For a dinner I was invited to on Saturday, I made falafel. Falafel is like the kind of food I’m almost sure every vegetarian on earth has tasted at least once in his/her lifetime. It’s also one of the things I always end up eating every time I travel. However, I had several bad experiences when I tried to make these spiced chickpea balls at home – most of the times, the falafels wouldn’t hold together and consequently fall apart while cooking. This time around I approached the recipe in a different way though – instead of canned chickpeas, I used dried ones, which made all the difference in terms of structure. I also added grilled aubergines to the mixture to provide some depth in terms of flavour. When it comes to falafel, I like it fried more than baked, even though the latter method of cooking is clearly healthier than the former. If you’d rather have it baked, go ahead – just bare in mind the balls won’t be as crispier as if they were fried, even though that comes with the huge advantage of cutting down a bunch of extra calories. Also, frying is, at least for me, a bit of a scary technique – whenever I fry something (which I do rarely), I’m always afraid of getting burnt by the hot oil, so I keep this safety distance from the pan/pot in which things are being fried, and then when I finally decide to turn them over it’s usually too late and they’re already burnt. Anyway, for this post I tried to fry the falafels and the whole process went extremely well – the fact that they were quite firm (I let them sit a few hours in the fridge), has probably contributed to the success. I’ll leave you with this recipe then, but not without the promise of a soon come back.
Chickpea and Aubergine Falafel
(makes about 25 medium sized falafel)
1 ½ cups (300 g) dried chickpeas
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 big handful coriander (aprox. 7 g)
1 big handful mint (aprox. 12 g)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup regular flour
¾ teaspoon salt
zest and juice of one lemon
2 medium sized aubergines (aprox. 580 g), cut into rounds of about 0.7 cm each
olive oil for frying or baking
1. Put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough water to cover. Let them soak overnight or for at least 8 hours before using. The day after, drain the chickpeas and wash them thoroughly under cold running water.
2. Now it’s time to salt the aubergine slices: put them in a large tray and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of salt. Leave them like that for at least 30 minutes – you’ll notice they’ll release some liquid and feel softer to the touch. Then, rinse the slices, wash them thoroughly and dry them with the help of a clean kitchen towel.
3. Add chickpeas and all the other ingredients, except the aubergines, to a food processor, and process everything until a thick paste comes together. Transfer the chickpea mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
4. In a large and lightly oiled grilling pan over medium/high heat, cook the aubergines’ slices for about 3 minutes on each side, or until they’re slightly browned or have grilling marks. When the slices are cool enough to handle, cut them into small pieces and add them to the chickpea mixture.
5. Shape the chickpea mixture into medium-sized balls and line them on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours – the falafels should be cold and firm; if they’re not, let them sit in the fridge for a little longer.
6. Now, you can either fry or bake the falafels. If you want to fry them, heat about 5 cm (2 inches) of oil (I used olive oil) to aprox. 180 C (350 F) in a deep pan or pot. Add the falafels in small batches and fry them for 4 to 6 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the falafels to a plate covered with paper towels to drain the excess oil. If you prefer to have them baked, brush the balls with olive oil and bake them in the oven (180 c / 350 F) for 15 minutes or until golden brown, turning halfway through for even browning.
7. Serve the falafels in pita bread with some yoghurt-based (I used a soy-based vegan yoghurt) sauce, chopped tomatoes, avocados and salad leaves.