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Egypt Officially Has the Tastiest Falafel in the World

The Guardian has deemed Alexandria's falafel the best in the world, and here's how to make it...

If you've ever been lucky enough to stumble upon the home cooking fast-food chain Leon in London, then more than likely you would have tried one of their scrumptious falafel meals; one of the few food franchises in England that serves up the traditional Middle Eastern treat that isn't a corner kebab shop.

In a recent feature for The Guardian, co-founder of Leon David Dimbleby admitted that the best falafel in the world, or ta3meya to Cairenes, is to be had in Alexandria.

"I started my quest by calling the great culinary anthropologist Claudia Roden, who declared with refreshing certainty that the best falafel was to be found in Egypt," says Dimbleby before continuing: "Here, for under a pound, I ate until my innards begged for mercy: great pyramids of piping hot falafel – light and crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, flecked green with fresh coriander and spring onion."

The intrepid chef then goes on to describe his journey to the back alleys and back ends of Alexandria's falafel kitchens before passing on our recipe secrets to the western world. Here's what that damn felafel spy's culinary exploration uncovered as to how to create the perfect (Egyptian) falafel. 

Falafel heaven
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus overnight soaking
Cooking time: 5-8 minutes

Serves 4-6
250g dried split fava beans, covered in cold water and soaked overnight
3 garlic cloves, crushed
½ leek, finely chopped
5 spring onions, finely chopped
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp gram flour
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper
Sesame seeds
Oil, for frying (rapeseed, rice bran or sunflower)

1 Drain the split fava beans well in a sieve or colander. Tip them into a food processor, along with the rest of the ingredients, except for the sesame seeds. Blitz the ingredients to a rough paste and tip it out on to a clean surface.

2 Divide the mixture into 12-16 pieces, each about the size of a small golf ball. Press them down with your fingers to make small patties.

3 Sprinkle around 3 tbsp sesame seeds on to a plate and coat each side of the falafels roughly with the seeds. Transfer them to the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

4 To cook the falafel, fill a small pan with oil to a depth of about 3cm. Heat the oil – it will be ready when a piece of bread dropped in sizzles and turns brown quickly. Turn the heat down and start to cook the falafel in batches. I cooked mine 4 at a time and kept them warm on a baking tray in a low oven. Cook each side for 2-3 minutes, or until it is golden brown then flip them over and fry the other side.

5 Serve with a minty yoghurt sauce (see below), flatbreads and spiced aubergine (recipes below).

Yoghurt sauce
250ml plain yoghurt
3 tbsp tahini
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp chopped mint

1 Whisk all the ingredients together, then thin the sauce down to a suitable pouring consistency with a little cold water.

Spiced aubergine and tomato
Serves 4-6 as a side
3 tbsp olive oil
1 aubergine, cut into 1cm square dice
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
½ tsp sugar
A pinch of ground allspice
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A splash of balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper
Chopped coriander, mint or parsley

1 In a large frying pan, heat up the olive oil and saute the diced aubergine until golden brown. Drain on with a slotted spoon on to kitchen paper.

2 Add the sliced garlic to the remaining oil in the pan. Cook for a few minutes on a low heat. Before the garlic turns brown, add the tinned tomatoes with the sugar, allspice and cayenne.

3 Turn the heat up and reduce the sauce for about 10 minutes, or until very thick. Add the aubergine back to the pan. Heat through gently and add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Season well. Finish with fresh herbs.