Falafel, crispy fritters made of chickpeas with middle eastern spices, can please both the ardent vegetarian and dedicated carnivore.
A meatless meal can be a hard sell in this home. My crew is a real meat-loving bunch. My eldest boy once described himself as ninety-eight percent carnivore and two percent omnivore.
Let that sink in for a moment.
While I do have a few meatless meals in our repertoire that my kids enjoy, like Black Bean Tacos and the ever-popular Chicken Fried Eggplant, let’s just say my guys don’t usually beg for them. Well, at least they didn’t until I rediscovered falafel.
Real falafel. Not the kind that comes from a box or from the freezer section (though those have their place). Homemade falafel with fresh chickpeas, parsely and plenty of garlic, fried to perfection.
What is Falafel?
In short, falafel is ground chickpeas mixed with flour, herbs and seasoning and formed into patties or balls that are fried until crispy. It’s often wrapped in pita bread and smothered with a creamy Tahini (sesame) dressing for a sandwich that’s out of this world.
Aside from being so good that you crave it even after immediately eating it, falafel seriously does a body good.
Made from ground chickpeas, it is packed so full of nutrients that I feel like the fine print on a prescription drug commercial listing them all here; mega-protein, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, Vitamin C, thiamine, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B, and folate.
Not only that, but falafel low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Moreover, you know I love a recipe that’s mouthwatering, nutritious and cheap, right? Well, hello! Falafel isn’t just inexpensive, it’s dirt cheap, made with easy-to-find ingredients.
What’s the best falafel recipe?
I spent my long-ago vegetarian years eating a lot of falafel. Back in the (vegetarian) day, I ate the stuff that came in dry mix boxes (yes, me!) but once or twice I had excellent versions at Middle Eastern eateries.
The boxed stuff just isn’t my bag, so to speak, anymore. It’s expensive and doesn’t taste fresh. Mainly because it isn’t.
As I brainstormed a few vegetarian and vegan meal options to make for friends and family, my long-ago love for falafel came swimming back into memory. It was time, after all these years, to learn how to make falafel from scratch.
A little research and fiddling around with soaked chickpeas resulted in a recipe that rivals the best falafels I ever ate in restaurants.
In fact, I’d say (in sotto voce) it’s the best falafel I’ve ever had.
Made with dried chickpeas that are soaked until soft, this falafel is perfectly crispy on the outside with a delicious bite. The inside is tender without falling apart–and each and every bite is packed with the flavours of garlic and herbs.
Where does Falafel come from?
While the history and origins of the dish are contested (not surprisingly) the general consensus is that falafel was originally created in Egypt. It has since spread throughout the Middle East as a staple food and is even considered the National Snack of Israel.
One bite of a savory, steaming hot chickpea fritters, and it’s obvious why it’s so well loved. The crispy outer crust yields to a spicy, garlicky interior that is impossibly light for being made from such hearty beans.
Unlike most dishes made with chickpeas (i.e. hummus), falafel is made with dried beans that simply have been soaked, not cooked. That makes this dish easy-chickpeasy. Soak, blitz in the food processor with other ingredients, rest, pan fry, done.
Such a small amount of work for such a massive pay-off at such a tiny price. This kind of discovery is thrilling, I tell you! This easy falafel recipe takes a bit of pre-planning but comes together with little effort when all is said and done.
Whether you stuff it in pitas or simply serve as a finger food with a variety of dipping sauces (like Tahini Sauce or *gasp* ketchup), Falafel is sure to please even the pickiest eaters.
Falafel is also an incredible addition to a Fattoush -Crumbled Pita Chip Salad or even a simple bowl of rice.
Tahini sauce and Falafel are the best food-and-sauce combination to happen to me since Chinese meals and Happy Lady Sauce. As a dipping sauce or a sandwich spread, the creamy tanginess of the tahini pairs beautifully with the crisped garlic flavours in the Falafel.
Made from sesame seeds, Tahini comes in jars readily available at most well-stocked supermarkets. It resembles peanut butter in thickness with a distinctly nutty and bitter flavour. Blend it with Greek yogurt, lemon juice and garlic and you have a sauce that’s good enough to eat straight up with a spoon.
Drizzle it over a falafel-stuffed pita with chopped tomato and onions and you have a satisfying and hearty vegetarian lunch or dinner.
Can you bake this falafel? Yes, you can!
