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The Gateway to Frying at Home
I like frying at home as much as anything, and among my favorite things to plunge into oil is falafel. (I was reminded of this last week, when my sister made her brilliant latkes for the Festival of Frying, often called Chanukah. We made latkes at home, too, in mid-week. But you’ve read enough latke articles this month.)
Besides my fondness for it, though, frying falafel at home has two things to further boost it: One, you can customize it, so it’s likely to wind up being the greatest falafel you’ve ever tasted. (There’s a reason falafel is a staple as a meat substitute: It’s awesome.) And two, it’s among the best foods on which to practice deep-frying, because it works, reliably. As a bonus, the spattering is minimal. (This isn’t squid.)
Having said all of that, and having written a number of falafel recipes in my time, I recognize that it gives people some trouble: There are times the batter simply falls apart when it hits the oil. That’s kind of a food processor problem—if your machine isn’t powerful enough, or you overload it, you’re going to be tempted to add too much water to the mix. That loosens the batter, sometimes catastrophically.
The solution (other than reverting to a mortar and pestle, which you may want to do, but I don’t) is to either work in batches, or produce only as much as your machine can handle. I happen to have a massive Breville, and it’ll grind three or even four cups of soaked beans at once; I never make more than that anyway (the amount approaches main-course size for six or eight people), and usually stick to a couple of cups. If your food processor has an eight-cup capacity, you should be fine.
Forget instant falafel, and forget starting with chickpea or fava bean flour, which is too fine. (Use that for socca.) But don’t forget to soak the beans—for 24 hours if you can. Start with either chickpeas or dried split favas, or a combination (that’s the best, I think), soak them, and combine them with—well, see the recipe, which is from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. (I’ve included the sesame variation, which I like a lot. I’ve also included my recipe for Baked Falafel, which is different. I won’t say much about it except a) obviously these ones aren't fried—therefore, they're somewhat easier, and b) people love them.) When it comes to additions, the sky’s the limit, kind of—I put some fresh ginger in the batch I made last night; not traditional, but hardly heresy, and good.
You can shape the falafel with wet hands, and you’ll get nice little balls (or whatever shape you like). But it’s easier and less messy to just scoop the mixture out with a small ice cream scoop, or a big melon baller, or (as I did here) a soupspoon. None of these give you as much control over the shape, but so what?
Temperature should be in the low-to-mid 300s, but really there’s no need to measure. Use plenty of oil and medium heat; add a little batter and, when it sizzles but doesn’t burn, try to maintain that temperature. It’s not difficult. The results, when done right, are not at all greasy and barely stain a towel when rested on it. Serve hot or warm.
There are a number of different possibilities for dipping sauces, but I gotta say that, as with most fried food, my favorite is a squeeze of fresh lemon and a sprinkle of coarse salt. SO good.
One of the things that makes falafel different from other bean fritters is that it’s made from uncooked beans. It’s best when the beans are soaked for a full day in plenty of water; the result is a wonderfully textured and moist interior with a crisp, browned exterior. The spices and aromatics add to the fabulous bean flavor, and it wouldn’t be unheard of to double or even triple the amount of garlic if you like. Serve falafel, as I do, on their own with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt, on top of a green salad, or in a pita with all the fixings (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, tahini sauce, etc). And if you really want to go all out, you can even make your own pita.
The baking makes lighter falafel, and they're nearly as crunchy as deep-fried. Plus, the whole operation is a little easier. This makes a big batch, which is fine, since you can refrigerate the leftovers for several days, or freeze them for a couple of months. To reheat, wrap them in foil and bake at 350 until they’re hot throughout, 15 to 30 minutes depending on whether they were frozen.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.