As a Jewish girl born and raised in Brazil, I can’t help but compare, cherish—and cook Falafel, one of the most iconic foods of Israel, to Acarajés, one of the most iconic foods of Brazil. They are first-degree cousins! Better yet, they are twins. Twin Fritters! Well, non-identical of course. One lives in Israel, one lives in Brazil.
Falafel is made with raw chickpeas; Acarajé is made with raw black-eyed beans.
They are both soaked in water for 12 to 24 hours in the refrigerator but never cooked. The beans will cook when they fry but not before then. In fact, if you cook the beans or use cooked canned beans—for both, the batter will simply melt away in the oil and you end up with a disaster. But don’t worry, once the beans are soaked and pureed in the food processor, they fry beautifully, and they hold quite well.
For both Falafel and Acarajé, the beans are pureed with raw onions.
In Brazil, we season the Acarajé with salt, pepper, cayenne, and a bit of paprika.
In Israel, we season the falafel with salt, jalapeno, cumin, and coriander—and fresh herbs, very important—giving that bright green color and fresh taste to the batter. Sesame seeds and garlic also go in the falafel mixture.
When seasoning, I encourage you to try lots of combinations and know that these little twin fitters can stand up to lots of hot seasoning.
Acarajé looks like a big meatball and there is no bread around it. The acarajé is a vessel for the stuffing. When fried, the baianas split them in half with a serrated knife and ask what kind of filling you would like. The options are chopped salad, very similar to the Israeli chopped salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, although in Brazil you’ll see bell-pepper as well;
Vatapá (a mixture of fish, shrimp, peanuts, cashews, bread, coconut, and palm oil)
or Caruru (made with okra, dried shrimps, coconut, cashews, and peanuts).
Falafel is fried in canola or vegetable oil. Acarajé is fried in palm oil (iconic foods), yielding that reddish-orange vibrant color on the fritter.
To the Twin Fritters, Lechaim (in Hebrew) and Saúde (in Portuguese)!
You might also like other recipes from Sababa’s cookbook and other Israeli dishes on my website.
Makes about 24 falafel balls
2/3 cups dried chickpeas
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley leaves
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
½ onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
½ small jalapeno, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Canola or Vegetable Oil for Frying
Prepare the Chickpeas: Place the chickpeas in a bowl, cover with 4 inches of water and soak in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas, place them in the bowl of a food processor, and process until they’re pulverized into large crumb-like pieces, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary, 30 to 45 seconds. Add the parsley and cilantro to the processor with the onion, garlic, jalapeno, and 2 tablespoons of water and pulse until a unified and bright green mixture is formed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary, 20 to 30 seconds (add an extra tablespoon of water if necessary).
In a small bowl, combine the salt, cumin, coriander, and sesame seeds. Just before frying the falafel, add the spices to the food processor and pulse until incorporated, 10-15 pulses.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a high-sided skillet over medium-high heat until it reads 350˚F on a candy thermometer, or a small piece of white bread begins to sizzle and brown immediately when dropped into the oil. Set a colander over a bowl or line a plate with paper towels. Using two spoons or a small ice cream scoop, shape the falafel into balls the size of small walnuts. Fry in batches, making sure not to over crowd the skillet or let the oil temperature drop below about 340˚F, until deep golden, 1-2 minutes but no more. Serve hot, seasoning with more salt if desired.
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