I’m not exactly kidding when I throw that number out there. Chickpeas are amazing. Seriously, those cans of chickpeas I get for 80 cents a pop at Trader Joe’s don’t last very long without being eaten. There are more things to do with chickpeas than humans can fathom with our feeble minds. I’m not even here to talk about canned chickpeas, today – Besides, dry chickpeas are cheaper, aren’t they?
When I have a giant pile of dry chickpeas and don’t feel like making the effort of cooking them in a pressure cooker, falafel is the best. Yet another middle-eastern classic that has invaded American food culture in a wonderful way. In downtown Seattle near Pike Place, Zaina is a restaurant that will serve reliably amazing falafel. And further amazingly, I will keep going back there and paying dollar after dollar despite their product costing only cents to make, because it’s just that good.
Falafel only works with dried chickpeas, prepared in a certain way. Don’t try and use pre-cooked, canned, frozen, or otherwise – the laws of nature just don’t seem to allow for this, and your poor soul will regret the decision. The cheapest option, dried chickpeas, soaked in water for 24 hours, is the only way to make perfect falafel.
I’m not one to complain about this, though – If I’m allowed the cheapest ingredients and my only requirement is to plan 24 hours ahead, with next to zero additional effort? Hell yes. So here we go. Take a little less than 2 cups of chickpeas – about 1 3/4 cups – and cover them with water by a few inches. Then put them on the counter and leave them alone.
Just walk away, and don’t come back until the sun (or moon; look outside if you’re wondering which one to look for here) is around the same place as it was the previous day. Osmosis will work its magic and you’ll have perfect falafel-makings.
When you’re ready to make the falafel, start heating at least two inches of neutral vegetable oil (canola, soybean, grapeseed, peanut, or what-have-you) in a large pot to 350 degrees.
The chickpeas will be bigger- about double or triple their original volume. You can even eat them now – they’ll be crunchy and taste kind of like a pea. You don’t want to eat them like this, though – you’ll want your delicious falafel mix. Throw them into a food processor with…. stuff.
What kind of stuff? The only requirement here is a half-teaspoon of baking powder and a tablespoon of lemon juice or another acid, like white wine vinegar, along with some salt ad pepper. Although I shouldn’t have to mention salt and pepper. You already add those by default, right? Right.
Anyway, what other stuff? I personally like Mark Bittman’s recipe. Half an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of ground coriander and a tablespoon of cumin, a little less than a teaspoon of cayenne, and a big handful of parsley. Throw all of this together into the food processor.
Sadly, I haven’t found a way to do this without a food processor. But they’re an incredibly nice gadget to have, if you don’t own one already. I’m sure you’ve seen countless recipes involving one, so it will never collect dust. Ever.
Anyway, pulse this all together until finely minced, but not quite pureed. Drizzle a little bit of water in if it needs a little help coming together – It should basically be a fine paste of tiny chickpea chunks. You know it is ready when you can squeeze a handful together and it clumps easily. That means the falafel won’t fall apart during cooking. You now have delicious, amazing falafel mix.
Form this mixture into small, round-ish shapes about the size of a golf ball. I like them a little more puck-shaped, so I flatten them a bit – it makes them easier to serve later, and it’s a bit non-standard, which is also appealing. Squeeze as much water as you can out of the balls as you’re forming them – the less water in the falafel, the less they’ll fall apart during cooking.
Once you have the whole mixture in attractive ball-shapes, tend to your frying oil. It should reach 350 degrees – if you don’t have a thermometer, get one. If you think I’m stupid and you don’t want to get one, then at least heat it up until a little bit of the falafel mix sizzles nicely when you throw some into the oil.
Once the oil is up to temperature, fry the falafel, moving it in and out of the oil with a slotted spoon or spider, until floating, brown, crispy, and delicious. You’ll be doing this in batches, so don’t crowd the falafel – only fry as much as you can manage at one time. When one batch is done, check the oil, then fry the next. Eventually, everything will be done, and you’ll have a pile of delicious.
By the way, at this point, if you used any kind of pre-cooked chickpea variety, it would have just fallen apart in the oil and made a huge mess. No good.
Now, eat. If you don’t want to eat these with your hands directly out of the fryer, which is a perfectly valid option, I guess you could put them on stuff. Pita bread with hummus or tzatziki sauce and veggies is classic. In my case, I put them between two pieces of bread with homemade sauce of greek yogurt, mint, and olive oil, along with some spring greens I had in my fridge at the time. Just like meatballs, the possibilities are endless. I guess this also appeals to the vegetarians among us, but falafel is amazing no matter what your dietary choices are.