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The ABCs of Falafel: Ancestry, Basic Recipe & Creative Spin-Offs

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

exploring-falafel

National Pride

Since the beginning of time, there have been countless disagreements over boundaries and borders, Gods and idols . . . and food. Yes, even something as mundane as food can elicit strong emotions. For example, did you know that in 2008 chickpeas became a political hot button? The president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists filed a lawsuit against the nation of Israel for food copyright infringement. This, dear friends, is known as The “Hummus Wars.”

To further promote national pride, the government of Lebanon petitioned the EU to have hummus classified as a uniquely Lebanese food. Of course, a battle over whose bean dip reigns supreme can only be settled in the kitchen. In January 2010 Israeli cooks assembled the largest plate of hummus, a staggering 4,082 kilograms. Not to be outdone, 300 Lebanese chefs retaliated with a Guinness World Record plateful (actually it was a satellite dish) weighing in at 10,450 kg. To this day, Lebanon is undefeated.

The 2008 debate over hummus was repeated, in Groundhog Day fashion in 2010 with the falafel kerfuffle. According to Haaretz.com:

300 Lebanese chefs fried 5 tons of falafel balls. Coincidently, only two weeks later in New York City, an Israeli chef managed to fry a 24 lb. falafel ball. Not appetizing. So who’s right?

Falafel most likely originated in Egypt (though others claim it comes from India), where it is called ta’amiya and is made from fava beans. Jews who lived in Egypt and Syria where exposed to falafel for centuries. Does that give them the right to use it then in their new country? Falafel is so synonymous with Israeli food that the Israeli Ministry of Information and Diaspora Affairs has even asked Israelis to explain to people abroad that Israel has plenty more to offer, and that Israelis do not eat falafel and hummus three times a day!

Wow!

The Falafel Kerfuffle

And then there's what I've termed the Palestinian conflagration, those who feel that an Arab food has been appropriated by those "across the border and that conflict will probably never be resolved" (my quote, not that of anyone else). Jodi Kantor expressed the problem so eloquently in her July 10, 2002, article in the New York Times:

It's nice to think that sharing a cherished food brings enemies together, easing tension and misunderstanding. But the world's rawest conflicts can include disagreements over common foodstuffs. . . . Jews and Arabs argue about falafel in a way that reflects the wider conflict, touching on debates over territory and history. 'Food always migrates according to immigration and commerce,'' said Yael Raviv, an Israeli student at New York University who wrote her Ph.D. thesis on Israeli nationalism and cuisine. ''But because of the political situation, falafel has taken on enormous significance.' ''

What Is Falafel, Anyway?

Perhaps some of you have never tasted falafel, or don't even know what it is. We start with raw chickpeas which are soaked overnight to soften them, and then they are ground. The resulting mash is mixed with garlic, parsley, cumin, and coriander. The fragrant dough is then formed into balls or patties and deep-fried. It has become quite popular in recent years because chickpeas offer nutrients, fiber, are gluten-free, and are a great source of non-animal protein.

Basic Falafel Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried chickpeas
  • water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves (no stems)
  • 3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (a few small stems are OK)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Place the chickpeas in a medium-sized bowl. Cover with enough cold water so that the level of the water is two inches above the chickpeas. Stir in the baking soda. Soak at least 18 and up to 24 hours. Drain and pat dry.
  2. Place the drained chickpeas, onion, garlic, fresh herbs, spices, flour, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Process until everything is finely minced and well mixed.
  3. Scrape the mixture into a container, seal, and chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour or overnight. This will help it to stick together when you cook.
  4. When ready to cook stir the baking powder into the falafel mixture. Shape into patties (this recipe should make about 24).
  5. Heat 3 inches of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Fry the patties, just a few at a time, for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. If you prefer to not deep-fry, you can bake the falafel in a 350-degree oven on a lightly oiled rimmed baking sheet for 15-20 minutes, turning once after 8 minutes.
  7. Raw falafel patties can be frozen for up to one month and then cooked from frozen.
Falafel waffle

Falafel waffle

Falafel Waffle

What can you do if you want a healthy (not deep-fried) falafel, but the oven-baked version just doesn't give you all the crispy crunchiness that you desire? Bake your falafel in a non-stick waffle iron.

