falafelopened

Egyptian Cuisine — Ta’miyya, Egytian Fava Bean Falafel

Egypt has one of the longest recorded histories of any culture on our planet, and as a result much is known about the evolution over time of its cuisine.  Food has always played a paramount role in Egyptian life.  Crops grown in the fertile Nile Valley help ancient Egypt become the famous empire we all know.  Such a narrow band of available arable land meant that grazing lands for livestock were hard to come by, and as a result much of the Egyptian diet is vegetarian, based on legumes, breads, and vegetables, with the exception of a few fish and game dishes.  Egypt’s national dish, ful medames, is an almost perfect representation of the cuisine: fava beans stewed and mashed with onions served with vegetables and greens.

Another embodiment of this vegetarian diet is falafel (recipe follows).  Popular throughout the Middle East and spread around the world, falafel originated in Egypt centuries ago as a way to create a complete meal out of locally available supplies.  Protein-rich fava beans are ground into a seasoned dough, shaped into discs, and deep-fried in oil, served on pita bread with vegetables.  Even quarterback Tom Brady is a fan.  To help our understanding of Egyptian food, we invited our friends Kristen and Savannah over and made a batch of Egyptian fava bean falafel.

Ta’miyya (Egyptian fava bean falafel)

(adapted from Memories of a Lost Egypt: A Memoir with Recipes by Colette Rossant)

  • 1 pound dried fava beans (we found these at a Mexican grocery; if they are hard to find in your area you could try Amazon’s offerings)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch green onions, tops only, roughly chopped
  • 1 handful parsley stems, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Sesame seeds for coating
  • Canola oil for frying
  • Tahine, pitas, and vegetables for serving

We started our falafel-making enterprise the night before, soaking the beans overnight (in ample water, a lesson we learned making Senegalese black-eyed pea fritters):

favassoaking

The next evening the beans had swollen considerably and become much more tender with a texture like the beans inside a raw string bean.  The water was drained and the beans were ready for the next step:

beansdrained

We used the food processor to grind the beans, but it was immediately apparent that the work bowl was not large enough to accommodate all the beans at once.  Instead, we processed half the beans at a time with the chopping blade.  The first batch contained just half the beans and was processed until smooth:

beandoughmixed

The next batch contained the remaining half of the beans plus all remaining ingredients except the fryer oil and was whizzed until the beans were smooth and the herbs had no more large pieces remaining.  The two mixtures were then put into a bowl together:

twodoughs
The herbed, seasoned bean mixture is on the left and has a green color. The plain bean puree is on the right.

The bean dough was folded together until thoroughly combined and then some to ensure that the seasonings would be evenly distributed:

doughscombines

Our fava bean dough ready to go, we put about an inch of canola oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat.  The dough was shaped into about one-and-a-half inch balls, flattened into discs, then rolled in sesame seeds to coat:

ballsready

Once the oil seemed hot (we usually test by touching the handle of the pan; if it’s hot, so is its contents) we dropped a couple of falafel guinea pigs to see if the temperature was about right:

testfalafel

Judging by the vigorous bubbling of hot oil, we were ready to loosely fill the pan with falafel:

falafelfrying

The falafel were turned frequently, and once they were brown all over with only minimal green color showing through, we removed them to cool and drain on our patented cookie cooling rack system:

falafelfried

The outsides were crisp with a slightly green, crumbly inside:

falafelopened

Served on a warm pita with cucumber, tomato, olives, and tahina sauce, our falafel made for a filling main course for most or a light appetizer for Chris:

falafelonpita

There is definitely an economy of scale in play with homemade falafel.  While a lot of work for a weeknight dinner for two, there is very little additional effort required to make falafel for more people.  We have two cast iron pans we could use for frying and could easily accommodate at least a dozen falafel-hungry dinner guests.  Everyone plates their own food so that hassle is eliminated, and it’s even vegetarian for anyone who’s into that kind of thing.

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