One of my fondest memories was when the wife and I spent some time exploring the beautiful country of Israel. It was an absolute joy to take in the breathtaking landscapes, ancient architecture, and the immense amount of history. However, the thing I found the most enjoyable was experiencing the fantastic foods featured in Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Now I’m no new comer to Middle Eastern cooking, or Jewish foods being an American Jew myself and an adventurous eater, but there’s one food that stands out in my mind as the quintessential essence of the region’s flavor: falafel.
I remember finding falafel vendors and restaurants serving falafel everywhere while visiting Israel which makes sense since Israel is home to the highest population of vegans and vegetarians per capita. This may be haughtily debated, but I believe that the falafel in Israel is the best falafel you’ll find.
That said, I’m hoping to be able to arm you with an excellent falafel recipe that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home wherever you may be in this world.
So What Is Falafel Anyway?
Maybe you’ve never heard of falafel, or you’ve heard of it but never tried it. Perhaps you have tried it, but never stopped to think about what you were eating. Let me clue you in on what in the heck falafel is anyway.
Falafel is magic. Falafel is perfection. Falafel is intrigue. Ok, hyperbole out of the way, what falafel really is happens to be quite simple: chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Well, that and a few other veggies, herbs, and spices.
Here’s the basics. Falafel consists of uncooked, soaked from died, (never canned) coarsely ground chickpeas; garlic and onion; parsley, cilantro (coriander leaves), or both; and spices such as cumin, coriander (the ground seeds), and ground chili powder such as cayenne.
Some cultures add turmeric to create a beautiful yellow falafel. Others go heavy on the parsley and cilantro to produce a stunning green falafel. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, so long as the final product comes out mouth wateringly delicious.
Falefel is often served in a pita or wrap along with hummus, a tahini sauce, tomatoes, pickles (cucumber, radish, or both), and maybe even some hot sauce. Again, there’s no wrong way to do it. Add whatever you’d like.
Why Not Canned Chickpeas?
You may be asking yourself, why not canned chickpeas? The simple answer: texture. It’s the single most important aspect of falafel that you MUST get right. Canned chickpeas are already cooked. They’re soft and turn into a paste. They create a dense, mushy final product. They should be avoided. Falafel takes some pre-planning. You need to make sure you have at least 8 hours to soak dried chickpeas beforehand, otherwise you should postpone your falafel making until you have the time.
Falafel is all about the bite. The exterior should have a crunch and the interior should be moist, but not mushy. Soaked chickpeas that have been ground into a coarse meal provide the best results and the perfect texture.
How Do I Cook Falafel?
Traditionally, falafel is fried. If you order falafel at any restaurant it’s almost certainly fried in oil. However, air frying and convection baking are fantastic options when making falafel at home and looking to save on calories and fat. My personal favorite way to prepare falafel is through convection baking in my oven. The texture is different from when frying, but the end results are perfectly acceptable and delicious, and I feel better about not having added a boat load of unnecessary fat into my meal. Whatever your method, the recipe I’ll provide you soon will be sure to satisfy your falafel cravings.
Do I Need Any Special Tools?
To get the perfect texture you will need something that can transform your soaked chickpeas from their hard, whole form to a coarsely ground meal.
The best tool for the job is a good food processor or a high-speed blender such as a Vitamix.
Since no liquids are used when grinding down the chickpeas, a traditional blender will not work.
- 1 cup dry chickpeas
- 1/4 cup chickpea flour
- 1/2 bunch parsley
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 1/2 onion
- 6 bulbs of garlic
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3 tbsp tahini
- 1 tbsp hot sauce
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
- 1 green chili (optional)
Soak chickpeas overnight or for at least 8 hours. Drain and thoroughly rinse chickpeas. Preheat your oven to 400°F using the convection setting. Add the chickpeas to your food processor along with all ingredients aside from the chickpea flour. Do a few good pulses in the food processor, scape down the sides, the pulse a few more times. Try to get a coarse grind of all ingredients. You do not want the mixture to become dough-like. Be sure not to over process, otherwise you will end up with a mushy texture. Transfer mixture to a bowl and mix in the chickpea flour. Mix well to ensure thorough distribution.
Form mixture into golf ball sized balls and place onto a parchment paper or silicon mat lined baking sheet. Pro-tip: press down the balls to slightly flatten the top and bottom. This will help them not to roll around. Bake 15-20 minutes until the exterior has started to brown.
If cooking in an air fryer, follow the same instructions for baking. If frying in oil, cook until the exterior is a golden brown color, then remove from oil and transfer to paper towels or a cooling rack to allow excess oil to drip off.
I recommend serving your falafels in pitas or a wrap with a smear of your favorite hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, and mixed greens, along with a creamy garlic and lemon tahini sauce. Hot sauce, saurekraut, and pickled radishes also all make great toppings.
Try making a mixture of equal parts tomatoes, cucumbers, and dill pickles.
For a simple garlic and lemon tahini dressing blend the juice of 2 lemons along with 4 cloves of garlic, then stir into 1/2 cup of tahini. Add a 1/4 tsp of cumin for a bit of zing. Thin with cold water to achieve desired consistency.
Falafel is very versatile, so feel free to experiment with how you serve it and with what you serve along with it.