Friday, April 18, 2008


No really. As I wend my way on this culinary journey through life sometimes it's smooth, often it's interesting, there is a rare spectacular highlight, occasionally it seems becalmed. The usual. It is both an enjoyable and interesting way to eat.

Things go wrong - a lot of what I cook is an experiment in the sense of it being for the first time perhaps or something I liked but thought could use a little tweaking. Occasionally I make something that I know of but have never eaten or seen, possibly not even know of in the case of something like jollof rice - and that adds a soupçon of tension when there is no clear idea of what the final outcome should be. But the sum total of all of this makes me a better cook, a better judge of what will work.

This week however all that was for ought. I wanted to make falafels. I have loved falafels since I left home and my student house was on the far side of a street of Lebanese restaurants and takeaways that were open till two or three in the morning. I don't recall who bought me my first one but it was definitely love. Apart from okra - which I still find offensively slimy - I had a great time sampling everything on offer - crisp filo ladies fingers stuffed with spinach, nubbly kebbe, the smoky wonders of baba ghanoush, crusted juicy shish. All of it foreign and all of it great. But my abiding passion was warm pitta bread slicked with hummus, three golden balls studded down the middle with a generous cover of tabouleh all rolled up together in a single sheet of greaseproof. Every mouthful amazing.

I left Sydney behind but not my passion for falafel. In the early days of London I found the Golden Hind in Soho and my falafel supply was assured. It has gone now but in the meantime I discovered the Lebanese paradise that is Edgware Road - most particularly Green Valley - and I was in middle eastern heaven. They sell not only hot falafels to eat immediately they also sell frozen ones for later pleasures. For years I have made my own hummus, the imam fainted, and pastries stuffed with cheese and spinach - occasionally whole middle eastern banquets with a lamb centrepiece and a dozen dishes in support.

But I have never made falafel.

Tuesday night I soaked 500g of chick peas - the last of the ones I brought back from Marrakech at christmas. I had bought onions and spring onions, coriander and parsley and I have a never ending supply of garlic and spices in the kitchen. I had a recipe from Middle Eastern Food - a book from which I have happily cooked for ten years or more. Wednesday night I came home, drained the chick peas and, though the recipe suggested you could grind them in a pestle and mortar I went for the less strenuous option of my stick blender. So very very slow. It is the first time it really has not been up to the job - after about 15 minutes the shaft felt very hot. Rather than risk having it burn out I turned it off, finished making the spiced butter bean mash and declared dinner was now going to be zucchini frittata and falafels would be supper Thursday.

The frittata was good.

After supper I went back to my now cooled stick blender and added the garlic and chopped herbs and spices to the bowl and finally arrived at a fairly coarse, mealy, green flecked mass. No salt went in as the recipe didn't include it and I assumed that was because salt prevents whole pulses tenderising if added when they are raw. The mix smelt good. Into the fridge overnight.

Thursday I came home a bit later than usual and started immediately to make my balls. A heaped serving spoon shaped in to a good sized falafel like the ones I always buy. The mix made 14 which seemed about right. I made a beetroot salad to go with butter bean paste and sliced some fresh cucumber. Next up was cooking. Suddenly struck me that I have never deep fried anything. Lots of shallow frying, sautéeing, whatever, but not actually six inches of oil in a pan heated straight to dangerous.

All was well, the first few balls sizzled enticingly as they hit the oil and were soon floating about quite happily picking up colour. When they reached a deep gold I tonged one out and split it open to check it was cooked. The center was decidedly cool. Kept cooking. The outsides had gone from browning to blackening to pretty much burnt by the time they were hot all the way through.

So I binned that lot and split the rest of the balls in half and kept the oil temperature high. This lot cooked through before they were black but still they were wrong. In part because they had no salt - they were a bland mealy centre in a very stiff crust. Inedible is a polite description. Cold you could easily use them for cricket practise. By now it was approaching 9.30pm on the third day of making falafels and I was defeated.

I warmed through my pitta breads till they puffed their creamy cheeks and we split them and stuffed them to bursting with spicy bean paste, beetroot and cucumber. And it was fabulous. I had gone as far as putting a couple of falafels on to plates in case the rest of the meal transformed them but they remained uneaten. Then binned.

Such a disappointment.
From now on I shall buy mine ready made from lebanese shops and never again assume that, just because I know something well I understand the complexity of its construction.


violets said...

Hi Bron

What a shame they didn't work out. My friend sent me a falafel maker from Israel and I've yet to try it out.

I've also had a week of disasters, someone on the pantry told me its because of the moon again.

Vi xx

bron said...

Vi - Maybe disaster is catching? I seldom am defeated in the kitchen to the point of throwing the lot away and I just HATE it when it happens.

Perhaps the falafel maker is the secret... I shall watch to see how you get on with it.


Tui said...

Liz Egan, a fabulous chef from the Melbourne restaurant Becco, gave me this falafel recipe, which I reckon is pretty good. I'm sure she wouldn't mind me passing it on:

Liz Egan's falafels

200g dried peeled and split broadbeans
150g dried chickpeas
1 tsp bicarb soda
1 large brown onion
5 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch coriander
salt and pepper

Soak broadbeans and chickpeas together overnight with bicarb soda (this softens them). Drain and rinse, then process with remaining ingredients and enough water to make a tacky paste. Add plenty of salt or they'll be bland.
With 2 dessertspoons, form the mixture into quenelles (or use a falafel press) and drop into hot vegetable oil, about 4 cm deep, until nicely browned.
If they stick to the frypan when you start to cook them, don't worry. Leave them alone until the bottom is nicely brown, then a little nudge will dislodge them.

Liz serves them with hummus or Greek yoghurt mixed with chopped cucumber and coriander, salt, pepper and cumin.
You can also freeze the cooked falafel for up to 3 months. Reheat in a hot oven until sizzling.

bron said...

tui - thank you for this. It is different to the one I attempted and it makes me think I shall have another try. Cheers!

Anna said...

I came here via Violets' pantry.

You have a lovley blog - shame about the falafel. I've never tried them before, but would love to.


bron said...

Anna - I'd start out trying falafels from a turkish/lebanese place to begin with because they really are great. That way you'll know the true pleasure of eating them.

When I've got over my disappointment of this disaster I 'll try again with tui's recipe. Watch this space!