What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.
~Salvadore Dali

Nearly peerless Middle Eastern street food, gracing joints, trucks, carts, stands, stalls, markets and kitchens across the globe. Falafel (فلافل) is a fried ball or croquette made from chickpeas, fava beans or both, often pocketed in pita or wrapped in flatbread known as lafa. Whether standing alone or housed in a sandwich, they are routinely served as part of a meze, a mingling of small plate apps.

Of disputed ancestry, these fritters may have originated in Egypt, possibly savored by early Christians called Copts as a substitute for otherwise forbidden meat during Lent. The dish later migrated northward to the Levant (now comprising most of modern Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Israel) where chickpeas often trumped favas. Others posit that falafel was concocted during Egypt’s Pharaonic rule or perhaps even first emerged on the Indian subcontinent. As usual, confused culinary lore. Befuddled history aside, there is no denying the warm spice and crunch of these fried balls and how they play on the soft pita, fresh vegetables and nutty tahini sauce.

FALAFEL

1 1/2 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water

Chicken stock and water, in equal parts
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Sea salt

1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds

1/2 C cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1/2 C fresh flat parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C breadcrumbs
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
1 T lemon zest
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
Flour
Sea salt

Grapeseed or canola oil, for frying

Tahini Sauce
3/4 C tahini
1/4 C Greek yogurt
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch paprika
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Pita bread, warmed
Lettuce, cored and chopped
Fresh tomatoes, cored. seeded and diced
Red and/or yellow onion, finely chopped
Peeled, diced English cucumbers

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the tahini, lemon juice, cilantro, garlic and cayenne. Purée until smooth, and while the machine is running, add the olive oil and about 1/2 cup water. Season the sauce with salt. Taste and season, if needed. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

In a dry sauté pan, toast the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat until they are very aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Pulverize in a spice grinder until they are a powder. Set aside.

Drain the chickpeas from the soaking water and place in a large, heavy saucepan. Toss in the garlic, bay leaf, carrot, celery, thyme and onion. Add equal parts of stock and water to the pan until the chickpeas are covered by about 2-3″ of liquid. Put the pan on high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the chickpeas are very soft and tender, about 45-60 minutes. Drain the chickpeas from the cooking liquid and remove the veggies, bay leaf and thyme and discard. In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas until they look coarse and grainy but are not fully puréed — too smooth, and the batter may fall apart when cooking.

Transfer the pulsed chickpeas to a large glass bowl and add the cilantro, parsley, breadcrumbs, cayenne, garlic, lemon zest, onions and ground coriander and cumin. Gently stir to combine, and taste the mixture to determine if the mix needs seasoning. Form the mixture into balls the size of walnuts (about 1 1/2″ balls) and gently press down some to almost, but not quite, make patties. Lightly dust with flour on both sides and pat off excess. Place the “patties” on a cookie sheet, cover with parchment paper and refrigerate until firm, about an hour or more.

Add about 2″ of oil to a large, deep sauté pan or Dutch oven. Heat the oil over medium high and then add the falafel in batches and fry on both sides until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon or spider, gently remove them from the pan and drain on paper towels. Serve falafel in pitas with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumbers and Tahini sauce.

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