I have to admit, I never did any proper research on it. But when you walk through Berlin, it does feel like there is a kebab place more or less every 200 meters in this city. Although the origins of those restaurants might not be completely German, the first kebab place in Berlin already opened in the early 70s and by now Berlin is pretty much the kebab capital of the world.
Kebab is the quintessential food during or after a night of drinking with friends, but also great for a cheap and filling lunch on workdays. The standard order is to get a beef or chicken kebab. However, especially in a city like Berlin where being vegetarian or vegan is more than normal, there is more… The most popular choice for a vegetarian/vegan meal in a kebab shop would definitely be the falafel.
Being made out of chickpeas and spices, falafels are a great change from the meat options since they are just as filling and comforting. Although the origin of the falafel is not completely certain, they most likely come from Egypt. The food might have been invented by Christians to replace meat during the period of fasting before Easter, but that’s just one of many theories. Regardless of where they come from, falafels are very popular (street)food in the Middle East, and more or less the national food of Israel. But clearly, the falafel did not only stay popular in that part of the world. The Arab and Turkish people who migrated to Europe took the food with them to Germany. Whereas falafels might have been eaten mainly by migrants at first, they quickly found their way to the German locals via restaurants and food stalls.
Unfortunately, not all falafels you find in the standard kebab places are the best. For example, those in the place close to my home are disappointing. Dry and without much flavour, even when you are hungry after a few drinks. So I decided to give making falafels at home a try instead. The last time I came close to making them was in the kebab shop where I worked in Sydney. There they were freshly fried, but from a pre-made mixture. But the falafel mixture is not hard to make, and does not require that much time. And in combination with some homemade flat breads, baba ganoush, and grilled vegetables, falafels make a great vegetarian weekday dinner. Because even though there might be quite some ingredients and steps in below recipe, it really does not take long.
Falafel sandwich with baba ganoush
Of course, you can eat falafels in any way you like. They can also be eaten separately or used on top of a salad. But I always prefer them in a sandwich, on some good bread from the bakery or homemade flat bread. And I think a sauce is essential. You can use tahini or hummus, but I like to change it up and add baba ganoush, an eggplant dip. Besides, I usually add some roasted tomatoes, onion, and chilli pepper.
Although you have to remember to soak the chickpeas in advance, it is better to use the dried ones than the canned chickpeas. The latter ones are cooked already, which heavily impacts the texture of the falafels and makes them sloppy.
Ingredients (for 2 people – 8 falafels)
- Dried chickpeas – 150 grams, soaked overnight
- Garlic – 1 clove
- Small onion
- Flour – 2 tablespoons
- Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
- Fresh cilantro / coriander – small bunch
- Ground cumin – 2 good teaspoons
- Cayenne pepper – 1 teaspoon (or 2, if you like it spicier)
- Vegetable oil for deepfrying, for example sunflower oil
- Flour – around 200 grams and some extra for dusting
- Plain yogurt – 2 tablespoons
- Oregano – 1 large teaspoon
- Lukewarm water (around 20-30 ml)
- 1 eggplant
- Tahini – (a sesame seed paste) around 1 tablespoon
- Olive oil – around 2 tablespoon
- lemon juice – around 2 teaspoons
- Garlic – 1 small clove
- Smoked paprika – half a teaspoon, optional
First of all, preheat the oven to 250°C. Pinch the eggplant for the baba ganoush a few times with a knife, and wrap in aluminium foil. Place in the oven and cook for around 40 to 50 minutes, until the skin is wrinkly and the eggplant very soft.
Meanwhile, it is time to start making the falafels. The part of making the falafels that takes the most time is soaking the dried chickpeas. Make sure they have the time to soak overnight in plenty of water. When it is time to prepare them, drain them and process with a food processor or stabmixer. Once the chickpeas have been processed, roughly chop the onion, garlic, and cilantro. Add those to the food processor as well, together with the cumin, cayenne pepper, and a good pinch of salt. Mix this until there are no large pieces of chickpea anymore. If there are some large pieces left that the blender did not process, just take them out. Try a little bit of the mixture to check on the seasoning, and adjust if needed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and mix in the flour and baking powder. Set the falafel mixture aside.
For the flatbread, place the flour in a wide bowl and add a pinch of salt and the oregano. Then, mix the yogurt through thoroughly and start kneading. Add the lukewarm water in little splashes. Since quite a lot of the flour will be absorbed by the yogurt, you will not need much water. Knead and add water until you have a very elastic dough that might still feel a bit sticky, but does not really stick to your hands anymore. Divide the dough in 4 balls. Heat a dry non-stick frying pan over a medium to high fire. While the pan heats up, roll out the first ball of dough to a flat circle, of around half a centimeter in thickness. Place in the pan and fry until golden-brown on one side, around 2 to 3 minutes. Then flip it over and fry the other side for the same amount of time. Normally, there will be large air-bubbles in the bread while it is cooking, especially once you have flipped it over. Repeat this with the rest of the dough, and keep the breads warm in some aluminium foil or a clean towel.
When the bread is done, it is time to fry the falafels. Heat the vegetable oil in a deep fryer or small pot until it is around 180°C. If, like me, you do not have a thermometer, just put a small piece of bread in your pot and wait until the oil starts bubbling around it and the bread turns brown. Meanwhile, form around 8 balls out of the falafel mixture, about the size of an egg. Once the oil is hot, fry the falafels in portions until all sides are golden brown. This will take about 5 minutes. Let the fried falafels drain on some paper towel.
By now, the eggplant should have cooked through. Take it out of the oven once cooked, and cut open. Let it cool down a little bit, before taking the flesh out of the skin using a spoon. Place the flesh of the eggplant in a small bowl and mix it with a fork, so that it breaks down into a creamy texture. Add the tahini, olive oil, and a good pinch of salt. Mince the garlic very finely and add this as well. Mix again with a fork and add lemon juice to taste. If you want, you can add a bit of smoked paprika as well. I like to add this for a bit of extra smokiness, since I unfortunately don’t have the option to roast the eggplants over an open flame. Make sure you taste the baba ganoush and adjust it to your liking. In the end, the given quantities of ingredients are estimations: the exact quantity depends on your preferences and taste buts.
Now that all the parts are ready, it is time to assemble your falafel sandwich. Spread some of the baba ganoush on the flatbread, and add two falafels each. If you want, you can add additional vegetables or other toppings.