Filling Falafel

Falafel can refer to the fried balls made of ground chickpeas or to the sandwich created by placing those fritters into a pita or lafa. The falafel balls are topped with salads, pickled vegetables and hot sauce, and drizzled with techina sauce.

Food historians generally agree that falafel was first made in Egypt; although in that country it is known as ta’miyya — a word meaning “a little piece of food” or “tasty thing.” Nowadays falafel has become a dish eaten throughout the Middle East and indeed throughout the world, becoming a popular street food. The name falafel is believed to be derived from “pilpel” or “small rolled ball.”

Falafel plays an important role in Israeli cuisine and is widely considered to be the national dish of the country. While falafel is not a specifically Jewish dish, it has become widely popular as it is pareve and can be eaten any time. In fact, there are Palestinian and Lebanese groups who have claimed copyright infringements on falafel recipes, claiming that this iconic dish originates with their cultures and Israelis have no right to serve it without paying royalties.

In the U.S., prior to the 1970s, falafel was found only in Middle Eastern and Jewish neighborhoods and restaurants. Today, the dish is a common and popular street food in many cities throughout North America. Falafel has also become popular among vegetarians who enjoy it as an alternative to meat-laden street foods.

Falafel is made from ground chickpeas or fava beans, or a combination of the two. When chickpeas are used, they are not cooked prior to use. Instead, they are soaked (sometimes with baking soda) overnight, then ground together with various ingredients such as parsley, scallions, and garlic. Spices such as cumin and coriander are often added to the beans for added flavor. The mixture is shaped into balls or patties. These are usually deep fried, or they can be oven baked.

Falafel is usually served with unleavened bread when it is wrapped within lafa or stuffed in a hollow pita. Tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and other garnishes can be added along with the techina.

While falafel can be quickly made from ready mixes, nothing quite measures up to homemade. You can make your own at home — right down to the techina and pickled turnips.

Falafel Balls

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • ½ large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 Tbs. fresh parsley, checked and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ½–1 tsp. dried hot red pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 4 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Canola oil for frying
  • Chopped tomato
  • Diced onion
  • Diced cucumbers
  • Pickled turnips
  • Tahina sauce
  • Pita bread

Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then drain.

Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, salt, hot pepper, garlic and cumin. Process until blended but not puréed.

Sprinkle in the baking powder and flour, and pulse. You want to add enough flour so that the batter forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours.

By hand or using a small scoop, form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.

Heat 3 inches of oil to 360° in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Cut off the edge of a pita or cut it in half. Stuff with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, and pickled turnips. Drizzle with techina sauce and serve.

Homemade Techina

  • ½ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 3 gloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. parsley, checked and finely chopped

In a food processor, combine garlic and tahini. Add kosher salt.

Remove from food processor and add olive oil and lemon juice. If too thick, add a teaspoon of warm water until desired consistency is reached. Mix in parsley.

Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Pickled Turnips

  • 3 cups water
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt or sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 lbs. turnips, peeled
  • 1 small beet, peeled
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

In a saucepan, heat about one-third of the water. Add the salt and bay leaf, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, add the vinegar and the rest of the water.

Cut the turnips and the beet into batons, about the size of French fries. Put the turnips, beets, and garlic slices into a large, clean jar, then pour the salted brine over them in the jar, including the bay leaf.

Cover and let sit at room temperature, in a relatively cool place, for one week. Once done, they can be refrigerated until ready to serve.