I’ve always wondered why it isn’t a tradition to eat falafel on Hanukkah. After all, it is fried in oil, has a long history of being eaten by Jews in the Middle East, Near East and North Africa and is loved worldwide. Not bad for a fried bean fritter.
Recently I hosted a falafel workshop for members and friends of Hadassah’s Ruach chapter in Oakland, CA. I began by demonstrating how to make the batter and then we all got to work shaping falafel balls or patties, taking turns frying them. We also made tahini sauce and hummus and then enjoyed the falafel, hummus and sauce with pitas and an array of condiments and add-ins, including amba (fermented Iraqi mango sauce), z’hug (Yemeni hot sauce), harissa (North African hot sauce), pickled red onions, roasted eggplant slices, crumbled feta, sliced hard-boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes, chopped pickles and more.
Having a pita bar is a great way to entertain on Hanukkah, and, with eight nights to eat oil-fried treats, falafel is a wonderful food to put on your holiday menu.
During my workshop for Hadassah, one of my goals was to help participants overcome their fear of deep frying. While falafel can be baked, shallow fried and even air fried, I think the traditional method of deep frying gives the best results –a crisp shell and moist interior.
Here are some tips for a successful deep-frying experience: Use a deep-fry/candy thermometer or an electric frying pan with a thermostat control for even cooking; wear long sleeves and an apron to prevent burns and oil marks on your clothing from spatters; use long-handled metal slotted spoons or tongs (I’ve had plastic utensils melt in the hot oil); and have everything handy before you start cooking.
Once you have finished frying the falafel, let the used oil cool, then strain the oil and save it at room temperature for other savory frying (perhaps a batch of latkes?). If you have made the falafel in advance of your Hanukkah gathering, wrap the falafel well and refrigerate it. Then you can reheat it in a 350-degree oven.
One last tip: In planning your schedule for making the falafel, be sure to leave at least 12 hours to soak the raw chickpeas.
Love the idea of falafel for Hanukkah (or anytime) but want to take some shortcuts? Use a falafel mix or buy frozen, pre-made falafel. The mix, frozen falafels, amba, z’hug, harissa and other goodies for a pita bar are available online or from kosher and Middle Eastern and other specialty markets. Never substitute canned or cooked chickpeas for raw ones.
Below is my falafel recipe. It is adapted from Falafel Crust Pizza with Feta and Herbs, which is in my cookbook 52 SHABBATS: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen. Besides using the falafel in pita sandwiches, try using them as appetizer “dippers” with tahini or other sauces, as vegan “meatball” substitutes or as add-ins to sauces, stews, shakshukas (a poached egg recipe from North Africa and the Middle East) and more.
Falafel with Fresh Herbs
The chickpeas for this herb-flecked fried falafel need a long soak, but if you have a food processor, the other preparation is very straightforward.
1½ cups dried chickpeas
1 cup chopped onions
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. baking powder
Flour, gluten-free flour or chickpea flour, as needed
Pick over and rinse chickpeas. Place them in a large bowl. Cover with several inches of water. Soak at room temperature for at least 12 hours but no more than 16 (after 16 hours, you can store the chickpeas in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).
Add more water to keep chickpeas submerged as they expand. Place chickpeas in colander and rinse. Pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Make sure the chickpeas are as dry as possible.
Place chickpeas in food processor. Pulse until they are reduced to about 1/8-inch pieces, scraping down sides of work bowl as needed. Add onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley, salt, cumin and baking powder. Pulse until evenly mixed, scraping down sides as needed. Mixture should be somewhat moist and stick together when compressed. If the mixture is too dry, add 1 Tbsp. of water at a time, pulsing between additions. If the mixture is too moist, add some flour, 1 Tbsp. at a time, pulsing between additions.
Using wet hands, roll about 1 Tbsp. of mixture into a small ball, pressing and compressing to compact. Repeat with rest of mixture. If desired, press balls into patties.
Heat 2 inches of oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat to 360 degrees as indicated on a deep-fry/candy thermometer (a pinch of the falafel batter should be immediately surrounded by bubbles). Add falafel balls or patties in batches (do not crowd pan).
If falafel is shaped into balls, fry 2-2½ minutes, turning, as needed, until deep golden brown on all sides. If shaped into patties, fry 1½-2 minutes, turning to brown evenly.
To check if falafel balls or patties are done, cut one in half. Inside should be moist but cooked through with no raw spots. Add more oil as needed. Bring cooking oil back to temperature between batches. Drain falafel on paper towels. Let cool slightly before serving hot, warm or at room temperature.