Saturday, March 20, 2010


I’m a little embarrassed to admit that falafel is one of those foods I used to associate with dreary, unimaginative food courts. Until recently, I had only ever experienced falafel from little Lebanese restaurants in sad shopping malls where I munched on the dry, fried balls of chickpeas that had probably been prepared hours earlier, and had since been losing moisture and flavor under a heat lamp. That said, it has always been a food I took pleasure in eating and that I ordered frequently enough. They were unlike anything I had tasted before.

Well, I have since had better falafel at better restaurants, and I can now better appreciate what falafel has the potential to be: a simple, unassuming combination of ingredients to produce a unique and delectable treat. After tasting superior falafel, and seeing a particularly inspiring episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay in which he heads off against the maker of the so-called best falafel in NYC, I decided, of course, that I would have to try making falafel for myself.For those of you poor souls who don’t know what falafel is, and have never tasted it, allow me to enlighten you: falafel is basically a mixture of mashed chickpeas with various herbs, spices, and baking powder for volume, rolled into a ball, and deep fried. The origin of this tasty treat is up for debate: several countries in the Middle East claim it as their own, including Egypt and Israel. Regardless of who created it, falafel is popular in many places today, and for good reason: it’s delicious.
I had wanted to make my own falafel for a while when a recipe for it popped up in my February issue of Bon Appétit. I took it as a sign, and decided to give the recipe a shot, at least as a starting point for my own version.
The recipe is as simple and straightforward as you can imagine: basically, mash the ingredients together, form into balls, roll around in some flour, and fry. I fried mine in about a half inch of canola oil in my cast iron skillet on the stovetop, and they came out quite beautifully. Served on couscous with hummus and pita bread, they made a very tasty vegetarian meal. Unlike the heat lamp-petrified falafel I had had in the past, this falafel was hot with a crisp outside, and a fluffy, moist interior. It tasted fresh and delicious.
They weren’t perfect, though. My cooking method was fine: I liked how they came out texture-wise. Where I found they were lacking a little was in flavor. They needed more. The next time I make this, I think I’ll use more parsley and cumin, and I would also add some mint and coriander.

If you haven’t had falafel before, I would recommend that you try it at a restaurant (even a restaurant in a food court) so that you can get an idea of what falafel should taste like. I think that this is one of those dishes where it is really necessary to know what you’re going for before you try it yourself. Then, find the recipe here, make it at home and perfect your own scrumptious falafel, worthy of so much more than their food court popularity.

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