Vegan & Gluten Free Falafel with Amba

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Has it ever happened to you that while traveling you stumble upon a great dish that just blew you away and you wish you could find it again near your home? Or, even worse, you come back home and you see the same dish (or something similar) on some restaurant’s menu, so you order it full of excited anticipation and when the dish arrives it turns out to be some heretical parody of that piece of heaven you expected?

This has been the case for me with these delicious crispy falafel I had at some small take away place in Berlin. They were crispy on the outside, smooth and velvety in the middle and were served with this amazing fragrant savory mango sauce. They certainly stuck in my memory, but every falafel in Tallinn I tried since has been an utter disappointment. Usually they are doughy salty (if your lucky) lumps stuffed in some pita bread and drowned in some yogurt based sauce.

So I decided to recreate my experience on my own and embarked on the quest to make the awesomest crispy falafel with a mango sauce to absolutely die for. After some trial and error I succeeded! As a test I served my creation at the Tallinn Vegan Fair 2017 and had excellent feedback!

Now I will share the spoils of my labor with you, so more people can enjoy this delicious treat. So folks, get ready for this really simple recipe that will give you the most delicious crispy falafels slathered in Amba – which is a mango sauce traditionally made in the Middle-East and North Africa.

Ingredients:

Amba

2 Green Mangos

1 small can of Mango Slices

1 tablespoon of salt

2 tablespoons of mustard seeds

2 tablespoons of whole cumin seeds

½ tablespoon of fennugreek

1 tablespoon hot paprika powder

1 tablespoon turmeric

2 tablespoons of sugar

½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander seed

6 cloves of garlic

Dried Chili to taste

Corn oil

Falafel

2 cans of chickpeas

2 onions

6 cloves of garlic

6 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

6 tablespoons finely chopped coriander

1 heaped tablespoon cumin

½ tablespoon turmeric

6 tablespoons of sesame seeds

180gr corn starch

1 heaped teaspoon of baking soda

salt and pepper

oil for frying

In the end you will be surprised how quick and easy this recipe is. Especially the falafel dough will only take 15 mins to make. The Amba does require some planning however, as the mangoes need to be fermented for around four days. Hence, we start there:

Amba

The recipe calls for green mangoes, but as we all know, northern European supermarkets do not generally offer a wide selection of different mangoes in different stages of ripening. No reason to despair, however, we simply make sure that the mangoes we pick are as hard as possible.

Now we peel the two mangoes, and carefully cut the meat from the large flat stone in the center. Then we slice the mangoes in roughly finger sized pieces and place those in a glass jar or plastic container. Take the salt and add it to the mango and mix briefly. Then seal the container and let it sit in a warm and sunny spot for four days.

Since it does take some days to ferment, I always make a larger portion of amba. If you jar it while its hot at the end, it keeps like jam and it is a delight not only with the falafel, but also as a dip for chips, with fish and even with cheese.

Now, fast forward four days. The mangoes will have fermented and liquid will have accumulated in the bottom of the container. Take the mango slices out of the container, letting them drip off, and spread them on a baking tray that you have lined with baking paper. Do not discard the liquid, we will need that in a second!

We now need to dry out the mango slices a bit. You can either let them sit in a warm place for a few hours, or dry them in the oven. For this put the oven to about 70C place the baking tray with the mango slices inside and leave for about 1 hour. If you can, leave the oven door slightly open (I usually jam a rolled up kitchen towel in the door so it remains cracked open) as this helps with the drying process.

Now put all the dried spices in a bowl, chop your garlic and drain the canned mango slices. In a frying pan heat about a tablespoon of corn oil and add the spices. In a seperate pot bring the liquid we saved from the fermenting mangoes to a boil together with the sugar and the finely chopped garlic. Once the spices in the frying pan start popping, add the liquid from the pot to them. Then add the dried fermented mango slices, as well as the canned mangoes and let the whole mix simmer for a few minutes on low heat.

Remove everything from the heat, transfer to a bowl and blend with a stick-blender. Now, all the amba you want to consume within the next couple of weeks you let cool. Once cooled cover it with corn oil and keep in the fridge. If you made more amba to keep, put the still hot mixture in sterilized jam jars, seal tightly and keep in the pantry for a long time.

With the amba done, let’s move on to the falafel:

Falafel

Drain and wash the chickpeas, then put them in a bowl. Finely chop the herbs, the onion and the garlic and add to the chickpeas together with the cumin, turmeric and baking soda. Now work everything into a smooth paste with a stick-blender. Please make sure to blend the herbs and onions with the chickpeas, as the extra liquid helps the process. Just chickpeas is a bit much for most stick-blenders. Alternatively, you can manually start the process with a potato masher, or see if your food processor can do a good job.

You should end up with a sticky smooth paste. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as the sesame seeds. At this point the dough is still too wet to be formed and it would fall apart while frying. Therefore, we need to add the corn starch. How much exactly you need can vary, so start by adding half the amount and go from there. The end result should be a dough that you can form into a ball with your hands without it sticking.

Now to the frying. We want to fry the falafel on a medium heat, around 175C-180C. If you have a deep fat fryer that is easy, on the stove-top without a thermometer you might have to do some trial and error to see what setting on your stove yields the correct temperature. If the temperature is too low, the falafel will be oily. If it is too high it browns too quickly and cannot develop a deep crunchy crust before it has to be removed from the oil. As to the oil itself, I usually use pomace olive oil, but peanut oil or rapeseed oil are also totally OK.

Lastly, form the dough into small balls, about the diameter of a €2 coin. Now fry in small batches until dark brown. It might be a good idea to first add only one falafel. If it disintegrates in the oil, add more corn starch to the dough. If it doesn’t begin to bubble and froth immediately, the oil is still too cool.

And we are all done. Enjoy!

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