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From a Syrian recipe to a soul-soothing slow-cooked main, we challenge you not to fall in love with these falafel dishes.
The question of where and when falafel originated is hotly contested. Some say it’s an Israeli dish, others Palestinian. Another theory suggests the recipe developed in Egypt before spreading throughout the Middle East. But what is undebatable is that these deep-fried spheres of crushed chickpeas, green herbs and warming spices have become a takeaway staple in the UK – whether you like yours piled onto a herby green salad, squashed into a steaming pitta pocket or rolled into a soft, floury wrap.
The widespread popularity of falafel in the UK is relatively recent. Before the millennium, it could hardly be said to be ubiquitous, but by the early 2000s – propelled by rising numbers of Middle Eastern fast-food restaurants, a burgeoning street food culture and the cult of one Yotam Ottolenghi – it had begun to move into the culinary mainstream. In 2021, you’d be hard-pressed to find a UK town where you can’t get your hands around a falafel wrap, should you so desire.
But what if you want to make your own falafel? Below, you’ll find four recipes for DIY falafel to try at home (note: you will need a food processor or blender). If you’ve got a little time on your hands, start with the classic deep-fried Middle Eastern recipe by Syrian chef Anas Atassi. It requires soaking dried chickpeas for 12 hours overnight, but it’s well worth the effort.
For a shortcut, go for Shelly Westerhausen Worcel’s quick falafel patties. She uses canned chickpeas rather than dried, and pan-fries her falafels for speed and ease. Sally Butcher – the co-owner of acclaimed Middle Eastern restaurant Persepolis in Peckham, south London – also avoids deep-frying her sweet potato falafels, preferring to oven-bake them instead.
If you love tofu almost as much as falafel, you’ll be tempted by the recipe for crunchy ‘faux-lafel’, featuring kalamata olives, turmeric and a dollop of tofu mayonnaise.
Finally, those who can’t face crafting their own falafel from scratch but want to expand their repertoire beyond salads and wraps should try Katrina Meynink’s nourishing recipe, in which shop-bought falafel is slow-cooked with cumin, kale and grilled halloumi.
All that’s left to do is gather your condiments. Chilli sauce, anyone?
Anas Atassi says: “Syrians never make falafel at home, at least my mother never did. There are numerous falafel joints, some better than others, all cheap. So why would you make it? Nowadays, though, I do make my own falafel, to capture the taste of Syria.
“I mix in an assortment of fresh herbs and make up a batch when I have friends over. Everyone picks from the heaped plate of falafel, together with pickles, vegetables, sauce and flatbread, and put together their own sandwiches.”
- 200g dried chickpeas
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 1 bunch coriander
- 1 onion (peeled, cut into quarters)
- 3 garlic cloves (peeled)
- 1 green chilli pepper
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 30ml (1 ½ tbsp) olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 25g sesame seeds
- vegetable oil for frying
Soak the chickpeas in cold water overnight, for at least 12 hours. The chickpeas should swell to twice their size and should feel soft. Drain and rinse.
In a food processor, pulse the soaked chickpeas with the parsley, coriander (stems included), onion, garlic, chilli pepper, cumin, olive oil, salt and pepper for about 2 minutes. The mixture should be well blended, but not too smooth.
Line a large bowl or baking tray with paper towel – you will place the falafel on the paper towel after deep-frying to drain them of excess oil.
Form small balls measuring about 3cm in diameter. Sprinkle them lightly with sesame seeds. Using your fingertips, gently press the seeds into the falafel. Refrigerate the falafel for 30 minutes.
In a large pot, heat the oil to 180°C. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, test-fry a falafel – it’s hot enough when the oil bubbles around the outside of the ball.
Deep-fry a few falafel at a time to keep from overcrowding the pot. Fry for 5–6 minutes, or until brown and cooked completely.
Skim them out of the oil and drain on the paper towel. Falafel are good with tarator or in a pita sandwich with a lot of lettuce.
From Sumac: Recipes And Stories From Syria by Anas Atassi (£25, Murdoch Books), out now
Pan-fried falafel patties
Shelly Westerhausen Worcel says: “This pan-fried version makes recreating falafel in your home kitchen easier than ever. I also rely on canned chickpeas instead of dried so these can come together in minutes instead of days.”
Serves 4 as a main or 6 to 8 as an appetiser
- 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 24g chopped green onions
- 10g chopped coriander
- 10g chopped parsley leaves
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp coriander
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 35–45g plain flour
- vegetable oil, for frying
In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, add the chickpeas, garlic, green onions, cilantro, parsley, salt, coriander, cumin, baking powder, cayenne pepper and black pepper.
Pulse until a coarse meal has formed, about 20 pulses.
Sprinkle in 35g of the flour and pulse another 5 times or until incorporated.
Squeeze a dime-size amount of the dough between your fingers to see if it sticks together. If it doesn’t, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does (up to 45g total).
Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.
Use clean hands to form 5cm by 12mm round patties (you should end up with a total of 20 patties).
Line a plate with two layers of paper towels. In a small 20cm frying pan over medium heat, warm 2cm of vegetable oil. You’ll know the oil is ready when a drop of water sizzles in the pan.
Fry the falafel patties, four at a time, until golden brown on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the falafels to the prepared plate and repeat with the rest of the falafels. Serve right away.
The falafel is best served fresh but can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and reheated in the oven.
