Henry’s win­ning falafel

A trip to Alexan­dria con­firmed the best way of mak­ing falafel is not the most com­mon. Try re­plac­ing chick­peas with su­pe­rior fava beans, just like the Egyp­tians

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - With Henry Dim­bleby Recipe by Jane Bax­ter. Henry Dim­bleby is co-founder of the nat­u­ral fast-food restau­rant chain Leon (@hen­ry_ leon). Get your kids cooking at cook5.co.uk

Afew years ago, I set out to dis­cover who made the world’s best falafel. The dish had been a sta­ple on the Leon menu in one form or an­other since we opened, but I felt we had yet to per­fect the recipe.

I started my quest by call­ing the great culi­nary an­thro­pol­o­gist Clau­dia Ro­den, who de­clared with re­fresh­ing cer­tainty that the best falafel was to be found in Egypt. They made it with fava beans (a kind of broad bean which is also grown in Bri­tain), she ex­plained, which made it lighter and moister than the falafel made from chick­peas else­where in the Mid­dle East. In Egypt, she said, the best falafel were widely ac­knowl­edged to be found in the Mediter­ranean port of Alexan­dria. So that is where I went.

Once a cos­mopoli­tan city filled with louche Euro­peans, Alexan­dria is no longer a place of beauty. Its neo-clas­si­cal and art deco vil­las, in melan­choly de­cay since the Western­ers fled dur­ing the Suez cri­sis in 1956, are now squeezed be­tween the square shoul­ders of con­crete high-rises. But man, can the Alexan­dri­ans cook.

From the char­grilled corn-on-the-cob sold by street ven­dors on the Cor­niche to the del­i­cate broth of crab and clams I slurped at an up­mar­ket restau­rant be­hind the boat­yards, ev­ery­thing was cooked with a rare love and at­ten­tion to de­tail. And ev­ery­one I spoke to agreed: the best place for falafel was the bustling fast-food in­sti­tu­tion Mo­hamed Ahmed.

Here, for un­der a pound, I ate un­til my in­nards begged for mercy: great pyra­mids of pip­ing hot falafel – light and crispy on the out­side, creamy on the in­side, flecked green with fresh co­rian­der and spring onion.

I asked to speak to the chef, and they led me into the street and round the cor­ner to an im­pos­ing wooden door. It opened on to a dark, high-ceilinged room, lit only by the flame from a gas burner un­der a huge vat of oil. Sit­ting be­side the vat was the chef, repet­i­tively form­ing falafel in the bowl of his hand and toss­ing them with a flick of his thumb into the oil at a rate of about 30 a minute. Ev­ery now and then he would scoop them out with a huge slot­ted spoon and pass them to a run­ner, who would sprint back to the restau­rant to place th­ese per­fect golden nuggets on to the Formica ta­bles.

I got the feel­ing he had been there, flick­ing falafel into a vat, for at least 100 years. You and I will never match his ex­per­tise, but it’s worth a try. This recipe will take you as close

to falafel per­fec­tion as you can get with­out a plane ticket.

FALAFEL HEAVEN

Prepa­ra­tion time: 15 min­utes, plus overnight soak­ing

Cooking time: 5-8 min­utes

Serves 4-6 250g dried split fava beans, cov­ered in cold wa­ter and soaked overnight

3 gar­lic cloves, crushed

½ leek, finely chopped

5 spring onions, finely chopped

½ tsp bi­car­bon­ate of soda

1 tsp gram flour

1 tbsp chopped co­rian­der

1 tbsp chopped pars­ley

1 tsp ground cumin

A pinch of cayenne pep­per Salt and black pep­per Sesame seeds Oil, for fry­ing (rape­seed, rice bran or sun­flower)

1 Drain the split fava beans well in a sieve or colan­der. Tip them into a food pro­ces­sor, along with the rest of the in­gre­di­ents, ex­cept for the sesame seeds. Blitz the in­gre­di­ents to a rough paste and tip it out on to a clean sur­face.

2 Divide the mix­ture into 12-16 pieces, each about the size of a small golf ball. Press them down with your fin­gers to make small pat­ties.

3 Sprin­kle around 3 tbsp sesame seeds on to a plate and coat each side of the falafels roughly with the seeds. Trans­fer them to the fridge for at least 10 min­utes.

4 To cook the falafel, fill a small pan with oil to a depth of about 3cm. Heat the oil – it will be ready when a piece of bread dropped in sizzles and turns brown quickly. Turn the heat down and start to cook the falafel in batches. I cooked mine 4 at a time and kept them warm on a bak­ing tray in a low oven. Cook each side for 2-3 min­utes, or un­til it is golden brown then flip them over and fry the other side.

5 Serve with a minty yo­ghurt sauce, flat­breads and spiced aubergine (recipes be­low).

YO­GHURT SAUCE

250ml plain yo­ghurt 3 tbsp tahini 1 gar­lic clove, crushed Juice of ½ lemon Salt and black pep­per 2 tbsp chopped mint

1 Whisk all the in­gre­di­ents to­gether, then thin the sauce down to a suit­able pour­ing con­sis­tency with a lit­tle cold wa­ter.

SPICED AUBERGINE AND TOMATO

Serves 4-6 as a side 3 tbsp olive oil 1 aubergine, cut into 1cm square dice 3 gar­lic cloves, thinly sliced 400g tin of chopped toma­toes ½ tsp sugar A pinch of ground all­spice A pinch of cayenne pep­per A splash of bal­samic vine­gar Salt and black pep­per Chopped co­rian­der, mint or pars­ley

1 Saute the diced aubergine in hot oil un­til golden brown. Drain on kitchen pa­per.

2 Add the gar­lic to the re­main­ing oil in the pan. Cook for a few min­utes on a low heat. Be­fore the gar­lic turns brown, add the tinned toma­toes with the sugar, all­spice and cayenne.

3 Turn the heat up and re­duce the sauce for about 10 min­utes, or un­til very thick. Add the aubergine back to the pan. Heat through gen­tly and add a splash of bal­samic vine­gar. Sea­son well. Fin­ish with fresh herbs.

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