Saturday, 4 June 2011

Falafel (Middle Eastern Chickpea Croquets) with Tahini Sauce

Falafel doesn’t need much of Introduction. Even though this dish is of Middle Eastern descend, and supposedly known to be originated in Egypt, it’s widely popular throughout the world. Falafels are one of the most popular Arabic street foods found in nook and corner of Middle East. They are made of a chick peas and/or Fava beans and are flavored with herbs, garlic and spices. They have crispy and crunchy outer coating with fluffy texture and amazing plethora of flavors in every bite; just to make you crave for yet another bite. They are usually shaped into patties or round shapes and are then deep fried. I have come across many baked versions of falafels, which I have not ventured into. I am yet to gamble into baked version. Frying is quite easy but definitely unhealthy compared to the baked version I have to agree. This is my first success with felafels and I am quite happy with the result. Normally my recipes evolve and change as I keep making them, but I don’t think this would need any modifications. These were that good. I would try baking them, and the result would be updated as soon as possible, so that you can try the healthier version too.

I spent most of my childhood in UAE where these were available in plenty and I was grownup having these little golden nuggets once in every while. For me, falafel has lot of nostalgia to go with it. There used to be, and still there, this small Lebanese shawarma shop (Tarboush) few buildings away from the college where I studied and they had the best shawarma and felafil in town. I had the best falafel from there and never had a better falafel from any other place. Hot, crunchy and instantly fried I used to grab a few on the way back home. My siblings too love them. The guy there, used to give me couple of extras as I used to be a regular customer there. How sweet! Now looking back, I have never had the slightest of clue that these could be prepared at home too! Those days, when I never knew ABCD of cooking, who would have ever thought that these could be replicated at home?

Packed with flavours, I used to be addicted to this chickpea croquets and used to have them once in every while after my classes. We also get falafel sandwich wrapped in pitta bread or Arabic Bread, widely knows as Qubz or Khubz, drizzled with Tahini sauce and some lettuce, tomatoes and pickles gherkins. Nothing could beat the taste of freshly prepared falafel. It smells and tastes AWESOME! While preparing this, as usual, I started researching on net and came up with 359,000 results!!!Not that I went through all of them, but the ones that went through were different from another so that I started reading reviews. As usual, most of the recipes had positive and negative comments. So I had to mix and match many recipes according to the reviews. A day in falafel research. But was well worth it!

The recipe that I started following had flour added to it and while I was just about to mix the flour, I read somewhere that adding flour and egg is not traditional. So I opted out the flour and tested by frying a small ball of falafel without using flour and it worked. Loved the texture and tasted great. So I followed the recipe without adding flour. I have come across many recipes using canned chickpeas, but also read many reviews mentioning canned chick peas don’t work well. I am not in a position to clarify this further, but I won’t be using canned chickpeas for falafel. After all, it’s just the matter of soaking peas.

1 cup , 200g dried chickpeas
1 medium onion, roughly chopped -120g
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped mint (around 10 leaves)
1 teaspoon salt or slightly lesser
1-2 green chillies
4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
¾ teaspoon baking soda (Soda Bicarbonate)
¾ teaspoon sesame seeds
Vegetable oil for frying

Checkout this awesome video of falafel preparation by Titlinihaan, suggested my cousin, Saleema.

1. Wash chickpeas, put them in a large bowl and top the bowl with cold water to cover them by 3-4 inches. Let them soak overnight or 12 hours and then drain them completely in a colander.

2. Using a pestle mortar, roughly crush cumin and coriander.

3. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until you get grainy mixture, that resembles breadcrumbs. Tip the minced chickpeas into a bowl. Keep it aside.

4. Add roughly chopped onions, chopped herbs, chillies, spices and garlic into the food processor again and pulse until coarse. Add minced chickpeas into this and pulse until well combined. Mixture should not be fine, but grainy as couscous.

5. Tip the whole mixture into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the baking soda, sesame seeds and salt. Mix well using a spoon until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour. (I am not sure what the wait is for, but I read in many places that the mixture needs to be kept aside for sometime before frying. Absolutely no harm in experimenting with a little mixture, but I forgot to do that. So fired them all after an hour).

4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts or patties or use a falafel scoop to form shapes. I formed balls with 2 tablespoon of mixture.

5. Heat 3 inches of oil in a deep pan or wok and fry 1 ball to test. Oil should not be too hot so that you get felafels that are cooked only outside leaving the inside uncooked. Keep the heat to medium and fry the balls until they are almost brown. Drain on paper towels.

6. Serve along with Tahini sauce or you can also serve as sandwiches. For falafel sandwich, stuff pita bread of Khubz with falafels, chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper and pickled gherkins and then drizzle with tahini sauce. You can use choice of vegetables you like. Yum!

Tahini Sauce
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Serves: 4-5

Tahini sauce is one of the easiest dips ever, takes under five minutes to whip up and can be prepared ahead of time. It is made of raw tahini which is sesame seed paste and is easily available in any Asian or Middle Eastern Stores. Tahini is also the main ingredient for hummus, Moutabbel and many Middle Eastern dishes. Tahini is slightly bitter in taste, so to mellow down the bitterness and add flavor, lemon juice and/or yogurt is added. You can thin out the sauce by adding water according to your preference. It varies from person to person and my recipe here calls for slightly a thicker version, as thick as yogurt. Once you get the basic recipe in hand, you can add more lemon juice or yogurt to mellow down the unpleasantness of the sauce to your liking. I have given two ranges of the ingredients, start using lesser amount at first and then increase it to suit your palette. I have used the lower range throughout here, except for water where I used 3 tablespoons.


¼ cup tahini paste (sesame seed paste)
1/3 – ½ cup yogurt
2-3 tablespoon of Lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt or as required
2- 4 tablespoon water


1. Stir the bottle of tahini paste well prior to use as the oil stays on top and the paste sediment at the base. In a bowl, add the required amount of tahini paste.

2. Add lemon juice and stir. The mixture will start getting real thick and start to get lumpy.

3.At this point, add yoghurt and salt and mix well using wire whisk to get a smooth sauce.

4. Add water and thin it out as per your preference. I added 3 tablespoons.

N.B: The sauce keeps well in the fridge. But it tends to get thicker when refrigerated, so you would need to thin it out with water.

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