The traditional way of making falafel involves soaking chickpeas, blending them up with onion, herbs and spices, then deep frying them into crispy balls of perfection. The key point here is that the chickpeas aren’t cooked – if they were, they falafel would fall apart and you’d need flour or breadcrumbs to hold the falafel together. To me, this defeats the purpose, especially if you’re serving the falafel in a pita. I want to fill my pita with beans, not bread (it’s the age-old veggie burger versus bread burger dilemma).
For lack of good falafel in the Cotswolds, I’ve tried making my own falafel the traditional way but it’s always been a disaster, primarily at the deep frying step. I don’t think I can get my oil hot enough on the electric hob (that, or I’m scared). So the falafel just ends up soaking up all the oil and then falling into greasy gross pieces.
I’ve experimented with several baked falafel recipes, all of which involve using cooked chickpeas, or in Leon’s case, chickpea flour. The baked falafel I made with my sister was decent, but not exactly ultimate.
At last I came across this baked falafel recipe, adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, which follows the traditional method of soaking the chickpeas. To get around the fried bit, olive oil is included in the falafel mixture itself, and in the baking tray.
I’ve made these twice now, and while they don’t have quite the same wow-factor as really good deep-fried falafel, they are still pretty damn good and, as it seems, worth making again and again. They also keep well in the freezer which makes them handy for lunches (I re-heat them in the toaster!).
I like to serve mine with a simple tahini sauce made with lemon juice, tahini and enough water to make a drizzle-able dressing. Chilli jam or harissa is nice, too.
The next thing to master are those great pickles you get with falafel in good falafel joints. The best I’ve ever had were the falafel and pickles from Arabica in Borough Market, though the last time I had them they weren’t quite as good as I remember. (I’ve since been told I must go to Mr. Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush.)
Is it pickled turnips I’m after? And I haven’t even touched on the falafel sauce. Tzatziki? Tahini? Hot sauce? All of the above?
Recipe: Baked Falafel