It will always have a crispier crust when fried, but you can easily bake this recipe doing the following:
-Prepare the falafel mixture as directed, then form the balls into patties and bake on a greased baking sheet in a preheated 375°F for 30 minutes, flipping them halfway through the baking time.
Vegetarian Main Dishes
Allow me to set the stage.
Me: “Dinner time!”
Two Youngest Boys: “I don’t wanna eat vegetables!”
Me: “Boys. Come try these fritters.”
Boys: “Hey! Those are fried! Can I have them? Do I have to share? Can I eat it with my hands? Can I stab it with a toothpick?”
Boys descend on plate like a swarm of locusts in the Holy land. Silence and an empty plate.
For the record, my carnivorous crew didn’t like the falafel. They loved it. They inhaled it. They fished for little crunchy bits left on the plate.
My little man who keeps promising he will like vegetables when he turns eight ate nearly his weight in it then asked whether we could have the ‘Middle Eastern hushpuppies’ again tomorrow. I’d call that an enthusiastic endorsement.
This is going on our list of kid-approved vegetarian meals for sure, along with Roasted Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers and Garlic Mushroom Stroganoff. Falafel more than proves that vegetarian meals don’t have to lack in taste or satisfaction!
Crispy and delicious falafel turns meatless Monday into the best night of the week!
-Rinse and pick over the dried chickpeas, removing any debris, discolored or misshapen beans in the process. Place the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with at least 2 inches of cool water. Place the bowl, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
-Drain the chickpeas and place in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Add the onions, parsley, cilantro, garlic, cumin, salt and cayenne to the work bowl, fix the cover in place and pulse until everything is finely ground but not pasty.
Sprinkle the baking soda and 8 tablespoons of the flour flour over the ground chickpea mixture and pulse again until it is evenly combined. Scrape the falafel mixture into a mixing bowl.
-Use your hands to mix in the remaining flour until the mixture does not stick to you as much. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cooking.
-Heat about 3/4 of an inch of oil to about 375°F in a high-sided, heavy-bottomed pan. While oil is heating, form the falafel mixture into ping pong size balls, using about 1-1/2 Tablespoons at a time. You can fry like this, or flatten into a patty shape.
-When oil reaches the right temperature, drop about 6 balls in at a time. Fry for about 1 minute, flip the balls and fry for an additional minute. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer the falafel to the lined plate.
-Serve hot with a side of tahini sauce or stuffed into pita halves with chopped tomatoes, onion and tahini sauce.
Falafel (Savory Chickpea Fritters)
- 2 cups dried chickpeas
- 1 onion roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves roughly chopped
- 8 cloves garlic peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons dried cumin
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt or sea salt
- 1 to 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper to taste
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (up to 3/4 cup) or gluten-free all-purpose flour
- Canola vegetable, safflower or peanut oil for frying.
Optional for serving:
- Pita bread
- Tahini sauce see recipe below
- Chopped tomatoes
- Chopped onions
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or plain yogurt if Greek yogurt is not available
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse and pick over the dried chickpeas, removing any debris, discolored or misshapen beans in the process. Place the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with at least 2 inches of cool water. Place the bowl, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Drain the chickpeas and place in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Add the onions, parsley, cilantro, garlic, cumin, salt and cayenne to the work bowl, fix the cover in place and pulse until everything is finely ground but not pasty. Sprinkle the baking soda and 8 tablespoons of the flour flour over the ground chickpea mixture and pulse again until it is evenly combined. Scrape the falafel mixture into a mixing bowl. Use your hands to mix in the remaining flour until the mixture does not stick to you as much. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cooking.
- To cook:
- Line a plate with paper towels and set aside.
- Heat about 3/4 of an inch of oil to about 375°F in a high-sided, heavy-bottomed pan. While oil is heating, form the falafel mixture into ping pong size balls, using about 1-1/2 Tablespoons at a time. You can fry like this or flatten into patties.
- When oil reaches the right temperature, drop about 6 balls in at a time. Fry for about 1 minute, flip the balls and fry for an additional minute. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer the falafel to the lined plate.
- Serve hot with a side of tahini sauce or stuffed into pita halves with chopped tomatoes, onion and tahini sauce.
- Get 'em while they're hot, boys!
To Make the Tahini Sauce:
- Add all ingredients to a blender, cover, and process on high speed until completely smooth. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. Serve over fried falafel or salad greens.
Originally posted September 2010, updated photos, baking instructions, and information February 2020.