I had always equated falafel with those tasteless grey, dry pellets you get vacuum-sealed from the local health-food shop, heartburn the only sensation worthy of note.
In truth the fabled land of the Pharaohs is also home to the real falafel. But when we ventured out there in 2001 we set off unaware and unsuspecting.
The afternoon sun woke us that first day: five past one by my watch, half the day gone. It was January and the afternoon air was disappointingly refreshing. We headed for the village, keen to enjoy what remained of the day.
Hoer-Gada village was a sleepy place. Restaurants claiming early opening were closed without exception. We were hungry. With only falafel to be had from a street stall we joined the queue with little enthusiasm.
I cut through that first falafel, a vibrant emerald jewel emanating aromas of garlic, mint, parsley, coriander. It was light and airy, spicy, crisp, it was fantastic.
Twenty past four by my watch: (in those days one didn’t take mobiles abroad and expect them to work). Removing layers of clothing the mystery of the restaurants hung in the now hot dessert air. Should I ask?
Falafel man, glancing at my watch deftly removed it, turned it and replaced it on my wrist. “What time is it, my friend?” It was ten minutes to ten. Falafel is served for breakfast.
Great falafel needs lots of fresh herbs. Nothing dried, not on this occasion. The chickpeas are soaked overnight and ground raw before deep frying. A little cumin has its place , but don’t let it overpower the fresh aromas of the herbs. Be, however, abundantly generous with the garlic.
Croquettas De Garbanzo: Falafel
- 1 cup (dry )chickpeas soaked overnight
- 2 onions
- 2 cloves garlic
- lots and lots of fresh chopped parsley, mint and coriander
- a little cumin seed to taste, toasted on a dry skillet or ground cumin powder
- 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne or other chilli powder or flakes
- salt and pepper
- a little chick-pea or other flour for binding and coating
- oil for frying
- soak the chickpeas in plenty of cold water overnight
- put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until very smooth
- adjust the seasoning and add a teaspoon of chickpea or other flour to help your falafel hold together. If the first falafel falls apart add another teaspoon of flour. Too much will make your falafels heavy. Adding a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder will not go amiss.
- hand-roll little balls and roll them on some chick-pea or other flour shaking off the excess
- falafels have to be deep fried. Sorry. I'm considering getting an air fryer which uses just a teaspoon of oil. I've heard good things about them but have no personal experience of them at all.
- serve with your favourite salad, a spicy tomato relish or yoghurt sauce and pitta or other flat-bread