“Wait. You’re telling me that you have never – NEVER! – eaten falafel?” he exclaimed, narrowly missing the turning onto Boulevard Rothchild as we made our way to dinner one impossibly hot and humid evening in downtown Tel Aviv. “No!” I replied, “I have never – NEVER! – eaten falafel!“. He looked at me with that look he has; the one that asks how have you lived this long with such ignorance? He was then – and still is – one of my favourite people in the world for I love people who speak frankly and who go out of their way to address my shortcomings. The very next day I received an invitation to join him at the wondrous Carmel Market – Shuk Ha’Carmel – where all life was laid out for us to savour. Hemp sacks overflowing with dried fruit and nuts; small mountains of ultra-fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs; tiny kiosks housing spice masters, street hawkers, bakers, florists, fishermen and artisan makers of sweet treats decorated with pistachio nuts and dried rose petals. And then there’s the falafel sellers serving up crispy little bites of heaven stuffed in fluffy just-baked bread adorned with finely chopped salad drizzled with tahini sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice. My friend had been brought here as a child and there I was, a veritable child myself in respect of my knowledge of Israeli cuisine at that time, tasting it all for the first time. I will never forget that moment as the deep umami flavours came to life in my mouth; I laughed, he laughed – I had now eaten falafel, my life was complete, In fact, my life had only just started.
200g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water
1 tsp mixed peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
Half red onion, roughly chopped
1 large clove of garlic, roughly chopped
25g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
25g flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Half tsp chilli flakes
Half tsp sea salt flakes
2-4 tbsp gram flour
Rapeseed oil, for frying
How I make it
Place a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the peppercorns, cumin and coriander seeds. Stir around for a few minutes until the aromatic oils are released. Pour them into a cool dish and set aside to cool. Using a small processor or pestle and mortar, grind to a powder.
Place the onion, garlic, coriander, parsley, chilli flakes and sea salt into a food processor and blend to a paste. Add the soaked chickpeas and the toasted spice blend and pulse until all the ingredients are combined. If your mixture is too wet, add a couple of tablespoons of gram flour to bring it together, adding more only if you feel it needs it.
Shape the mixture unto around 10 small balls or four larger ones to make patties for burgers.
Place a large frying pan over a high heat and add around 1cm of rapeseed oil. Bring up to temperature and gently lower half the balls – or two patties – into the oil. Fry until golden brown on all sides. Carefully remove from the pan and place on a cooling rack covered with kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil. Repeat until all the falafels/patties are cooked.
Serve immediately with Greek yoghurt stirred through with rose harissa, or lemon-scented labneh with zhoug or a bowl of tahini and lemon sauce and freshly baked flatbreads.
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