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For the past 12 years or so I’ve been going to see a lovely Lebanese lady called Katy, for lovely lady things, performed in the traditional Lebanese manner, using lemons and sugar. Over those years, as I’ve lain prone to her ministrations, Katy and I have become firm friends, our conversation meandering across relationships, politics, climate change, friendship, children (she’s known mine since they were wee little things), death, love, the dire situation in her home country and, of course, gardening and cooking.
Now, I’ve always been a broad bean obsessive. I adore broad beans, from my very earliest memories onwards. And I’ve always grown the dear things; no matter how little space I’ve had, there’s room for broad beans. But it was only recently, and to my chagrin, that I realised that Lebanese Falafel is often partially made from fresh broad beans. This spring I have waited and waited for the pods to appear, plotting my assault on homemade Falafel.
Just a few weeks ago, I visited Katy for the first time in many months. Those quick hot days of spring in Melbourne spur you to get your legs out and I was at the start, apparently, of a sudden burst of activity in Katy’s little back room. As usual we talked about gardening, as I’d delivered her a box full of homegrown chard, parsley, mint and lemons. Always with the lemons …
As I lay on that old table in that disheveled back room, with its familiar smell of warm wax and the view of a flaky ceiling, I asked Katy for her Falafel recipe. So she waxed lyrical and I typed into my phone. And we had a good laugh, as we usually do.
When I got around to making Lebanese Falafel today I realised that it is an almost entirely seasonal food in Melbourne, which got me speculating about the growing seasons in Lebanon. But that is another story. The remarkable thing is that I had six out of the 10 essential ingredients growing in the garden (thanks to maths-brain son Max for working that out in under 10 seconds).
Katy’s Lebanese Falafel Recipe
Katy always cooks for a party. I have this tendency myself, but I halved her quantities for starters. As she said, though, you can freeze the mixture and always have it to hand. I truly experimented today, as Katy makes Falafel by rote, so the quantities below are an estimate. (The kitchen was a mess and I had to do loads of dishes, but you will profit from my pain.)
- 1/2 kg dried chickpeas (soaked overnight)
- 1/2 kg fresh broad beans
- 2 x leeks
- 1 cup fresh mint
- 1 cup fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup fresh dill
- 1/3 cup fresh coriander
- 1 x large onion
- 3 – 4 cloves garlic, dependent on the variety
- 3 – 4 tablespoons Tahini
- Salt & Pepper
- Dried chilli flakes to taste
Katy said to chop everything. The words ‘food processor’ came to mind, so that’s what I used. Basically, I soaked the chickpeas overnight, drained them, picked the herbs from the garden, roughly chopped the onions, garlic and leeks and threw it all into the food processor. The chickpeas (also known as garbanzo) are what binds it all, with a bit of help from the Tahini, so make sure there is a greater proportion of chickpeas to everything else. Once you’ve chopped everything up, the mixture should look something like this, below, and it should also be delicious to eat as is (in other words, you can lick your fingers).
You then roll the mixture into the requisite balls (I like to make them fairly big, so you can cut them in half to serve) and refrigerate them for a while. Obviously things like refrigeration weren’t de rigeur when Katy’s mother taught her this recipe but chilling the Falafel before you cook them certainly helps. When you’re ready to eat, lightly shallow-fry the Falafel, squashing them gently with a spatula as they cook.
Lebanese people have a reputation for living a long, long time. Katy’s Mum lived well into her late nineties; I had a Lebanese friend at Uni whose grandmother lived until she was 112, or some ridiculous figure. Fit as a fiddle. I reckon this might have something to do with their naturally healthy and seasonal diet.
As a result of my day’s endeavours we had homemade, largely homegrown, Lebanese Falafel for dinner tonight, and thanks to Katy, who humours me I’m sure. Reviews were good – better than good. I’d have to say fresh broad beans push Falafel into a whole new realm; I also doubt I’ll ever make it from a packet again. Next year I envisage even more broad beans – a whole section devoted to months and months of Falafel supply, with at least 8 out of 10 essential ingredients from the garden (including the chickpeas).