Good falafel can be really delicious, particularly when it's served piping hot, crisp on the outside, soft and nicely seasoned in the centre. It also makes for a very convenient meal on the run and certainly isn't the most unhealthy of all fast-food offerings.
If you regularly order falafel at a take-away café or restaurant, though, it's worth noting that at some point those tasty morsels are likely to have had a close encounter with a deep-fat fryer, which is never a good thing when it comes to fat and calories.
Try your hand at making homemade falafel and you could well be on to a winner. After all, chickpeas are a naturally healthy ingredient: they are high in protein and fibre and contain vitamins and minerals. By baking the falafel in the oven, rather than frying them, you keep fat levels low. For a wholesome, cheap, filling, not to mention nutritious supper, serve these herby, spiced balls with tahini dressing, whole-wheat pitta bread and plenty of salad.
For the falafel
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
tsp fennel seeds
400g tin chickpeas, drained
or 200g dried chickpeas, soaked in water for at least 8 hours
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
small bunch parsley, leaves picked
few mint leaves
juice of lemon
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp groundnut oil
For the tahini dressing:
2 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp low-fat yoghurt
lemon juice, to taste
salt and black pepper
Place a dry frying pan over a high heat, add the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds and toast for 30 seconds to one minute, or until the spices begin to smell aromatic. Remove the pan from the heat and crush the spices to a powder in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Tip the chickpeas, red onion, garlic, parsley and mint into a food processor. Squeeze over the lemon juice, season with salt and black pepper and blend well. Stir in the ground spices, flour and baking powder.
Dampen your hands slightly and form the mixture into 10-12 small balls. Arrange the balls on a tray and transfer to the fridge for 30 minutes (this isn't completely necessary if you're stuck for time, but it will ensure they firm up and hold their shape).
Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas 7. Lightly grease a baking tray with the groundnut oil. Arrange the falafel on the tray and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the balls are crisp and golden brown on the outside.
While the falafel are cooking, mix the tahini and yoghurt together in a bowl. Season with a touch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir in enough water to give the sauce a thin, pouring consistency.
Serve the falafels with whole-wheat pitta or Arabic bread, tomato and cucumber salad, pickles and the tahini dressing.