A Showering of Parsley: Falafels

Every culture has its own version of the fritter. From Italian arrancini to Indian pakodas and American hushpuppies. The tradition of frying bits of batter, often with other ingredients tossed in, is a custom that has been revered the world over for centuries. Perhaps one of the most famous of these products, is the falafel. Originally believed to have originated in Egypt, although Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon also claim to have been the founding fathers, these chickpea fritters are popular all throughout the Middle East, and for good reason too. They are full of protein and aside from the fact that they are fried, they are quite nutritious. Served up in a warm pita with an Israeli salad, cabbage slaw, and a generous pour of tahini sauce, there is no reason why the falafel can’t be a complete meal. My falafels were just that. Boiled with garlic, fresh bay leaves, rosemary, and thyme, and then formed into patties with onions, lemon, cumin, and coriander, these falafels are aromatic enough to get you drooling. However, I have yet to even discuss the featured herb in today’s recipe, and that would be parsley.

Parsley is a well-known herb with a mildly grassy flavor, and Middle Eastern cuisine practically sings its name.It’s just that herb which happens to make a lot of appearances in a lot of dishes from the area. I blended it into my tahini dressing, marinated tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions in it, and off course, I colored my falafels with specks of green by mixing it into the chickpea mixture. If you are not a huge parsley fan, you can always reduce the amount to your liking, but I feel that its definitive flavor can transport you to the Arabian peninsula, the sun-baked beaches of Tel Aviv, and the shores of the mighty Nile. Coming from an ancient culture set where the flavors of Europe and Asia mix, falafels are just one of the many delicacies of a rich cuisine that is guaranteed to have you praising it all day long.

Making falafels is not a very difficult process. What is most important though, is that you follow two key steps. The first is at the beginning, and it refers to the preparation of the chickpeas. When you are making a falafel, it is VERY important to make sure that you cook your own chickpeas. Yes, that means that you have to soak dried chickpeas overnight to rehydrate them, and then cook them the next day till they are tender. If you use canned chickpeas, your cooking process will be a lot shorter, but you will end up with dirty, dense pieces of garbage, not the light and fluffy pillows of joy that you can only get when you start from scratch. The second important step is at the end when you are preparing to cook the falafels. The preferred method is frying, which I know can be undesirable for a lot people. However, frying allows you to get a crispy crust on the outside and a soft interior on the inside. You can bake them, but the crispy crust will be absent, and your falafels will probably be drier and not that exciting. Hence, follow the instructions, and you are guaranteed to receive a delicious meal in return.

Recipe: Falafels

Makes about 32 falafel patties which is about enough for 10-12 sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in warm water
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, optional
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and then ground into a powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and then ground into a powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, adjust to taste
  • 2 cups dried bread crumbs
  • salt to taste

Tahini Dressing

  • 1 cup tahini
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 chopped parsley

Israeli Salad

  • 2 tomatoes, small dice
  • 1 large cucumber, small dice
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Red Cabbage Slaw

  • 1/2 head of red cabbage, shredded
  • 2-3 tablespoons tahini dressing
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

For Serving:

  • pita breads, be sure to buy the ones which have the pockets otherwise you won’t be able to build the sandwich!

Method:

Falafels: Soak the chickpeas overnight in warm water. Then place in a pot of boiling water with the bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and 4 crushed garlic cloves, and simmer for 40-45 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender and cooked through. Once they are cooked, drain the chickpeas and remove the bay leaves, and mash the remaining contents in a food processor or with a food mill until coarsely ground. You do not want a puree. Mix the mashed chickpeas with the red onion, 3 minced garlic cloves, lemon juice, parsley, toasted coriander and cumin powder, crushed red pepper, bread crumbs, and salt, till you get a batter that holds together without falling apart easily. Form walnut to meatball-sized patties with you hands and place the patties in the fridge to set for 1-2 hours. Fry the patties in a 1/2 inch of oil over medium-high heat, until crispy and golden brown on both sides.  Place the cooked falafels on a paper towel to drain the excess oil.

Tahini Dressing: In a blender combine the tahini, yogurt, cayenne, lemon juice, water, garlic, parsley, and salt. Blend ingredients until smooth and combined.

Israeli Salad: Placed the chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion and parsley in a bowl, squeeze the lemon juice over and add the salt and pepper to taste. Toss the ingredients together until everything is well combined.

Cabbage Slaw: Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl and toss with the tahini dressing in lemon juice until the well coated. You can adjust the amount of dressing to you taste, or you can omit it if you’d prefer the cabbage by itself.

Sandwich Assembly: Take a warm, lightly toasted pita pocket and place 2-3 falafel patties inside. Add some Israeli salad, cabbage slaw, and tahini dressing. Enjoy and savour till you have a smile on your mouth and your stomach is full!

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