Meatless falafel burgers made right!

In Recipies on September 4, 2012 at 11:06 am

I recall the very first time I enjoyed falafel. It was a warm, late-summer’s day in Jerusalem, and I was haunting the overpriced tourist traps along Ben Yehuda Street. Falafel is the consummate Middle-Eastern street food. One bite of those crunchy balls inside a pita wrap, smothered with tahina, hommus, and veggies, and I was hooked.

Within days of being back in my own house, I was gleefully frying my own. At first, the mix came from boxes and then I learned, from the wife of a Palestinian friend, how to make them from dried chickpeas (garbanzos) and an authentic herb-spice blend.

This past Labor Day, the skies were dark over America’s Ukraine (Iowa). Long absent rain had returned and my rain barrels gurgled merrily. I was glad of the rain and did not grumble because our planned holiday grilling would have to wait for another day.

The original plan called for falafel burgers. We simply moved the party indoors.

The basics for this recipe came from Chef Faye Levy. I tried her recipe, as published, several times and got mixed results and we didn’t find her recipe to have much authentic falafel flavor. The patties, using her mixture, tended to fall apart no matter how gently you tried to turn them. I embarked on a quest to make no-fall-apart falafel burgers on a scale that would rival the creations done in America’s Test Kitchen.

Before we get to the recipe, here are some hints and tips for making falafel burgers that don’t fall apart AND have the authentic taste of street falafel.

Be sure to drain the canned chickpeas completely. You want to avoid water that will turn to steam and push the patties apart.

Use real breadcrumbs. I keep a ziplock bag in the freezer for bread heels and crusts. Put them into a food processor while frozen. They turn out great.

Prepare each ingredient separately. If you try to process everything at one time, the chickpeas end up like hommus and the onion adds a ton of water. Process the onion to a fine mince. Ditto the breadcrumbs. Finally, pulse process the chickpeas into a semi-chunky mix that resembles medium-grind bulgar wheat or farikeh (think “rice-like”). Transfer everything to a large bowl. Work fairly quickly as the salt will make the onion weep a bit and add unwanted water.

Form the patties by pressing about ¾ cup of mix into a firm ball. Then flatten the ball and press the sides well. GENTLY slide them into the pan. Don’t make the patties ahead. Make them as you fry them.

Cook the patties in a non-stick skillet. Use vegetable oil heated to medium high (just shimmering) and then reduce the heat to medium after the patties are turned once. Olive oil tends to smoke at the right temperature. I use less than two tablespoons of oil. Too much oil and they tend to absorb it. Or, they begin to steam and fall apart.

Turn the patties using two spatulas. There’s a bit of technique: Pick up a patty with a smaller spatula and hold it in place on the BACK of a larger spatula. Now, deftly turn the patty over and SLIDE it back into the pan. If you try to flip these, I absolutely guarantee that they will fall apart into a mess. Be patient! Don’t fiddle around trying to check them. Let them get crisp and golden (and semi-firm) before turning them. This takes 3-4 minutes at the right heat. If you turn one too early, DON’T try to turn it back over. Just finish cooking the other side and then turn it back over to brown.


Let’s go!

You’ll need:

1 15oz can chickpeas, well drained

¼ C bread crumbs (NOT boxed)

1 small onion (about ½ C)

1 TBS dry cilantro leaves

1 egg

1 ½ tsp ground coriander

1 ½ tsp ground cumin seed

¼ tsp dried (powdered) lemon peel

¼ tsp sweet paprika

¼ tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Process chickpeas, breadcrumbs, and onion SEPERATELY (see above) and transfer to a large bowl. While the oil heats, carefully mix in all of the other ingredients. The mix should form easily into a ball and then into a patty without falling apart. Cook as described above.

If you want to prepare these on a grill, pan-fry them first to very light golden on each side. Feel them for “meat patty firmness”. The goal is to get the mix to set up sufficiently to facilitate putting them on a grill rack. Grill until they are done and have beautiful grill-marks on each side. Don’t over grill them…they’ll dry out and fall apart.

Serve on a toasted hamburger bun with cucumber slices, sliced tomato, sliced onion, and tahina (or hommus, or mayo). For some zip, try a bit of red or green zehug (Israeli hot pepper condiment).



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