Boulder Colorado had a lot to do with my eating habits. I moved there in 1990, at the age of 24. I was ready for a change. I was ready for the mountains. I was ready to no longer deal with Bay Area traffic. I was ready to start exploring who I wanted to become, rather than who I had been, growing up in California.
Boulder has one of the best outdoor “malls” in the country. They blocked off several city blocks on Pearl Street downtown and turned the area into a “walking mall”. But its mostly local shops and restaurants, not Hot Topic and Forever 21. One of the mainstays of the Pearl Street Mall is Falafel King, a tiny little restaurant selling fresh fried falafel in a pita with all the fixings. Of course, when I moved there, I had no idea what a falafel was. But I knew I wanted to eat healthier, and I wanted to try new things. So I tried my first falafel. And I was hooked. I ate a LOT of falafel sandwiches when I lived in Boulder. It was tasty, healthy, vegetarian, inexpensive and satisfying.
For those who are uninitiated, falafels are deep fried balls of ground chick peas (and/or fava beans) with additional herbs and spices thrown in. Popular all over the Middle East, they are a common street food from Israel to Egypt. I just call them yummy.
Then I moved. To Montana, to southern Arizona, to Durango Colorado. And falafels were hard to come by. So I resorted to boxed falafel mixes, or buying a mix in bulk. But most mixes contain wheat, soy, and other fillers I wasn’t all that interested in. And most importantly, they just weren’t all that tasty. So I pretty much stopped eating falafel. And then, a few years ago, it occurred to me to research how to make falafel myself. And it turns out, its just not all that complicated.
After researching many “authentic” an not so authentic recipes, I discovered they all shared some common ingredients, and after that, customizing them was up to the cook. Here’s a base recipe to get you started.
Falafel From Scratch
- 1 cup (1/2 lb) dried chick peas (garbanzo beans)
- 1 small onion
- 1 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh parsley (optional)
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (optional)
- 1 tsp kosher salt (or more, to taste)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 2 tbsp tahini (ground sesame paste). Not all recipes include this, but I like it as a binder and flavoring.
- pinch cayenne
- 1 small egg or 1/4 cup all purpose flour or bread crumbs (optional binders – I don’t find them necessary – you might)
Soak chick peas in water overnight, or up to 24 hours. Rinse. Place chick peas and remaining ingredients into a food processor and process for several minutes until finely ground, scraping down the sides several times. Mix can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Yes, you read that right, the chick peas are not cooked before being ground. Trust me on this. You can use cooked canned chick peas in a pinch, but its just not the same.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil of your choice (peanut, coconut, canola) until good and hot (about 350 degrees) over medium high heat. A cast iron skillet is nice here, but not mandatory. Place tablespoon sized patties in the hot oil, smooshing a bit so they are more the shape of a patty rather than a ball. I use a small disher for this, which makes portioning easier. Wet hands makes handling the dough easier. Fry in hot oil until golden brown on one side, then carefully flip over and fry on other side (2-3 minutes per side). Add more oil as necessary. Fry in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot on warmed pita or on a salad with tzatziki sauce (yogurt cucumber dill sauce) and feta cheese. You can also deep fry these, but I don’t own a deep fryer, and never deep fry anything, as I never know how to dispose of the used oil afterwords. It just seems like such a waste.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2014, where we can buy chick peas grown in the inland Northwest. How’s that for a local staple!