F Is for Falafel

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kelsey McClellan)

When it comes to Middle Eastern cuisine, regardless of how much knowledge people have, they know falafel. But what’s the story behind it? Falafel can be found pretty much everywhere in the world, from street carts to classier establishments, and its popularity continues to spread. Once you’ve had really good, extra-crispy, fresh-from-the-fryer falafel, it’s easy to understand why.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

What Is Falafel?

Falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas. It’s a traditional Middle Eastern food that has gained popularity worldwide these days. Commonly served stuffed in pita or wrapped in flatbread with a tahini or yogurt-based sauce and fresh or pickled vegetables, it can also be served alone or as part of a meze platter.

A Brief History

Interestingly, chickpeas were not always the bean of choice for falafel. Originating in Ancient Egypt in the port city of Alexandria, falafel was originally made solely with ground fava beans or a combination of ground fava beans and chickpeas. Being a port city, sailors carried back their new love of falafel to their homes and soon interest began to spread throughout the Middle East. However, the use of fava beans was left behind for the more favored chickpea. In Egypt today, falafel — also called tameya there — is still made with fava beans. But the chickpea version continued to spread and spread over the years and now can be found all over the world.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

Make Falafel at Home

While there is plenty of great falafel to be found in restaurants and take-out shops alike these days, making it at home is a fun project. Yes, it involves a little bit of time, as the best falafel is made from dry chickpeas that have been soaked overnight, but your effort will be rewarded. Plus, it can be pan-fried at home instead of deep-fried to limit the mess. Even though homemade falafel is simply fried chickpeas patties, it’s impressive. Invite your friends over, lay out pita bread and all the fixings, and consider your falafel party the best thing that happened all weekend.