Thursday, January 5, 2012

CB Cooks: Falafel and pita bread

Falafel sammie with onions, poblanos, carrots, and tahini
One of my all time favorite foods is falafel, which is basically fried balls of some combination of chickpeas and/or fava beans. You might know I love anything involving beans, and the combination of beans and frying is a total winner. I'm pretty sure the healthiness of the beans and veggies totally outweighs any downside of frying stuff in oil. I tried for YEARS - literally - to make them at home, but they failed every time, falling apart in the oil, turning into fried hummus.

I think it was about a year ago I found another way, a method somehow I'd missed in my research. Don't use cooked beans! I found some recipe somewhere that suggested soaking the beans overnight, then grinding up the RAW beans for use in falafel. For whatever reason, this makes it much easier to keep the bean balls in one piece, and makes for a deliciously textured falafel.

I've also dabbled in bread baking (I love the book Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day) and tried making some pita bread for my falafel. It didn't really turn out like the super thin pita "pockets" found in many Lebanese restaurants, but it was still pretty awesome. It's more like normal soft bread, without a hard crust, kind of like hamburger buns or torta bread. 

There aren't too many things better than freshly baked homemade bread.

For the CB falafel:
A bunch of chickpeas and/or fava beans, soaked in water overnight (I think I used 1 pound of beans, which yielded 11-12 big falafels)
Tahini (sesame paste- it's like a more liquidy peanut butter, but made out of sesame seeds)
1/2 big white onion
5-6 cloves garlic
Handful cilantro
Cumin, salt, pepper, any other seasonings you like
A little bit of flour

For the bread:
1.5 cups flour
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal for dusting (optional, but helpful)

The bread:
1) Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a big bowl

2) Add about 1 cup water, mix

3) With your hands, divide up the dough ball into 4 little balls, then hand-roll them out into little circles

4) Put them on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal (so they don't stick as much) and preheat the oven to as close to 500°F you can get. If you don't want to bake them immediately, cover them with a clean kitchen towel so they don't dry out

Ready for the oven
5) Bake for ~3-10 minutes- but watch closely! Once they puff up, they're pretty much done!

Doesn't that just look magical!?
The falafel:
1) In a food processor, process the beans, onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeño (you might have to do it in batches)

2) In a big bowl, add about a tablespoon of tahini, a tablespoon of flour, and your seasonings. Mix well!

3) Grab a clump of the mixture, smush it together in your hand- if it seems like it will stay together, you're good to go! If not, add some more flour.

4) Form little balls in your hands, pressing them to make sure they won't fall apart. Place on a cookie sheet or something. I've found it helps to put the balls in the fridge for a while before frying.

Ready for the fridge, or the oil
5) Get 1-2 inches of oil hot in a pan, then fry the balls. Because it's not deep frying, they turn out to be more like patties instead of balls... But I think that's better for sandwiches anyway.

6) As soon as both sides of the patties are nice and brown, remove from oil and place on some paper towel to absorb residual oil. Immediately sprinkle with salt; repeat for remaining patties.

When you first drop the falafel in the pan, DON'T MOVE IT for at least a minute! You want to form a nice crust, which will help the ball stay together. Don't worry about it sticking to the pan- once the crust forms, it will become unstuck.

WARNING: Don't crowd the pan! You want to fry these guys, not steam them. 
SUGGESTION: If you have any cast iron cookware, this is an ideal time to use it! It will thank you later.

Mmmmm so crispy, salty, and chickpea-y
7) Serve immediately in your fresh "pita" bread!

- I like my falafel in bread, with lots of toppings. This time I used sliced onions, raw poblano strips, and thin carrot strips I cut with a peeler. If I had any, cucumbers and tomato are great additions.
- Tahini alone makes a great sauce- I tried making a lime-garlic-tahini sauce for this, but it tasted like messed up candy...
- Falafel burger!

Apparently in Egypt or Lebanon (or both?) McDonald's has a McFalafel
I wonder if this tastes better than that...


  1. Have you been to Naf Naf? I need to find a clone pita recipe for their pita bread. It stays soft even in the fridge. You should check it out.

  2. I haven't! I'll have to check them out


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