The Middle Eastern answer to the hot dog, falafel dominates street food culture in countries such as Israel, Egypt and Syria. A mash of chickpeas and spices, falafel fritters generally get deep fried then served on soft pita with vegetables, yogurt sauce and hummus or tahini dressing.
It can be a little tricky to make your own falafel. With packaged mixes, you only have to shape and fry the fritters. When you make your own from scratch, you may find it hard to get the right consistency at first, and your falafel might break apart as you drop it into the oil.
A binding ingredient can help keep it together, especially if you are using canned beans instead of dried. The perfect binding ingredient for falafel is flour. Nothing fancy, just plain all-purpose flour. Add a few tablespoons at a time to your mixture, until you can press it easily into balls or patties. Just be sure you don't overwork it, which can leave you with hard, dense nuggets instead of a crispy, airy bite.
Resting the prepared falafel fritters in the refrigerator for about an hour before you fry them can also help them keep their shape when they hit the hot oil. For best results, the oil should be between 360 and 370 F. Don't crowd the pan when you fry the falafel as that can cause them to bump into each other and knock them apart. It also lowers the temperature of the oil, which can prevent the protective "crust" from forming. Fry in batches, making sure the temperature remains in the desired range. Use a slotted spoon to gently turn them so they brown evenly on all sides. When they look golden, remove them from the oil and set them on paper towels to drain.
If all else fails, try a boxed falafel mix. Not only are they easy and inexpensive, they taste just about as good as those from your favorite Middle Eastern eating spot. Serve falafel for lunch, dinner or a snack, in pita or on a salad. One- or two-bite falafel balls make an interesting appetizer paired with hummus or other dips. You can also use falafel as a vegetarian meat substitute for a burger.