Most are made with chickpeas or dried broad beans but also love a sweet potato version | Marc Fosh

I have always loved Middle Eastern cookery and I still find the spice mixes and flavour combinations incredibly intoxicating. From the refined tajines and the substantial meze appetizers to the spicy meat dishes and off course, the almost ubiquitous falafel fritter.

I must admit that I came to appreciate the Falafel late in life. I regarded them to be almost exclusively the preserve of vegetarians in the local kebab shop and I only really discovered my love of the falafel in an Israeli deli during a trip to New York. They were delicious…hot and crunchy on the outside, fluffy and herby within, and I instantly knew I wanted more!
It’s no wonder so many countries want to claim the falafel as their own.

Although it is one of the national dishes of Israel, some will tell you that falafel’s extremely ancient origins lie somewhere in Egypt, where it is still an immensely popular snack. Others who claim it as their own include Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Jordan. Indeed, you can find good falafel everywhere from Baghdad to Bawshar! The good news is that a falafel dripping with hot sauce and tahini can be recreated easily right here at home.

Variations on the falafel theme seem to be endless. Most are made with chickpeas or dried broad beans but also love a sweet potato version. Fresh Parsley and coriander appear almost everywhere and ground coriander and cumin are also pretty much a given. Some recipes use cayenne pepper, paprika or chilli flakes to add a little kick and, please don’t forget that salt is extremely impotant in a falafel.

If badly seasoned, they can be very dull, which is why it’s a good idea to fry up a little spoonfull to test the mixture before shaping. Chilling the mixture before cooking also helps with the shaping.

Basic Falafel Recipe

Makes about 25

Ingredients

  • 250g dried chickpeas
  • 30g plain flour
  • ½ medium onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp flat leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp coriander
    zest of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 750ml sunflower oil for deep-frying
  • ½ tsp sesame seeds for coating
  • Salt

Method

Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with cold water at least twice their volume. Set aside to soak overnight. The next day drain the chickpeas.

Place the onion, garlic, lemon, parsley and coriander in a food processor and blend until finely chopped. Add the spices, baking powder, salt, flour and 1 tbsp of water, mix well by hand. Cover the mixture and leave in the fridge for an hour or until ready to use.

Fill a deep pan with enough oil to cover the falafel and heat to around 180 degrees.
With wet hands, press 1-2 tbsp of mixture into the palm of your hand and make a small ball, pressing together well to prevent them breaking apart. Roll lightly in sesame seeds and deep-fry them in batches for 4 minutes or until well browned.

Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Serve in a Pita bread with salad and hummus.