October 18, 2017
Posted in: Culinary Arts

Flavorful falafel: Chickpeas reporting for duty

Falafel may not be the fastest food to make, but it sure packs a punch with its versatility.

Originating in the Middle East, falafel is a soft, deep-fried ball or patty with a breaded texture and dry, spicy taste. Because it is commonly served with pita, hummus, flatbreads or as a fritter, falafel pairs well with veggies, sauces, dressings or other liquid-based foods for a greater mixing and absorption of flavors.

Culinary students in the Austin area may not have falafel at the top of their menus, but its growing popularity among Western cultures is making it a fast favorite as a dine-in, take-out and street-food option – a food that every menu would be grateful to feature!

The basics of falafel

The cornerstone of falafel is the chickpea, or if you're so inclined, fava beans. Many falafel dishes actually use a combination of both in an effort to utilize all available ingredients while adding a bit more nuance to the texture profile.

Often attributed as the National Dish of Israel, Egypt and Palestine, falafel is a staple of many Arabic cuisines. In the 1970s, falafel found its way out of the predominantly Jewish and Middle Eastern neighborhoods of the Eastern U.S. and into other cities, mainly as a street food.

The most common method for making falafel is by starting with the trusty chickpea. Soak raw chickpeas (not canned/not cooked) in water until they soften and are easily ground – this can take up to 18 hours. Toss parsley, cilantro, dill, garlic, spices and chickpeas into a food processor until you get a smooth texture. Refrigerate the mix for one hour to allow the ingredients to harden up.

Lastly, add baking powder and sesame seeds to the falafel mix and form into small patties (the size of a golf ball). Cook in oil over the stove for up to five minutes until brown.

Falafel is a deep-fried favorite.Falafel is a deep-fried favorite.

A taste-friendly alternative to meat

What makes falafel a trend at the moment is that its versatility coincides with the rise of vegetarianism and veganism across the world. In the last three years, the adoption rate of vegan diets has skyrocketed 500 percent in the U.S., and falafel has been a great stand-in for meat-based patties.

Falafel can easily be flattened out and served on a bun with tomatoes, tahini sauce, greens and other veggies to form a great alternative to burgers or chicken sandwiches. Better yet, spreading hummus and nutritional yeast on the falafel patty provides the rich, creamy texture and flavor of cheese.

The key to big flavor

Falafel tends to have the consistency of cornbread, which means it doesn't have a ton of taste without the right sauces and pairings.
The traditional route to bring falafel to life is tahini sauce, which really gives it a kick. Other options include:

  • Hummus
  • Yogurt
  • Tzatziki
  • Red pepper puree
  • Eggplant mayo (not vegan)
  • Garlic cilantro chutney
  • Tomato or pickle-based spreads

You can also bake spices and herbs into the falafel or sprinkle on top afterward. Consider:

  • Garlic
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Some stores even sell a branded mix of falafel spices in one container, making the cooking process a bit easier.

Whatever your preference, explore how you can turn falafel into a Texas delicacy. Maybe add a Cajun rub or source ingredients locally for greater freshness and zest.

Perfecting falafel is a great way to help your menu stand out from others in the region, so get started today.