My obsession with creating perfect falafel began almost a year ago, after a vacation in Seattle. We visited Pioneer Square, near Pike Place Market, and stepped into an unassuming place called Zaina for lunch. Despite there being a pretty good sized line in the tiny restaurant, there was only one person there doing everything. I ordered a falafel wrap and watched as she dropped mini-scoops of falafel into a huge vat of bubbling oil. There was an industrial-sized griller that she used to press each pita wrap one by one before filling it with fresh-out-of-the-oil falafel. Biting into this falafel was heaven—it was crisp and golden on the outside and the inside was somehow fluffy and doughy at the same time. Since then, I have tried to replicate that falafel with limited success, until I did these four things:
- used dried chickpeas soaked in water overnight and did not boil them;
- stored the chickpea flour in the freezer before adding it to the falafel mixture (you can also use plain flour, but I've found that chickpea flour results in a fluffier falafel);
- refrigerated the falafel mixture for 4-5 hours prior to frying and kept it as cold as possible before frying it; and
- submerged the falafel balls completely in hot oil when frying (as opposed to frying them in a shallow pool of oil, then flipping them).
I also discovered that the addition of vegenaise to the usual tahini dressing mixture of fresh lemon juice, tahini, pepper and a splash of water, gives it a richness that complements the falafel perfectly!
for the falafel:
1 cup of dried chickpeas, picked over and rinsed, soaked overnight in plenty of water
1 cup onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, rinsed and dried very well
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, rinsed and dried very well
6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 tsp baking powder
8 TB chickpea flour (or plain flour), stored in the freezer overnight
1 tsp salt
1 tsp habanero powder
1 TB cumin
vegetable oil, for frying
for the tahini sauce:
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup vegenaise
1/2 cup water, plus more for thinning the dressing out as desired
Place the chickpeas into a food processor and grind into a coarse mixture, ensuring that all chickpeas are pulverized, but also ensuring that it is not overprocessed into a smooth mixture. Transfer to a bowl. Place the rest of the falafel ingredients into a food processor and blend until the mixture is cohesive. Transfer that to the bowl with the pulverized chickpeas and stir to combine.
Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours prior to frying.
Make your tahini dressing by whisking the tahini, lemon juice, vegenaise and water in a small bowl. Refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
Once you are ready to make the falafel, pour plenty of oil into a small saucepan (enough to cover the size of the falafel) over high heat. While you are waiting for the oil to heat, scoop out a small amount of the falafel mixture—enough to make a golf-sized ball and repeat until all of the falafel has been used.
Your oil should be ready by now. Test it by throwing a pinch of the batter into the oil. If it sizzles immediately, its ready. Using a slotted spoon, carefully submerge the falafel into the oil one by one. Do not overcrowd the falafel in the pan. Once you drop the falafel into the oil, wait about 7 seconds, then insert the spoon under the falafel and gently lift it to ensure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Drain the falafel on paper towels as you finish each batch.
Serve the falafel with pita bread, tahini dressing, black olives, bulghur tabouli and hummus. Sriracha goes well with the falafel and tahini sauce.