Falafel-Favorite Street Food of the Middle East

by Sarah on May 22, 2010

falafel

Although falafel is one of the most well loved street foods of the Middle East it has taken me more than a year to post a recipe. Like macaroons in France, falafel is not usually made at home. Why bother when there are professional falafel makers all over the country that have perfected the craft. It takes speed and dexterity to produce the perfect falafel ball and only those with experience can attempt frying batches while simultaneously watching the local sports and chatting with customers. I have tried getting recipes from these falafel vendors but this is a closely guarded secret and even asking is met with suspicion.

Jackie's Falafel in Ramle

chickpeas

Sourcing Bulgarian chickpeas in Shuk Levinsky in Tel Aviv

After hummus, falafel is another famous street food which gets Middle Easterners into paroxysms. Israelis, it seems, love falafel a little too much. This culinary icon has not gone unnoticed and there are some who argue that it can’t possibly be an Israeli food as it is quintessential Arab. And what better way than proving ownership than breaking the world’s record, time and time again.

falafel

Arab vender in Jerusalem selling huge falafel and bagels

falafel

Huge falafel served with zaatar in a newspaper

All this record breaking will undoubtedly drive the cost of the poor chickpea to astronomical levels. It is best to invest in them before another elephant sized tub of hummus or sofa cushion falafel ball is made and international press have a field day thinking up of witty headlines. Which brings me to the question- why are all the other wonderful Middle Eastern foods ignored in all this rivalry. I would love to see kubba challenges for a change.

falafel

Falafel

Falafel is made throughout the Levant but originated in ancient Egypt. The Christian Copts, believed to be the descendent of the ancient Egyptians, continue to make falafel, or Tam’iya as it is known there. In Egypt falafel is generally made with fava beans but in the Levant the chickpeas version is more common due to its wide availability. In Israel, many Jews have a hereditary condition called favism, a type of enzyme deficiency which causes hemolytic anemia if fava beans are eaten. To avoid this problem, most falafel stands use chickpeas.

1 1/2 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight

1/2 onion, roughly chopped

1 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 cup fresh parsley/coriander (cilantro)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cumin

Soak the chickpeas over night in purified water, changing the water a few times. In a food processor add the chickpeas (not cooked), onions, garlic,  parsley/coriander, spices and baking soda. Blend until the mixture is grainy. Form pingpong sized balls, trying not to compact them too much. Fry in vegetable oil until golden. Serve with tehina and tomato and cucumber salad. Amba and preserved lemons are also condiments which go well with falafel ( especially if bought at  Shuk Hatikva.)

falafel

Tips:

It should not be necessary to add flour or eggs as binding agents, both are not traditional. Never cook the chickpeas before making them into falafel balls otherwise they will disintegrate during frying!! The smaller chickpeas, bulgari or hadas is recommended.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Miriam/The Winter Guest May 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Well, falafel is one of my favourite foods too!

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Patty Price May 22, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Your photos are incredible! We are so lucky in Marin County, California because we have Avi Cohen at the Marin farmers market who comes from Israel and makes the most incredible falafels to order right on the spot and they are good! So, I have never made my own falafel but I would if I didn’t know Avi, I ‘m going to save your recipe because it looks fantastic and makes me wish I had a falafel right now!

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Yael May 22, 2010 at 10:55 pm

It’s like Humus, everyone has their own favourite falafel place. In my opinion the best falafel is in Haifa, in Wadi Nisnas.

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Cherine May 23, 2010 at 12:13 am

Your falafel look wonderful. I love falafel, but the recipe i know includes fava beans also in them along with the chickpeas! Love the photos!

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Yael the Finn May 23, 2010 at 7:13 am

I love falafel but try not to eat it too often(fattening!) My favourite falafel place is the organic Hippo falafel opposite Rabin Square.They also have the best sauces to accompany the falafel in the pita!

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vivaS May 23, 2010 at 7:30 am

nice pics .. can’t wait to try the recipe ..
btw , neither falafel nor hummus are Israeli food ..
just stolen Arabic food ..

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Faye Levy May 23, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Very interesting note about why chickpeas are used in Israel to make falafel. I have discussed falafel with Lebanese chefs and restaurateurs in California and Dearborn, Michigan and several used a mixture of fava beans and chickpeas and gave different reasons for the choice. Some said it’s a matter of taste, that the falafel is tastier when both legumes are combined. Others said it’s a question of cost, that fava beans are cheaper.
Faye Levy, author, “Feast from the Mideast”

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OysterCulture May 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I’m in heaven, this falafel sounds amazing, I cannot wait to make some for myself. Its been a while as the last time I did I got a bad burn, so I was happy just buying them even if they are not as good as homemade. But its time to try my hand at them again.

