.
- Refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour (up to 1 hour).
- Fry on medium heat in olive oil.
- Top with tahini sauce. Serve with tomatoes, lettuce, and pita bread.
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3-4 Tablespoons water
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Mince garlic in food processor.
- Add tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Blend.
- Add water, a tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Salt and pepper, to taste.
Recipes by Bill Bradley, R.D.