It’s that time of year again!! Ramadan is here!
The Islamic holy month of fasting, increased prayers and worship, heightened spirituality, reflection, meditation, family gatherings and, of course, beautiful food. I have written quite a bit about it last year, so if you’d like, you can read about it here.
As always, this month comes with an avalanche of mixed emotions. As much as I have always loved Ramadan, and despite it being physically easier to fast from sunrise to sunset here in Australia, because it is winter and the days are short and cool, it’s quite painfully depressing spending it away from home. The only thing that is easier is, as I said, the physical aspect of fasting…everything else is SO much more difficult!
The lack of family and friends, the non-existent Ramadan spirit (nobody really having a clue about it at all), the unwillingness of companies to give shorter working hours (all businesses are automatically required to close early during Ramadan back in Egypt), the longing to hear the call to prayer blaze through the streets.
Most of all, I miss the feeling of oneness…knowing that everyone else is in the same boat; from the endless seasons greetings exchanged among strangers in the street with warm smiles and kind hearts, to the epic family gatherings, complete with feasts of delicious traditional food as far as the eye can see.
I try my best to at least recreate some of the foods I grew used to eating during this most special of months, and sharing as many as I can with you here on the blog. I have been finding it rather challenging to blog as much as I would like to lately. It’s quite tricky trying to balance it all, especially during Ramadan, when one’s priority lies in making the most of the spiritual side of the precious holy days.
Now, onto the topic at hand; Egyptian falafel, aka ‘taameyya’, aka the ORIGINAL falafel. Although there will always be some who disagree, it is generally agreed upon that falafel actually originated in Egypt, and date as far back as the pharaohs (or in another theory, created by Coptic Christians about 1,000 years ago as a vegan dish to eat during their strict stretches of fasting), before spreading on to reach most countries of the middle east and beyond.
The main distinct difference between our ‘taameyya’ and the rest of the world’s falafel lies in the legume used; while most recipes of the world call for dried chickpeas, we Egyptians favour the humble fava bean (also known as broad bean).
I might be biased (hell, I most definitely AM), but I personally believe that dried split fava beans result in MUCH fluffier, crispier, moister and generally BETTER falafel (you can check out this, and this for unbiased proof). They are soaked overnight, then mixed with simple aromatics and a HEAP of fresh herbs, which is what gives the ‘taameyya’ this irresistibly vibrant green colour. They then get a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds and a quick fry in hot oil, where they puff up, forming a gorgeously crispy deep brown exterior, while staying bright green and fluffy on the inside. This, to me, is falafel perfection…and I wholeheartedly believe that you will think so too once you try them. There’s simply no going back.
In Egypt, these tasty little morsels are enjoyed all year, but definitely eaten more frequently during Ramadan at ‘sohour’, along with their inseparable buddy; Fuul. They are often stuffed into pita bread with tomatoes and tahini sauce, along with pickles or any other greens of choice, sometimes even with a bit of crumbly white cheese. This time, I filled my sandwiches with a few slices of fresh tomato, cucumber, and a thick spread of this gorgeous lentil hummus (yes! lentil!! I couldn’t believe it either!) that the lovely Thalia Ho made and brought me for lunch on the day we made this cake together. It was just the perfect accompaniment to the hot and crispy falafel!
A few more details to discuss: these dried split fava (broad) beans, which are apparently also known as ‘habas’ in some places, while a staple in Egypt, could be a bit difficult to find elsewhere. I always find them sold by the 1kg bag at any remotely middle eastern grocery shop (here in Sydney, there are heaps of those out west, as close as Lidcombe, Auburn, Granville and beyond) and are really cheap ($2-$3 per bag!). I always stock up on several bags, as they are dried and keep for ages. Another option would be to use whole dried unpeeled fava (broad) beans (like these), then manually peel them individually after an overnight soak. I haven’t tried this myself, and I imagine it would be quite a painfully tedious task, but I would STILL do this rather than use chickpeas. This link says they have done it successfully. In any case, please DO try your best to find them, as I believe they make ALL the difference here!! Really!
Another thing; for the onion-y component of the ‘taameyya’, I have successfully used a regular brown onion, a leek, a mixture of leeks and spring onions, or a mixture of all the above. They were ALL delicious, so this part is flexible, as long as the total volume used is roughly equal to one large onion or leek.
