Late last year, while sheltering from a Philadelphia snowstorm, I ate the best falafel of my life. Incongruous, but true.
The setting was Goldie — a restaurant which is owned by the Michelin-starred chef Michael Solomonov, but which itself is humble and small, easy enough to walk by without noticing. At Goldie, the falafel were only $7 and came tucked inside a still-warm pita, complete with all the fixings. They weren’t the dried hockey pucks that lurk in so many sorry wraps — instead, these falafel were light, airy, vividly green on the inside and shatteringly crisp of skin. I’ve never been to Tel Aviv, but I bet even there, Goldie’s falafel could compete.
The good news is that trekking to Philadelphia (or Tel Aviv) isn’t necessary for procuring good falafel. I wasn’t initially convinced, but J. Kenji López-Alt’s recipe on Serious Eats, which I adapted here, changed my mind. Bright with fresh herbs, his falafel achieve that just-so consistency (unlike many recipes, he skips adding flour or any other binding agents, which prevents them from becoming claggy and dense).
While the falafel I ate at Goldie were washed down with one of the restaurant’s equally irresistible tehina shakes, I’ve opted to pair mine with Abbeydale Brewery’s Huckster New England IPA. The Sheffield-based brewery has attracted a good deal of hype for this hazy, aromatic IPA. And deservedly so: it’s sweet, lightly creamy in the mouth, redolent of stone fruit and has an appealing snap of bitterness in the finish.
The bright, fresh herbs in this dish — basil, parsley, mint, coriander — are lovely alongside this peach of a beer. Up the ante with an extra dose of herbaceousness, courtesy a green tahini sauce and a salad of equal parts diced tomato, cucumber and aromatic nectarine. Altogether, you have a pairing tailor-made for the abundance and sun of late summer.
For the falafel:
1 cup (250g) dried chickpeas
2 cups (approximately 55g) cilantro, mint, and parsley leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
3 spring onions, white and light green parts only
830ml vegetable oil (or other neutral frying oil)
For the green tahini sauce
Large handful parsley
½ cup (125ml) high-quality, pourable tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
1 large pinch flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
½ cup (125ml) ice water
For the salad
1 large, just-ripe tomato
1 ripe nectarine
1 small cucumber
Large pinch flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons sumac
Large handful basil leaves
1. The night before you plan to cook the falafel, add the chickpeas to a large bowl and fill all the way to the top with water. Leave to soak overnight.
2. The next day, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Spread out across several paper towels and place more paper towels on top. Gently roll the chickpeas and pat to thoroughly dry.
3. As the chickpeas dry, make the green tahini sauce. Add the parsley, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, and blend on low to combine. Turn the motor to high and pour in the ice water in a slow but steady stream. Blend for an additional minute; the sauce should be uniformly green and just thin enough to be pourable. Transfer to a bowl and clean out your food processor.
4. Next, make the falafel. To the cleaned food processor, add the chickpeas alongside the fresh herbs, garlic, salt, spices, and spring onions. Blend on low for 2-3 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides with a spatula if necessary. The falafel mixture is ready when the ingredients are very finely minced, and when a small spoonful just holds together in a ball. If the falafel mixture isn’t sticking together, blend for an additional 20 seconds at a time until it has the right consistency. Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill for 20-30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, start preparing the salad. Core the tomato and finely dice. Halve the nectarine, remove the pit and finely dice. Peel and seed the cucumber and finely dice. Add all three ingredients to a sieve. Top with the sea salt and pepper and toss lightly. Leave to drain over a bowl.
6. Once the falafel mixture has chilled, remove from the fridge. Using a tablespoon measure, scoop a golf-ball-sized mound and gently compact it (you can do this while the mixture is still in the spoon, to help shape it). Gently transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture; you should have approximately 18 falafel balls.
7. When you’re ready to fry the falafel, fill a cast-iron skillet with the vegetable oil; it should come to approximately ¾-inch up the pan (if not, add additional). Place over high heat. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with paper towels and place a wire rack on top.
8. Check the temperature of the oil with a deep-fat frying thermometer. Once it reaches 165° Celsius, carefully add half the falafel with a fork, ensuring they’re evenly spaced out; the oil will start bubbling rapidly, so take care. Cook for approximately 3-3 ½ minutes, using tongs to flip and rotate the falafel, until they’re evenly golden-brown on the outside, but the crust is still thin enough to be crisp. Transfer to the cooling rack. Check the temperature of the oil; once it is at the right temperature, repeat with the second batch of falafel. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool before cleaning.
9. While the falafel cooks, lightly toast the pita in a toaster or using your oven’s broiler (grill) setting. Lightly press the salad mixture with the back of a spoon to squeeze out any excess liquid, transfer to a bowl, add the sumac and mix to combine. 10. When ready to serve, slice off the top ¼ of each pita and gently separate the bread layers so the pita forms a pocket. Line each pita with basil leaves and add 4 falafel and several tablespoons of the salad mixture. Drizzle over the green tahini sauce and serve immediately.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.