The specific dish Falafel was officially invented barely a thousand years ago, probably either in the Levant or in Egypt. Some food historians, however, believe that the concept of ground chickpea balls, deep fried, goes back to more ancient times.
The same goes for babaganoush In its official conception? A more recent invention. But eggplants were grown since neolithic times. Are you telling me no one ever roasted and mashed one over all those thousands of years? Whose to say they didn’t add onions, garlic, and sesame paste for flavor.
The point is, I think you can make an argument for these dishes in some form go back much further than their official, modern incarnations. Especially in the Bronze Age near east, when trade networks enabled ingredients to spread, and improved metallurgy enabled deep frying to go widespread, even to poorer people, who could now get their daily chickpeas and lentils in delicious fritter form, possibly as a street food.
We can’t know for sure if the ancients really ate this, but we can certainly imagine its possibility. So here’s my take on falafel with babaganoush.
-1 large eggplant
-1 clove garlic
-1 bunch scallions, greens and whites
-3/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
-1/4 cup vinegar
-1/4 cup olive oil
-salt to taste
This eggplant spread is the easiest part of the dish, andso let’s knock that out a day ahead of time.
Cook the whole eggplant in very high heat until it’s black and blistered all over, shriveled and soft all the way through. You can do this in a cranked oven or broiler, but nothing compares to eggplant roasted over a real fire. It imparts a smoky flavor that’s essential for this dish.
Oh, also, for the first time in Anthrochef history, I’m going to cheat and skip my mortar and pestle for a food processor. The reason why will make sense when we get to the falafel. Baba would be just fine hand mashed, but I never like using two tools for the same job.
Smash the garlic glove and add to the food processor with the 1/4 cup vinegar, making a very loose paste. Add the scallions and continue to process. Finally, add the eggplant and salt, processing until smooth. While the machine is running, drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify.
Not the most beautiful thing we’ve ever made, but its flavor is out of this ancient world. Simple, smoky, delicious. We’re gonna cover this up with the main course to make the plate pretty, but you’re not going to miss it when you taste.
(Makes about 16 large chickpea balls)
-1/2 pound dried chickpeas (canned will not work)
-1 small onion
-3-4 cloves garlic
-1 bunch cilantro
-1 bunch carrot tops (or parsley)
-1 tbsp salt
-vegetable oil for frying
– Yogurt, cucumbers, and onions for garnish
Falafel are incredibly simple, they just take a bit of waiting time and finnesse.
You have to soak the chickpeas overnight. The water they absorb from soaking is the extent to which they are cooked. After a nice long soak, you should be able to bite through the chickpea with your teeth, but with an obviously still raw texture.
Rinse the chickpeas and let drain in a strainer for no more than 5 minutes. Rough chop the onion, garlic and herbs and combine everything.
Here is where the food processor comes in. You really don’t want any large lumps of chickpea left over at all. It kind of ruins the experience. Process the mixture until it’s very fine, but stop just before it starts turning into a paste.
Be sure to scrape down the sides a few times and then pick out any large pieces of chickpea that the processor missed.
Make a test ball to see if it comes together. It should be easy to form, but don’t worry right now if it’s a little crumbly. If necessary, add 1 tablsepoon of water to the mixure ata time until it’s formable.
Chill for 2 hours to help it set.
Fill a metal skillet or frying pan with an inch of vegetable oil and heat over medium heat to 350F (About 10-12 minutes)
Shape the chilled chickpea mixture into balls, frying in the hot oil in batches. After 2 minutes, flip the balls over to cook the second time. Remove to a towel to lightly drain.
Now, to plate.
Spread a good layer of babaganoush around the center of a plate, and top with a heavy dollop of yogurt. Place the falafel around the yogurt. Top with cucumbers and onions and a heavy drizzle of olive oil.
That’s the middle east on a plate. Maybe even back in the Bronze Age. I could eat it every day.