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Why falafel Is the King of Healthy Fast Food

Falafel - Nosta restaurant Cork (1)

Falafel is very popular in the Mediterranean and the Middle East regions. They are a popular snack for special dinners, a savoury appetiser on mezze trays, a side dish with soft drinks, and a popular street snack.

People love the crunchy texture, herby flavour and high nutritional content of this snack. They are available in fast food outlets, especially in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Yemen and Israel.
Falafels are also now on the menus of high-end restaurants in Cork and other parts of the world.

If you have just had the privilege of trying these deep-fried chickpea balls and are wondering how such a dish got into your kitchen or favourite restaurant, this post is for you. It sheds light on the history, variations and preparation methods of this fast food.

The Origin of the Name Falafel, and Where it Came From

Falafel on the table - Nosta restaurant Cork

The word Falafel has several origins. Some historians claim that it was derived from the Arabic word Falafel, which means peppers. Perhaps ancient Egyptian cooks decided on the name because some types of Falafel contained pepper as a spice.

Other historians claim that the name was taken from the Arabic word Mefelfel, which means spicy for obvious reasons - they made this dish from heavily spiced chickpeas or fava beans.

The History Behind Falafel

History of falafel - Nosta restaurant Cork

The origin of these chickpea balls is disputed. Israel, Yemen, India, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine all claim that the dish was invented in their home countries by their culinary masters. In fact, some of these governments have attempted to document the dish as their own.

The most reliable historical records state that this delicious chickpea snack was invented around 1882, during the Anglo-Egyptian war. It was introduced by well-travelled British soldiers who had tasted and liked the fried Indian vegetable croquettes.

When the British soldiers occupied Alexandria, they asked Egyptian cooks to prepare a delicacy that looked and tasted like the Indian fried vegetable croquettes.

With the troop's description, locally available ingredients and a wealth of culinary experience, the Egyptian chefs created Falafel for their lunch meals. They used fava beans seasoned with local herbs such as coriander, parsley, mint and bay leaves. British troops immediately fell in love with the savoury creation.

From the port of Alexandria, the delicious Falafel spread to Lebanon, Yemen, Turkey, Libya, North Africa and the Jewish communities in Palestine. The dish also spread to other countries that share a border with Egypt outdoor.

Preparing Falafel at Home

Falafel preparation - Nosta restaurant Cork

Preparing delicious falafel balls is an art. You need the right ingredients, herbs and spices. You also need to mix the ingredients, sculpt the balls, and then fry or bake them professionally.

Otherwise, your chickpea balls will not be as tasty as those sold in restaurants or fast food stores.

On the other hand, preparing Falafel is not a complicated task. Here are detailed preparation instructions if you want to start making Falafel in your kitchen or just want to know how chefs turn ingredients into delicious Falafel for your dinner dishes.

How to make Falafel
Falafel Ingredients:
-Dried chickpeas
-Fresh garlic cloves
-Fresh parsley, dill, coriander and or mint
-Baking powder

Preparation of the Falafel
1. Soak the chickpeas
Soak the dry chickpeas in water for at least a day. While some recipes recommend using canned or cooked chickpeas, experts advise you to avoid them. Here is why. They will not give you the right texture and flavour.

2. Mix the ingredients
Place the soaked chickpeas, fresh herbs, garlic cloves, spices, and onions in a food processor. Grind the ingredients to a coarse paste. Place the sticky paste in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. It is advisable to refrigerate the paste overnight.

3. Make the Falafel patties
After chilling:
Mix the paste with a baking fizzy drink.
Take two tablespoons of the paste.
Roll the paste with your hands into round, flat or burger-like balls. You can use a binder like flour to make the balls stick together.

4. Deep fry the chickpea balls.
Heat enough cooking oil over medium heat. Add your chickpea balls to the hot oil and deep fry until they are medium brown. It will take about 3-5 minutes to fry them. Take them out of the oil, sprinkle them with a pinch of salt and serve.

You can also eat the deep-fried chickpea balls without any garnish. Alternatively, you can serve the Falafel with avocado sauce, lemon rice, vegetable salad, tahini sauce, pita bread and green pea hummus. A variety of side dishes go well with Falafel.

