Whenever I think of the best food I’ve had that has come from a truck or hole-in-the-wall-with-no-seating establishment, they all have one thing in common. They are all falafel.
My mind often wanders to the amazingness that was the falafel I had with harissa sauce in NYC, my favorite little (emphasis on little) falafelshop I used to frequent during college here in DC, and budget college spring break trips to Germany and the Czech Republic where falafel at the doner kebab joints made up just about every meal.
These days, though, we mostly just make falafel at home. There is no reason not to. It is super easy. Here is our method.
Put away that boxed falafel mix. You don’t want any of that crap. Falafel is, in essence, just pureed chickpeas with spices and flavorings. It really doesn’t take any more effort to dump a can of chickpeas into a food processor than it does to open the box and hydrate it with whatever. And the results will be with it.
We’ve tried a bunch of different recipes over the years. This one from Cooking Light is the easiest as it already includes binders like egg and breadcrumbs. If this is your first time, try that one.
This one and this one are a little harder, but they are more authentic, as well as vegan and gluten-free. The puree must be as dry as possible and the oil must be 350°. Start with just one test falafel and if it falls apart, add some flour to the remaining puree to keep it together.
It is essential that you toast and grind your whole cumin seeds to achieve that quintessential flavor. Do not use preground cumin.
Now, most restaurants will form the falafel into little balls and deep fry them. I can’t blame you if you’re not up for deep frying. Just form the falafels into little patties and pan fry them in 2-3 inches of oil, flipping halfway through until they are crisp and browned on the outside.
I find most store-bought pita to be straight up disgusting. So dry and stale and flavorless it is not even worth spending the time to make falafel unless you are willing to make the pita yourself. Luckily, it is easy (but time-consuming). It helps if you are working with a partner.
I can’t recall all the recipes we’ve tried but this one was the most recent. It doesn’t exactly always puff up to form perfect little pockets on the inside, but it mostly does…and when this bread melts in your mouth I think you will forgive any slight imperfections.
With a cast iron griddle pan, it’s easy to do…just make the dough, divide into balls, roll out roughly into circles, and cook on each side for a few minutes. No baking or ovens.
Some like their falafel with tahini, or hummus (which is a little wtf to me, chickpeas on your chickpeas?). But my very favorite thing to add is an inordinate amount of tzatziki sauce. In fact, one might accuse me as eating falafel as merely a vessel for tzatziki, but whatever, I like it all.
I’ve tried a few recipes but the one I’ve deferred to lately is this self-declared World’s Best Tzatziki Sauce Recipe. And I have to say it is pretty darn good. And really easy! I do like to add some extra garlic though because one clove is never, ever enough for me, for any recipe!
In NYC I had a falafel sandwich with harissa sauce and it was ahmaaazing. I haven’t made it myself before but I think I will give it a shot sometime soon. Here is a recipe from Fine Cooking.
In addition to sauces, I always like a little red cabbage, onion, fresh cilantro, sliced tomato…obviously, there are endless possibilities, the rest is up to you!
While everything all together can be a lot to cook for one night, the falafel itself is pretty quick and if you make a big batch of tzatziki, bread, etc, you can have several easy weeknight meals worth of food. Falafel is best served fresh, but any leftovers can be crisped up again in a toaster oven.
Don’t be intimidated by pita from scratch, deep frying, or red cabbage. Give homemade falafel a try! You won’t be disappointed.