And finally; I use olive oil to fry the falafel. Yes, olive oil. Yes, I heard you just say “but won’t it burn and oxidise because of its low smoking point??”. The answer is, simply, no! It’s just a massive misconception. Olive oil, especially the lighter coloured, slightly more refined type (not extra virgin!) is perfectly safe to deep fry with, and is most definitely THE healthiest choice in my opinion. The Italians have been using it to fry their food for years. Have a read through this and this and this if you like. In any case, you are free to use any neutral tasting vegetable oil you please…I am just stating my own opinion and attempting to debunk this annoying myth 🙂
One last thing: I’ve written a blog post to combine all my previous Ramadan recipes, just so that you can find them easily listed and they can hang out together in all their delicious Ramadan-y glory! Find it HERE.
Ramadan Kareem everyone! And enjoy the ‘taameyya’!
- • 400g dried split & peeled fava (or broad) beans*
- • 2 tsp. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- • 1 brown onion, OR 1 leek (white part only), OR 1 bunch of green (spring) onions, OR a combination of any of these, roughly chopped**
- • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
- • 1 bunch fresh parsley, leaves picked***
- • 1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked***
- • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
- • 1.5 tsp. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- • 1 tsp. ground coriander
- • ½ tsp. ground cumin
- • 2 tsp. fine salt
- • neutral oil, for frying (I use light refined olive oil. See notes)
- SOAK THE BEANS: Place the dried split fava beans in a large bowl with the 2 tsp. baking soda, cover with plenty of water, cover with a plate or towel and let them soak for at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Rinse very well, drain and set aside.
- MAKE THE FALAFEL MIXTURE: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the onion (or leeks or spring onions or whichever combination you choose), garlic, parsley, fresh coriander, cornstarch, 1.5 tsp. baking soda, ground coriander, ground cumin and salt. Process until everything is quite finely chopped and well mixed, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the well drained fava beans to the food processor and pulse, repeatedly, until a rough, uniform but coarse paste is formed (refer to photos), stopping frequently to scrape down the sides of the bowl. You want the beans to be broken up well into small pieces, but not turned into a puree. Some larger bits are totally ok!
- Transfer the mixture into a bowl, cover and chill in the fridge for 15-30 minutes, just so that it firms up a bit and is easier to form into patties. Once it is chilled, take the bowl out of the fridge. Fill a deep frying pan (I use my cast iron skillet) with at least 3cm of oil, and place on medium heat to allow it to heat up while you roll the falafel (it takes 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of you pan and amount of oil used).
- FORM THE FALAFEL: Wet your hands and scoop out about 2-3 tbsp. of the mixture at a time and form into falafels; you can go the traditional Egyptian shape of burger-like patties, or make them more round or oval if you prefer! Place them onto a tray lined with baking paper or foil as you form them. Sprinkle each patty with about ½ tsp. of sesame seeds and gently pat them on with your finger so that they stick. *TIP: at this point, you can transfer the entire tray to the freezer and freeze the falafel for later. Once they are frozen solid, transfer them off the tray into an airtight container and store in the freezer until needed (up to 3 months!). To cook, just take them out of the freezer and defrost only slightly, for 30-60min, before frying.
- FRY THE FALAFEL: Test the oil by dropping in a small bit of the falafel mixture; it is ready when the mixture bubbles up and starts to fry immediately. Once the oil is hot enough, you can begin to fry the falafel. Gently place 5-6 falafel at a time into the oil, being careful not to splash them into the oil (I use my hands, but please use a flat spatula or slotted server or even a spoon if you are worried! Oil burns are awful! Just make sure the utensil you use to transfer the patties into the oil isn’t too rough or textured, as the falafel mixture if quite delicate and can easily become smushed). Fry for a couple of minutes, until very nicely browned, then flip them over and fry a further minute on the other side till browned all over. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate or tray lined with plenty of kitchen paper. Continue to fry the falafel in batches until they are all cooked. Serve immediately with warm pita bread, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, and tahini sauce or hummus!
**Use any combination you like, as long as the total volume is roughly equivalent to one onion or leek.
***To prepare the fresh herbs, don’t bother painstakingly picking off the leaves one by one; just hold the bunch with both hands and twist off the bottom thick stem section. All the rest top part (including the thin stems) is ok to use! Just tear it roughly into the food processor.
• For the oil, you may use any neutral vegetable oil like sunflower, corn or rice bran. However, I find that light refined (NOT extra virgin!) olive oil is the best choice, both flavour and health wise. It is a common misconception that olive oil is too delicate to fry with, and Italians have been frying with it for ages! Just don’t use the dark, strong-flavoured extra virgin kind; the light coloured more refined types are perfectly suited to frying. See the links in the last paragraph above in the blog post for more information if you like.