What Is Falafel?
Falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made out of ground chickpeas and other vegetables and seasonings. It is a natural vegetarian recipe (and usually vegan!) that is delicious and filling. Because falafel is made from chickpeas, it’s packed with vegan protein and is a great substitute for meat. Vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike won’t have anything to complain about from this easy falafel recipe. You’ll be sure to impress anybody you make it for.
Falafel is a well-known Middle Eastern dish. You can serve it with many different side dishes, such as salads, fries, and hummus dips. When served with hummus, it also makes a great appetizer!
If you serve your falafel pita with tahini sauce instead of tzatziki sauce (which usually contains dairy), this is an entirely vegan recipe. You’ll have a protein-dense meal with a creamy sauce without having to use meat, dairy, or eggs. For those who are calorie conscious or avoiding oils whenever possible, be sure to check out the optional baked falafel section, which will tell you how to make delicious, crispy falafel without having to deep fry anything!
How to Make Falafel
Making falafel might take a little bit of time and preparation, but that is only because you have to soak the chickpeas beforehand. The actual work time is very short. Make sure that you USE DRIED CHICKPEAS ONLY! If you use prepared or canned chickpeas, the falafel will not stick together, and you won’t be able to fry or bake it. Plus, buying dried chickpeas is cheaper than buying canned, especially if you buy them in bulk!
Use about 2 cups of dried chickpeas. Put them in a bowl and submerge them in water. Make sure the waterline is at least 3 inches above the chickpeas, as the chickpeas will grow. Put 1 tsp of baking soda in the bowl and mix the chickpeas. Let them soak for at least 12 hours. Note: You will have some leftover soaked chickpeas.
After the chickpeas have soaked for at least 12 hours, prepare the other ingredients.
- soaked chickpeas
- garlic cloves
- fresh parsley
- fresh cilantro
- fresh dill
- lemon juice
- ground coriander
- ground cumin
- ground turmeric
- cayenne pepper (optional for spicy falafel)
- vegetable oil
You will need a large food processor for this recipe. I’m using the Cuisinart 14-cup food processor, but any large, high-quality food processor will work. If you only have a small food processor, you could either make half of this recipe or process the ingredients half at a time.
First put the onion, garlic cloves, and fresh herbs in the food processor. Blend these ingredients together well; it’s okay if it forms a paste.
Next, add in the rest of the ingredients, including the chickpeas. Don’t completely pulverize the chickpeas. Just pulse these ingredients together until the chickpeas are ground but not a paste. You should be able to see individual chickpea bits in the food processor. If you are unsure about how it should look, check the picture below.
Once you are satisfied with the consistency of the falafel dough, transfer it to a bowl and fold to stir. This will ensure that all of the seasonings are evenly distributed. Cover it and place it in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
After the dough has cooled down in the refrigerator, you can form the balls or patties. You can make these any size or shape you want, but I prefer to use a heaping tablespoon of the mixture for each one. When you are forming the balls, make sure not to press the dough too tightly, because then your falafel will have a tough consistency when cooked. You want them to be light and airy, so roll as gently as possible.
You can drop the falafel right in some hot oil if you want, but I prefer to freeze them beforehand. Place all (or most — depending on the size of your freezer and cutting board) of the falafel on a cutting board with a silicone baking mat and place in the freezer for at least 1 hour. Then, either place in a freezer bag to store for a later day, or heat up some oil to start frying!
Place enough vegetable oil in a pot so that it will cover the falafel completely. When the oil is hot, carefully drop all of them in. Have a plate covered with paper towels ready for when they are done cooking. When the balls float to the surface, they are done. Place each on the paper towels so they can cool down and absorb some of the excess oil.
How to Serve Falafel
If you are serving falafel as an appetizer, all you need it the falafel and some kind of sauce. There are a few types of sauce options to choose from, including tzatziki sauce, tahini sauce, and hummus.
Tzatziki sauce is usually made with Greek yogurt. If you are vegetarian, then go ahead and use this sauce with your falafel. But if you’re vegan, you’ll need to use a vegan tzatziki sauce recipe. (Which is just as delicious as the traditional version!)
Tahini sauce is my personal favorite sauce to serve with falafel. You can buy tahini online or at some grocery stores. The sauce is naturally vegan because its base is ground sesame seeds. If you need to learn how to make tahini sauce, it is super easy to whip up and only uses a few ingredients.
Finally, you can simply serve falafel with hummus. Yes, it sounds redundant because falafel and hummus are made with chickpeas, but it tastes wonderful. Store-bought hummus is usually pricy, but luckily you can make your own with this homemade hummus recipe!
The most popular way to serve falafel is in a pita with the toppings of your choice. Warm some pita bread in the oven, stuff it with falafel balls, and top it with whatever you want.
You can either slit the pita bread open and stuff it or fold it like a taco — whichever way is easier for you to eat!
Baked Falafel Recipe (Reduced-Calorie Option)
If you don’t want to deep fry your falafel, you can just bake it! The only difference here is that you do not want to bake the frozen falafel because it will cook unevenly. Before baking, let your frozen falafel balls thaw or don’t freeze them in the first place.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the baking sheet or use a silicone baking mat so that the falafel will not stick. Bake them for about 30 minutes, and you can broil them for the last minute to make sure they are extra crispy. If you want to give the baked falafel more of a traditional taste, brush them with oil before baking.
There are multiple ways to make falafel. If you are not a fan of herbs, try our golden falafel recipe instead!
Herb Falafel Recipe
- large food processor
- 2 cups chickpeas dried (4 cups soaked)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup fresh parsley packed, stems removed
- 1 cup fresh cilantro packed, stems removed
- ¼ cup fresh dill
- 1 small onion
- 7 garlic cloves (or 9 tsp minced)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 + ½ tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1-2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional for spicy falafel)
- Place the dried chickpeas in a bowl of water with baking soda. Let them soak for at least 12 hours.
- In a large food processor, pulverize the onion, garlic, and fresh herbs.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, including 4 cups of the soaked chickpeas. (Remove as much excess water from the chickpeas as possible). Pulse in the food processor until the mixture is blended, but not pasty.
- Place mixture in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before attempting to form the patties or balls.
- Take a heaping tablespoon of the mixture at a time and form into the desired shape. Place on a cutting board with a silicone baking mat and place in the freezer.
- Once frozen, either place in a freezer bag to save for later, heat up a pot of vegetable oil to deep fry, or preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- For fried falafel: Carefully place the falafel in the hot oil. If you have enough oil, the falafel will float to the surface when done. If you don't have that much oil, keep checking the falafel, and pull them when they are browned on the outside.
- For baked falafel: Use nonstick cooking spray to line a baking sheet, or use a silicone baking mat. Place the falafel on the sheet and put in the oven. Cook for about 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.
- Prepare your cooked falafel however you like and enjoy!