Adapted from Tables & Spreads: A Go-To Guide For Beautiful Snacks, Intimate Gatherings, And Inviting Feasts by Shelly Westerhausen Worcel, with Wyatt Worcel (£21.99, Chronicle Books), out now
Sweet potato and spinach falafel
Sally Butcher says: “There are only so many chickpeas a self-respecting vegetarian can eat before he is officially branded a hippy and bought some green jeans and sandals. They are nutritious and cheap, but it’s good to ring the changes. Which is what we’re doing with these falafel. There isn’t a pulse in sight (unless you count the chickpea flour).
“The origin of the word ‘falafel’ is thought to go back to ancient Persian and Sanskrit words for small ball-shaped peppers: thus the word really means ‘little balls’. So we can make them out of pretty much anything and still call them falafel.”
Makes 12–18 (or 4 wraps)
- 2 large sweet potatoes (about 700g), peeled and cut into small cubes
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- ½ tsp salt
- pinch of bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- 2–3 tbsp chickpea flour (or use plain flour)
- big handful of fresh coriander, chopped
- 1 bunch of spinach, very finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas mark 5.
Arrange the potatoes, onion and garlic on an oven tray, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the potato is cooked.
Allow to cool just a little, then blend with the remaining ingredients, but if you are using a blender be careful not to over-process it, as it will become quite pouppy, to use one of my granny’s words.
Using wet hands, roll the mixture into little balls and place on a greased oven tray. Bake for 15–20 minutes or until pleasingly browned (you can also roll them in more chickpea flour, then deep-fry them for about 3 minutes each).
Serve the usual way, in pitta pockets with hummus, salad and pickles.
From Persepolis: Vegetarian Recipes From Peckham, Persia And Beyond by Sally Butcher (£25, Pavilion Books), out now
Crunchy tofu faux-lafel
These falafels are crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, but make sure to serve them freshly fried! Kalamata olives can be omitted entirely or substituted with other types of olives, or even with chopped corn kernels, especially in summer.
Makes 16–18 falafels
- 280g firm tofu
- 90g kalamata olives
- 2 tbsp freshly chopped coriander leaves or snipped chives
- 2 tbsp gram flour
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
- 250ml oil, for frying
- roasted vegetables of your choice
- tofu mayonnaise (below) or good-quality ketchup
In a food processor fitted with an ‘S’ blade, process the tofu until creamy. Transfer it into a mixing bowl.
Drain, pat dry and finely chop the kalamata olives and add them to the tofu with coriander or chives, gram flour, turmeric, salt and pepper. Combine well with a silicone spatula.
Roll into 16–18 even-sized balls, wetting your hands once in a while to prevent the mixture sticking to your hands.
Deep-fry the falafels in hot oil for 2–3 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot or warm with plenty of veggies, cooked and raw and with some tofu mayonnaise or good-quality ketchup.
A vegan version of popular mayonnaise that is much lighter and much less oily than regular mayo or even store-bought vegan mayo.
Makes about 240ml
- 300g tofu
- 60ml olive or sunflower oil
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, to taste
- 1 soft date
- ½ tsp salt
Blend all the ingredients together with 6 tablespoons water until completely smooth.
Taste and adjust the seasonings. If you prefer it tangier, you can add a little more lemon juice or vinegar.
From Totally Tofu: 75 Delicious Protein-Packed Vegetarian And Vegan Recipes (£9.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
The broken falafel: falafel, cumin, kale and grilled halloumi with herb oil
Katrina Meynink says: “So, this guy you can cook overnight – in a pre-emptive strike – as a cure for end-of-week fatigue, or you can give it a quick two hours in the slow cooker.
“Whatever way you spin it, it couldn’t be easier in terms of prep: you literally throw stuff in and shut the lid. Add a bit of juju with the kale and some piping hot squeaky halloumi and you’re good to go.
“I buy my falafels from this wonderful family at my local market. The key is the care in the making of these, so be discerning and take the time to hunt around until you find your favourite. They freeze perfectly and make for one of life’s greatest last-minute snacks.”
- 750g falafel
- 1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 x 400g tins whole tomatoes
- 250ml vegetable or chicken stock
For the herb oil:
- small handful of basil leaves
- 60ml olive oil
- 8–10 cavolo nero leaves, roughly torn
- 8 slices halloumi
- 1 heaped tsp freshly ground cumin
Place the falafel, chickpeas, tomatoes and stock in the bowl of the slow cooker and give everything a gentle stir to combine.
Close the lid and cook for 2 hours on high or set to low and cook overnight.
Just before serving, add the cavolo nero leaves and allow to soften in the sauce for a few minutes.
To make the herb oil, add the basil and oil to a blender and blitz to combine, or use a hand-held blender.
When ready to serve, quickly fry the halloumi in a non-stick frying pan over a high heat.
Gently scoop the falafel mixture into bowls (be careful because the slow cook will mean the falafels have become quite soft.) Top with slices of halloumi.
Drizzle over the herb oil and sprinkle with freshly ground cumin.
Taste and adjust the seasoning. Eat and forget the week that was.
Adapted from Slow Victories: A Food Lover’s Guide To Slow Cooker Glory by Katrina Meynink (£16.99, Hardie Grant), out now
Photography: Yuki Sugiura; Jeroen van der Spek; © 2021 Shelly Westerhausen Worcel; © Ryland Peters & Small; © Katrina Meynink