Middle Eastern Monday II: Falafel

Much delayed sequel to the previous post. It’s been a busy week (at work, sadly, not as much in the kitchen).

Sean had been wanting to making falafel since our Philly/NY days, but then it’d just been easier to buy them fresh off a cart complete with veggies, sauce, and rice/pita for 4 or 5 USD. Here, choices are more limited: I’m not a huge fan of Haya’s’ falafel and the 60+ RMB falafel “burger” at Gourmet Cafe, while super tasty, is only good for a splurge.

So we made our own, using this recipe as a rough guide for ingredients. Like the hummus, it turned out to be easier than we’d expected.

We started with a can of chickpeas…

…which we mashed with a spoon.

Then we added all the other ingredients, mixing til we got a squishy dough-like mixture. We made some modifications like adding an egg, but more on that below.

Since we don’t have an oven or deep-fryer, we pan-fried little falafel patties with a good amount of oil to imitate deep-frying.

They sizzled and browned and held together nicely in the pan. We watched with bated breath.

When they looked about done, we picked one out for a taste test. Having read some reviews about falafel falling apart and whatnot, we’d expected our first batch to fail in some way. But all we could do was grunt with pleasure for the next 5 seconds. It hit the spot like none other: crunchy on the outside, it was fragrant and moist and soft — but textured — on the inside. It might not look like your typical falafel, and I can’t attest to its authenticity, but I’d say the flavour and texture came very close to what we used to have in New York. (And yes, I’m using NY as a point of comparison for all foods whose originating country I haven’t yet visited…)

We removed them from the pan when they were just starting to blacken and most of the oil was soaked up.

Here is our lunch in full, probably one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had… ever:

(Yes, I know that isn’t pita bread. Sean biked all the way to City Shop to get pita that morning, but apparently the ovens over at MediterraneaN bakery had broken down — which basically meant no pita for the entire city of Shanghai that day. So we got the next best thing: nang bread, though even our fave Xinjiang place was out of their usual nang, which we like better.)

All in all, I’m incredibly thankful canned chickpeas can be found pretty easily in Shanghai; any supermarket Carrefour and up on the “foreigner-friendly” scale will stock it (usually for under 10 RMB/can). I have only just begun to fully appreciate their versatility.

Pan-fried Falafel

1 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 slice of bread, toasted a few times and crumbled (makes 2/3 cup bread crumbs)
1/3 cup flour (we used pancake mix coz we didn’t have flour)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 large egg
Olive oil for frying

1. Mash chickpeas in a large bowl until they become crumbly but moist (do not use food processor). Stir in the onion, garlic, cilantro, cumin, bread crumbs, egg, salt, and pepper (and other spices/herbs if used).
2. Add flour/pancake mix until the mixture reaches a sticky, doughy, and moist but decidedly solid consistency. When you pick up some with your hands it should feel like it can hold together in a pan without breaking apart (vague, I know, but you’ll know).
3. With your hands, shape the mixture into patties approx. 5cm wide and 1cm deep. You should get 18-20 patties.
4. Heat 3 tbsp (or just enough to cover the pan) olive oil in pan with heat on high. When oil is very hot, place falafel patties in pan. Fry until bottom is browned and has hardened into a crust, then flip. Falafels are ready when both sides have hardened and look crunchy :)
5. Remove from pan and place on plate lined with paper towel. Repeat (adding more oil as necessary) until the mixture is used up.

Enjoy with your favourite sauces (we used homemade hummus and cilantro-infused aioli (wrong part of the world, sure, but went superbly with the falafel)), raw veggies, and bread!

*Makes about 18-20 small falafel patties. I’m not sure how long the mixture would last in the fridge/freezer because these were gone by lunch the following day! I’m guessing one day max in the fridge, and much longer in the freezer… but it’s always better fresh :)

*The mixture also works pan-fried in much less oil — it won’t end up very crunchy, but that’s fine if you’re bringing them to work for lunch the next day.


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