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Silvia May 25, 2010 at 8:19 am

I’ve just finished frying them and they are super delicious! And this is the first time I succeeded making them without falling apart particles. Thank you for sharing your recipe!

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Sarah May 25, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Silvia, Thanks for telling me how they came out. I think I forgot to add that the oil has to be super hot otherwise the falafel can fall apart. You seem to have figured that out.
Eleonora, I ate fava beans a few days ago, but not in the form of falafel. My Tunisian neighbor cooks them simpy and we eat them dipped in cumin and salt. I should try the fava bean falafel to compare, which is made with just the white interior of the seed. Next time I am in Rome I will look for the Syrian falafel stand.
BTW, the little molds for falafel or meatballs are on sale here in most kitchen stores, although surprisingly I don’t have one (they cost a couple of shekels only)

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Eleonora May 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Ciao Sarah!

This is the best falafel post ever. Detailed, comprehensive, passionate and… well, yes–downright delicious. I think I prefer the fava bean version, then again just today I had to satisfy my falafel fix and enjoyed a chickpea kind in Rome’s Jewish quartier. It was made with what looked like a special mold which shaped each ball into identical mini tubs. I nonetheless polished it off.

Favism is quite widespread in the Mediterranean, and not restricted to Jews. It’s a geography thing, I guess. Another type of hemolitic dysfunction is Mediterranean Anemia… underproduction of hemoglobin. The poetic name is the Greek word thalassemia, which means “sea in the blood.” But I’m rambling.

The best falafel in Rome (in case you’re interested) is crafted in a Syrian joint open ’til 4 am, buried deep in the bowels of the Rome projects, an urban development far from the eternal city’s beauty. I often sneak off to Ali Baba all by myself and indulge in a “large” with-everything-on-it as often as my liver possibly allows.

Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving your kind comments throughout.

Ciao,
Eleonora xx

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lindentea May 28, 2010 at 8:20 am

I love your pictures! I just soaked the chickpeas and will be making these tomorrow, will let you know how they turn out. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

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lindentea May 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm

The last time I had good falafel was years ago in Israel. I just made these for lunch and they were fantastic! Thank you so much for the recipe.

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Cherine June 8, 2010 at 11:51 am

The best food ever :) Love falafel and urs look DELICIOUS!!

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eleni June 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Loved what you did here… the colors are so tempting… I love falafel and you made me want one – dipped in yogurt…!!

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Mary June 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Those are BEAUTIFUL! Can’t wait to try these!

xxMK
Delightful Bitefuls

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Sarah June 8, 2010 at 1:46 pm

thank you!

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Amber November 25, 2010 at 5:08 am

I just made these and they were fantastic! We had a couple friends over and everyone was a little confused asking, “where I bought the falafel” because we don’t have access to any places that sell falafel for 50-100 miles.

I was always under the impression that falafel would be a nightmare to make, but they are not very difficult (and that’s coming from an inexperienced cook!!). Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!

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Sarah November 25, 2010 at 5:29 am

Glad the recipe worked for you

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usha April 19, 2011 at 4:31 am

Thank you for the recipe for felafel. I had not known that they were this easy to make. In my years in the UAE, felafel and shawarma were my favourite street food .
Great photos, Sarah.

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Terry May 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Thank you Sarah! I just made a batch of these and they were awesome! I had tried other recipes in the past, without success, so I was a little bit fearful of failure. This will definitely be my go-to recipe for falafel!!!

PS.- Just one question, is it baking powder or baking soda? You use both word at different parts of the recipe. I ended up using half and half.

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Sarah May 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Thanks Terry for that nice comment. I am very happy it worked out for you. I usually use baking powder in the recipe, need to fix the recipe.

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Aélis December 19, 2012 at 2:34 am

My daughter loves falafel. “L’as des falafels” makes the best one in Paris.
So, I made yours and now all the family loves falafel.
It’s so easy and your recipe is just perfect.
Thank you so much
Have a niece day !

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Sarah December 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

Thanks Aélis for taking the time to comment. Happy the recipe worked out for you :-)

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