I love me some beans, I can’t get enough of them. It shocks people often to discover that I used to be vegetarian (WHAT?!), but you know, I was worried about industrial farming (I still am), and my degree studies were in physiology, including anatomy, which involved human dissection. Yes, HUMAN dissection. I went home one evening after an anatomy dissection, cooked some chicken and thought that it all looked too similar, the flesh and the fibres (sorry, but it is true), my stomach turned and that was that, for a long while. Then as the farmers market movement took hold properly, and people and even supermarkets started to become more concerned about meat and meat sourcing, I came back on board.
These years of vegetarianism taught me a lot. I explored pulses, vegetables, herbs and spice. I learned how to add flavour without adding meat, and I resurrected my university nutrition studies to ensure that I was eating nutritionally balanced meals. I studied more, I learned about new and exciting ways that I could eat. I devoured cookbooks, I obsessively read online. I fell in love with pulses, completely. All sorts of beans and lentils, I would fill my suitcase with bean shaped curiosities from everywhere that I travelled and bring them home.
One place I have yet to travel to is Egypt, but I have explored the food in London and in my own kitchen. One of my favourite discoveries when I first moved to London was the wonder of a bowl of ful medames (always spelled in a myriad of ways like dal|dahl|dhal!), a beautiful breakfast dish of small ful beans (dried baby broad beans), gently spiced and cooked for hours with garlic and eggs boiled within, which are served on top. I used to eat it all the time and made it my mission to perfect it at home. I think I feel a post coming on!
Dried broad beans are a superb ingredient. I loved how they cook them in Puglia, until soft and served as a gorgeous dip rich with local olive oil and mountain oregano, ripe for you to drag some crusty bread through. I brought lots home, but I buy them in local Turkish shops too. Jane Baxter, the originator of this falafel recipe, highly recommends British grown organic beans from Hodmedods, who sell them online too. You need these unassuming beans in your life, I promise you.
Which leads me on to what exactly an Egyptian falafel is. It is a falafel shaped from broad beans with spices, herbs and other joy, coated with sesame seeds. A lovely alternative to the chickpea falafel we all know so well. The falafel recipe is adapted from Jane Baxter & Henry Dimbleby, and it has a lovely story associated too (see after the recipe).
Have you got a favourite falafel recipe or story? I have many! I used to live on them when I was fresh out of university and living in Amsterdam. Another day for those, but tell me yours!
Recipe adapted from Jane Baxter and Henry Dimbleby on The Guardian. Jane serves it with different sides, and there is a lovely story attached to how they sourced it too.
- 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 flour (I used normal wheat flour, Jane recommends gram flour)
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
- 1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 tbsp whole cumin, toasted in a dry fryin pan and ground to a powder in a pestle and mortar
- A pinch of cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp aromatic chilli like pul biber if you can get it (a lovely fruity Turkish chili), or a mild fruity red chilli
- Salt and black pepper
- Sesame seeds
- Oil, for frying (rapeseed, rice bran or sunflower)
- 6 tbsp tahini
- juice of 2 lemons
- 4 tbsp water
- half a head of cauliflower, sliced or cut into small florets (sliced looks good like carpaccio)
- 1 tbsp cumin seed, toasted in a dry frying pan and ground fine
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp mild chilli powder or pul biber (see above)
- Carrot & Sesame
- 2 carrots, finely grated (I use my food processor but a cheese grater will do)
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- fresh coriander
- radishes, finely sliced
- sea salt for seasoning
Prepare your sides first. For the cauliflower, heat a tablespoon of oil and fry the spices in it. Toss the cauliflower in this for just a couple of minutes then season with salt and leave to the side to cool. For the carrot, simply mix the sesame seed and fresh coriander leaves in (it makes such a flavour difference, it is hard to believe!). Prepare your tahini lemon dressing by whisking everything together and adjusting to taste. It will start thing and grainy but comes together quickly, so don't worry if it looks weird, it will.
Make your falafel. Drain the split fava beans well in a sieve or colander. Tip them into a food processor, along with the rest of the falafel ingredients, except for the sesame seeds. Blitz the ingredients to a rough paste and tip it out on to a clean surface.
I have a little falafel press that I bought in a Turkish food shop which shaped 24 small falafels. I recommend getting your paws on one of these if you can as it just makes it easier. Otherwise, follow Jane's instructions: 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.
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.
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 6 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.
Serve with the dressing and sides. Enjoy!