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Felafel/Falafel--Cook-Off 30


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#91 Hassouni

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Posted 14 April 2014 - 09:28 AM

So I made my first ever batch of (Lebanese style of course!) Falafel, following a Youtube recipe from Chef Rafi of the famous Arax falafel chain in Lebanon(note, video is in Arabic without subs). Incidentally, Chef Crash wrote an appropriately disparaging comment on that video to Chef Chadi Zeitouni, the host of the show (who was really hamming it up and getting in the way).  Regardless, the recipe was more or less in line with Foodman's ratio for foul to hummus, except that there are no fresh herbs added - powdered garlic, powdered onion, no parsley, and the baking soda is added not at soaking, but to the ground up beans. Overall it was a bit underseasoned. Next time I think I'll try the fresh herbs and spice ratios of Elie and Crash.


Arax is widely held to be one of, if not THE best falafel places in Lebanon, and I was really hoping that by closely following their recipe I'd have a dead ringer. Well, for a first attempt they came out fine, but if the Lebanese experts could provide some input, that would be great:


-The baking soda appeared to do nothing - the falafel struck me as denser than the typical Arax/Sahyoun/Barbar stuff, I presume the bicarb is to fluff it up a little? What difference does adding it during the soak make? Rafi specifically says Arax doesn't add it during the soak.


-The exteriors were very crunchy - I don't know that I've had falafel outside a sandwich in Lebanon, but they were rather hard, even after a short frying time. Admittedly, they were not too crunchy to enjoy, but the best stuff from the Lebanese street might be one degree softer.  I was aiming for the golden color, as is typically seen in Leb and is so well represented here:


I'm wondering if my oil was too hot - in the Arax video, Rafi says that the oil is the right temperature when a small ball of falafel rises immediately to the top of the oil after being dropped, but then they go on to fry for quite a while, whereas mine reached gold pretty fast (and seemed fully cooked)


-On the subject of oil, Rafi notes that old oil is better, and the first several falafels fried won't be as good as the later ones. I rarely deep fry, but I think this is typical of all deep frying, right?


-I don't have a serious food processor, just a Cuisinart mini prep, or whatever it's called - using 600g of beans (400 foul, 200 hummus) yield a huge batch, and I had to do several small grinding sessions in my tiny Cuisinart. I noticed the grind was not even - some of each batch was a bit coarse, some finer. In the video, Rafi says they use essentially a meat grinder, which I imagine is more consistent, and to grind it once on a fine setting. 


-Related to that, the texture of the final mix was basically the same as that in the image above. In the video, Rafi says to mix the paste until "it's like gum" (mitl 3alkeh for Arabic speakers). I mixed and mixed and didn't really get that - I presume that means it's supposed to be very sticky? I wouldn't say it was particularly moist or particularly dry, and it would hold together when pressed, but it was a bit crumbly just picking up a piece and gently shaping it. Would a more even, finer grind take care of that?


PS: All this talk of tarator and none of the "7arr" (hot sauce) that the Falafel joints use - it appears to be pureed red chiles and salt and little else. I discovered that Cortas makes a pretty good jarred version. Also speaking of Cortas, every falafel joint I've been to in Lebanon has a huge bowl of pickled chiles out to snack on - Cortas has a jarred version that is spot-on, great stuff!


I wish I had pictures, but my setup and final product looked fairly close to Crash's.

Edited by Hassouni, 14 April 2014 - 09:35 AM.

#92 Smithy

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Posted 15 April 2014 - 09:30 AM

Thanks for bringing this topic back up, Hassouni. I'd forgotten about it entirely! I made my first attempt at falafel earlier this fall, but it was from a mix. It came out pretty well and was a good way for this first-timer to get into it. We liked the results well enough to pursue it further, although the cleanup was a nightmare. (I really hate deep-frying in the kitchen.)

As to your question about oil: I can think of a couple of ways it might change, not all for the better. If bits of coating and spices are staying with the oil (as with my last attempt at fried fish), they'll eventually start to brown and lend more seasoning to the oil. Taken far enough and hot enough, they'll turn to bits of carbon, and not be so tasty. A skilled fry-cook, which I am not, can presumably control the oil temperature to keep that from happening, and that may be the source of the idea that the old oil is better.

It's also possible with certain foods that they'll release fats and flavors of their own into the cooking oil, thereby flavoring the oil for later rounds of frying. I'm not sure I believe that falafel mix would do that, though.

Cooking oil can go rancid if used long enough, of course, and I draw the line at saying that's better. One of my most miserable food experiences ever was fried okra (bamya) in very old oil, in Aswan. My companions loved it; I was off my food for days.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

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