Baffled by falafel

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Do you have a culinary Achilles heel? Something you cannot make, no matter how hard or often you try? I have several – if that doesn’t completely ruin the analogy. I have never, ever, for example, made a decent stir fry. I cannot pipe for toffee  – and my toffee ain’t so great either. My attempts at pastry, particularly the sweet variety, are nothing short of an embarrassment.

Sometimes I refuse to give up the fight, especially if it’s a food I love to eat. That’s why, in my efforts to achieve the perfect sourdough, I went the full nerd and holed myself up in the kitchen for months on end with all manner of instructions, flours and kit and refused to emerge until I’d mastered the ideal chew to hole to crust ratio.

But more often than not if I can’t get it right after a couple of tries I get cross, throw in the (tea)towel, change my dinner plans or reach for the Jus-Rol. So it is with falafel. I LOVE falafel – all nubbly and nutty on the inside and crispy on the out – but can I make them? Can I fuck. I have tried the traditional method, of using soaked, dried chickpeas, but they were too dry and collapsed into a mush in the pan. I’ve tried using canned chickpeas, but they were too wet – and collapsed into a mush in the pan. Each time I’ve tried, falafel have given out on me and so in turn I have given up on them.

But go without I cannot. So I have found a more than passable substitute in these chickpea and spinach koftas, inspired by a recipe in Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course. They are not the real deal, but they are quick, foolproof, cheap and can be made almost entirely from store cupboard ingredients. Good enough for me to never bother trying to make (and failing) falafel again.

Chickpea and spinach koftas with quick houmous sauce

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You can make these into koftas and serve as part of a mezze (with this salad, say and these baked eggs) or shape them into mini burgers and stuff them in pittas. From my experience, they are reasonably child-friendly – bringing my repertoire of meatless meals the whole family will eat, without complaint, to… erm… two.

Makes about 10

  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 100g frozen spinach, defrosted, moisture squeezed out and finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded (or not, if you like things hot) and finely chopped
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1-2 tbsp chickpea (gram) flour
  • olive oil for frying
  • salt and pepper

For the dressing

  • 2 tbsp houmous
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt
  1. Tip the chickpeas and a little of their liquid into a food processor with the spices and a good amount of seasoning and whiz to a rough paste.
  2. Fry the onion in a little olive oil for about 10 minutes until soft, but not coloured, then add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further minute.
  3. Tip the chickpea mixture into a bowl with the onions, chopped spinach, egg, lemon zest and gram flour and stir until well combined. (If the mixture seems a little wet add a bit more flour).
  4. (Optional step, but worth it) Take a small amount of the mixture and fry it off in a pan so you can check for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, lemon zest or spices if you think it needs it.
  5. Using wet hands, take a golf ball-sized amount of the mixture and shape into koftas or patties.
  6. Fry the koftas on each side in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat until golden brown.
  7. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a bowl, spoon onto plates and serve the koftas on top with a sprinkling of pine nuts, toasted flaked almonds or sesame seeds, some chilli flakes or sumac, and a scattering of chopped parsley, mint or coriander.

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