Common falafel variations

Falafel variations - Nosta restaurant Cork

Since its introduction, Falafel has undergone several changes. Many people have swapped the original ingredients with those available in their region. The main variations you will find in restaurants Cork are:

Falafel Middle East
Falafel is typical street food in the Middle East. Although they look similar, the Middle Easterners make their Falafel from fava beans or a mixture of fava beans and chickpeas. It is one of the preferred dishes for Lent when meat is not an option.

Falafel in vegetarianism
Free of animal products, Falafel is a top meal for vegetarians. Vegans in the Middle East, in the Mediterranean and other parts of the world, consider it an excellent alternative to meat-based dishes such as pizza, couscous, crisps and grilled meat.

Falafel Turkey
The Turkish Falafel is similar to the regular variety. It is made from chickpeas mixed with regional spices such as garlic, coriander and cumin. Turkish chickpea balls are usually round, but some Turks shape them like a flat burger. They serve them with pita bread or Turkish bread.

Amazing falafel world records

Since its introduction, the Falafel has broken several world records. In 2019, the largest falafel ball was entered into the Guinness World Records. Weighing 101.5kg, the giant falafel ball was made by culinary masters from Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa.

The 2019 world record is not the only record set by this simple but delicious snack. In 2012, a falafel ball made at Amman Jordan broke a similar record. It weighed 74.75kg. The previous record was held by a 23.94 kg chickpea ball made at Santa Clarita Valley Jewish Food and Cultural Festival (USA).

On May 9, 2010, over 300 budding chefs led by Ramzi Choueiri set a record for the largest serving of Falafel. The team served 5173 kg of Falafel on a ceramic plate with a diameter of 7.17 metres.
Conclusion about Falafel

Falafel is a simple dish made from chickpeas or fava beans and flavoured with common spices such as cumin, coriander, garlic, red pepper and parsley. The ingredients are ground, formed into balls and then deep-fried.
Although chickpea balls are so simple, they are preferred by many people in Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, Palestine and other parts of the world. This is because of the spicy, grainy and herbaceous taste of the balls. Many people cannot resist them.

Frequently asked questions

What exactly is a falafel?

Basically, Falafel is a snack made from deep-fried, spiced chickpeas. Chefs prepare this snack using dried, soaked chickpeas seasoned with regional spices such as garlic, red pepper, cumin, parsley, cilantro and dill. In some recipes, chefs use fava beans as an alternative to chickpeas.

What does Falafel taste like?

Like many fried snacks, Falafel has a crispy outer layer and a soft interior. They taste herbal, grainy and spicy. However, the taste depends on the fresh herbs and spices you use to prepare them.

What do you eat Falafel with?

While you can eat Falafel on their own as a snack or mezze, they taste better when paired with the right side dishes. In most cases, these vegetarian balls are paired with pickled vegetables, lemon rice, sautéed mushrooms, olive salad, hummus, avocado sauce, tahini sauce, and pita bread.

Can vegans eat falafel?

Without a doubt, Falafel is a great snack for vegetarians. This dish is made with chickpeas and a few regional spices. It is entirely free of chicken, beef, fish, duck, eggs, and anything not suitable for vegans.

Does falafel make you fart?

Chickpeas, the main ingredient in falafels, are a rich source of fibre. When eaten, the indigestible fibre ferments and produces flatulence. As with beans and lentils, therefore, eating a large amount of Falafel will cause you to fart.

Do you eat Falafel hot or cold?

Falafels are best eaten hot. However, if you just bought cold falafels or the falafels you prepared are already cold, warm them up in a pan, microwave or oven before serving. Do not throw away the cold Falafel.

How does a falafel stay crispy?

Ideally, the crispiness of the Falafel depends on how you prepare it. If you like them crispy, dry the soaked chickpeas thoroughly before processing.

After frying, place the balls on a kitchen towel to allow excess moisture to escape. Alternatively, you can bake the falafel balls instead of deep-frying them. Baking will make your chickpea balls crispier than frying.
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