Pure genius, right?

Sierra shares her own recipe for falafel waffles, but I think it would be OK to use the one provided above. Follow her directions for heating and prepping the waffle iron and for how long to cook your "falaffels."

Falafel Salad

Falafel Salad

Falafel Salad

This isn't a salad with cooked, crumbled falafel. It's more fun than that. This healthy salad is full of falafel ingredients. You start with chickpeas (of course), add plenty of fresh parsley and cilantro, dice some tomatoes for color, and make a tahini dressing spiced with garlic and cumin. The original recipe calls for bulgur wheat for added taste and texture. You could use couscous in place of the bulgur wheat, or make it gluten-free by using quinoa.

Falafel curry

Falafel curry

Falafel Curry

Bianca shares her own recipe for homemade falafel and then simmers them in a curry sauce. I could eat a bowl of the sauce all by itself; it's made of coconut milk and tomato puree with warm notes of ginger and garam masala.

Of course, you can use your own falafel or ready-made from the grocer, but Bianca warns that if they are too soft they might collapse in the simmer sauce. Warming the falafel and the sauce separately is probably your best option.

Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

Comments

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 04, 2020:

Linda

All good fornovel inspiration

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

Lawrence, it's always good to hear from you. It seems that you have led a very colorful life.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 04, 2020:

Linda

When I was in Jordan (many years ago) I was instructed by my Jordanian friends that Hummus was to Jordan what Fish and chips are to the English!

They used to admit (reluctantly) that felafel might not be from Jordan, but they'd never admit that about Hummus!!

Great hub which brought back a few memories.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 11, 2020:

Thank you Audrey for your kind words.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on April 11, 2020:

Chickpeas are a favorite of mine so these recipes are a gift. Your photos are so inviting that anyone would want to try making Falafel. I love the history you share on particular foods included in your marvelous articles.

Thanks again, Linda and be safe.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 08, 2020:

Flourish, I try not to. I can honestly say that I won't promote something that I won't eat (so you will never see an article endorsing beets).

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 08, 2020:

I’ve never had this but you don’t steer people wrong. Thanks for the rich background information.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 07, 2020:

Dora, thanks for your kind comments. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 07, 2020:

Shauna, he had the same comment the week before about tabbouleh. He plays dumb but, I'm pretty sure he really does know more than he lets on.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 07, 2020:

I've had falafel, falafel salad and falafel sandwich, and I really like the taste. Thank you for the recipe. I've tried the falafel mix but I'm putting this on my to do list.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 07, 2020:

I do like falafels, but I have to be in the mood for them.I like them with either Israeli salsa or tzatziki sauce.

I knew Bill would have a reaction to this piece. And I knew he'd think you were making it up. (Or is he just pulling your leg??!)

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 07, 2020:

Bill, you didn't let me down. After last week, I knew what your reaction to this one would be. My dear you have led such a sheltered life. Enjoy the sunshine this week.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 07, 2020:

You're making this stuff up now, aren't you? There's no such thing as Falafel, is there? lol

Loved the history/story, of course, even if it is fiction. :)

Happy Tuesday my friend!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 07, 2020:

Eric I had forgotten about that recipe. I think I'll make it today. Wish you could join us.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 06, 2020:

Wonderful story. I think I will try the curry one. Although I may not have all the stuff so it may have to wait.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 06, 2020:

John I'm so glad you stopped by. Yes I'm always looking for new topics and I'll put pavlova on the list. Thanks.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 06, 2020:

Thank you for the history lesson, Linda. Very interesting. I have never tried "falafel" well wasn't really sure what it was. I have made red lentil and chic pea patties though so I guess that would have been similar without realising it.

Another great dispute food-wise is where the pavlova originated, Australia or New Zealand. Maybe you can research that one.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 06, 2020:

Pamela, your comments are always so sweet and encouraging and positive. Thank you for your friendship.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 06, 2020:

The falafel recipe looks delicious and not too difficult to make I have never cooked with fava beans although I have cook many types of dried beans for numerous dishes over the years. i actually thing the falafel salad looks better then anything else. Thanks for sharing all this interesting information and the recipes.

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