I am so excited for this year's #AprilIsForArabFood on Instagram. Every year, @sweetpillarfood (Nadia) and @almondandfig (Mai) host 4 weeks of celebration of Arab food. Last year, each week had a theme associated with the type of food everyone was posting. For example, street food, breakfast food, comfort food, etc...
This year, they have taken up the conversation of appropriation in food. It has been widely talked about in the past year, not just in the Arab community, but also in the Asian, African and Carribbean communities. So each week will be dedicated to a region so that we can learn a little bit more about the food cultures from all over the Middle East and not just the most talked about in the West. If it's something you're interested in learning more about and you are a regular user of Instagram, follow the hashtag and keep an eye on updates from Mai and Nadia too, they have some lovely things planned.
Thinking about last year's celebration made me really want some falafel. I don't know why. It is honestly never something I crave. Ever. But here we are. I think because at the mention of street food, I always think of falafel and shawarma.
I have a memory of being about 6 or 7 in Abu Dhabi and Mum and Dad were uhhming and ahhing about what to have for dinner. The building we lived in was next door to the best shawarma restaurant ever. We went so often that we (Dad) got friendly with the owner. This was back in the day before health and safety and everything was street-side and I could feel the heat of the shawarma grill on my face. That's what we got in the end and me and Jamie went down with Dad to order everything and wait for it.
Anyway, they also did amazing falafel. Again, street-side, there was a paella pan sized vat of boiling hot oil with a bowl full of falafel mix next to it. The vendor would scoop some mix up with a paddle, scrape it onto his falafel press and drop it into the oil. In the space of about a minute he would have done at least 20, stoping after that to give them a stir with a spider (the utensil, not the insect) and pull out the ones that were done, bagging them up for the next order.
It's hard to make something as good as a memory. The memory is always going to be better. But I think I may have cracked this one. I still don't think it's as good as my memory, but it's the closest I think I'll ever get. and it's fricking delicious.
It is so hard to make proper falafel. I have tried and failed many times before now. But there are a few key things to remember:
Start prepping the falafel 24 hours before you want to serve it.
You CANNOT make falafel with tinned or cooked chickpeas.
The more moisture there is in the mix, the more likely it is to fall apart.
Chilling the mix before you fry it helps a lot.
Use very hot oil.
And with those things in mind, here is my recipe.
200g dried chickpeas
100g fresh coriander
2 cloves of garlic
2 spring onions
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp all spice (aka seven spice or baharat)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 1/2 tbsp gram (chickpea) flour
In a bowl, soak the chickpeas overnight. Don't just add enough water to cover them, add at least 400ml water or enough so that there is the same distance from the top of the chickpeas to the top of the water as from the bottom of the bowl to the top of the chickpeas. In the morning, drain the chickpeas and set them in a sieve over a bowl to let excess water drain off for at least 6 hours.
In a food processor, add everything except the sesame seeds and flour. Blitz everything continuously for 60 seconds and then scrape the sides down and blitz again for another 60 seconds. You should notice the chickpea chunks getting smaller after each set of 60 seconds.
Scrape the sides down again and add the sesame seeds and gram flour. Blitz for another 60 seconds, scrape down and blitz for a final 60 seconds.
Decant the mix into a bowl and press it down flat with a paper towel to suck up some of the moisture. Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge for at least half an hour.
When you're ready, heat vegetable or sunflower oil in a pot to deep fry. I used a litre in a medium sized pot, just to give you an idea. Test a tiny amount of batter. When it immediately starts fizzing and is continuous, it's ready.
Now, ideally, here you would use a falafel press. But they are extremely hard to find here so I used an ice cream scoop about 2 tbsp big. This makes 8 equal sized falafels. If you were using a falafel press, you would get more out of your mix as they tend to be a bit smaller.
Pack enough mix into your scoop to level it off and then click it into your hand. Turn your half sphere in to a flying saucer shape with your hands and then carefully drop it into the hot oil. Fry on a relatively high heat for 5 minutes.
You can do a few at a time but don't over crowd the pan or the oil temperature will drop and your falafel will fall apart. I did three at a time.
When they're done, drain them on a paper towel. Serve either in a sandwich with plenty of chilli and tahini and fresh parsley, or alongside a salad with pickles and chilli.