Falafel

Falafel is a traditionally Arab food. The word falafel may descend from the Arabic word falāfil, a plural of the word filfil, meaning “pepper.” These fried vegetarian fritters are often served along with hummus and tahini sauce (known as a “falafel plate.”) So just what is the history of this tasty little fritter? According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks, “The first known appearance of legume fritters (aka falafel) in the Middle East appears to be in Egypt, where they were made from dried white fava beans (ful nabed) and called tamiya/ta-amia (from the Arabic for ‘nourishment’); these fritters were a light green color inside. Many attribute tamiya to the Copts of Egypt, who practiced one of the earliest forms of Christianity. They believed that the original state of humankind was vegetarian and, therefore, mandated numerous days of eating only vegan food, including tamiya.”

When falafel is made the traditional way, is indeed a vegan food; it’s a great source of protein for people who have cut meat out of their diet. It’s relatively low in fat and has no cholesterol if you fry it in heart-healthy grapeseed oil. And if you top it with veggies in a pita, it becomes a filling and nourishing meal! Sure beats a Big Mac, if you ask me.

In Israel, falafel has been adopted from Arab cuisine and the most popular form, made with chickpeas, is wildly popular. Falafel stands are as numerous and plentiful in Israel as McDonalds here in the U.S. If only we had half as many falafel stands in the U.S. as we do McDonalds, I’d be a very happy girl. It’s a delicious form of fast food that is much lighter and better for your heart than burgers and fries. The idea of stuffing falafel into pita pockets is actually an invention of Yemenite Jewish immigrants to Israel. The introduction of falafel pita sandwiches made falafel portable, which expanded its popularity and made it into the number one “fast food” in Israel.

On my trip to Israel this past summer, one of the last food stops we made was for a falafel pita. I asked our friend Hagai to take us to his favorite falafel restaurant; he took us to Mana Mana on Yehuda Hamaccabi street in Tel Aviv. At that time, it was run by a three-generation family—grandfather, father, and son. The young son ran the cash register with the confidence and authority of a 40 year-old. Apparently the restaurant has changed management since then, so I can’t vouch for the food now, but at the time they made a truly delicious falafel—crispy on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside, with fresh toppings grown on local kibbutzim.

Here’s my favorite way to make a falafel pita: start with a layer of hummus deep inside the pocket, then add the falafel, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. Top with a thin layer of tahini sauce. Oy, I’m making myself hungry! :)

Here is my recipe for falafel, along with a few variations you can try. Falafel was originally made with fava beans and continues to be made that way in Egypt and other Arab countries, but Israeli falafel is made from chickpeas. This is because many Jews have a medical deficiency called G6PD, which is a hereditary enzymatic deficiency that can be triggered by fava beans. I have included an Egyptian falafel recipe variation at the end of the blog if you’d like to try making it that way. It’s greener and spicier than the Classic Falafel.

You will need to soak dried chickpeas overnight for your falafel to turn out right; canned beans are too tender and contain too much moisture to achieve the right consistency. Don’t cook the beans, because this will result in a mushier and denser falafel, which is not the proper texture. I’ve also included instructions for constructing your own falafel pita. As they say in Israel, Bete’avon!

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3-5 cloves garlic (I prefer roasted)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • Vegetable oil for frying (grapeseed, canola, and peanut oil work well)

You will also need

  • Food processor, skillet
Servings: 30-34 falafels
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them by about 3 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight. They will double in size as they soak – you will have between 4 and 5 cups of beans after soaking.
  • Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans well. Pour them into your food processor along with the chopped onion, garlic cloves, parsley, flour, salt, cumin, ground coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cardamom.
  • Pulse all ingredients together until a rough, coarse meal forms. Scrape the sides of the processor periodically and push the mixture down the sides. Process till the mixture is somewhere between the texture of couscous and a paste. You want the mixture to hold together, and a more paste-like consistency will help with that... but don't overprocess, you don't want it turning into hummus!
  • Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, pour it out into a bowl and use a fork to stir; this will make the texture more even throughout. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
  • Note: Some people like to add baking soda to the mix to lighten up the texture inside of the falafel balls. I don’t usually add it, since the falafel is generally pretty fluffy on its own. If you would like to add it, dissolve 2 tsp of baking soda in 1 tbsp of water and mix it into the falafel mixture after it has been refrigerated.
  • Fill a skillet with vegetable oil to a depth of 1 ½ inches. I prefer to use cooking oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed. Heat the oil slowly over medium heat. Meanwhile, form falafel mixture into round balls or slider-shaped patties using wet hands or a falafel scoop. I usually use about 2 tbsp of mixture per falafel. You can make them smaller or larger depending on your personal preference. The balls will stick together loosely at first, but will bind nicely once they begin to fry.
  • Note: if the balls won't hold together, place the mixture back in the processor again and continue processing to make it more paste-like. Keep in mind that the balls will be delicate at first; if you can get them into the hot oil, they will bind together and stick. If they still won't hold together, you can try adding 2-3 tbsp of flour to the mixture. If they still won't hold, add 1-2 eggs to the mix. This should fix any issues you are having.
  • Before frying my first batch of falafel, I like to fry a test one in the center of the pan. If the oil is at the right temperature, it will take 2-3 minutes per side to brown (5-6 minutes total). If it browns faster than that, your oil is too hot and your falafels will not be fully cooked in the center. Cool the oil down slightly and try again. When the oil is at the right temperature, fry the falafels in batches of 5-6 at a time till golden brown on both sides.
  • Once the falafels are fried, remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon.
  • Let them drain on paper towels. Serve the falafels fresh and hot; they go best with a plate of hummus and topped with creamy tahini sauce. You can also stuff them into a pita.
  • Troubleshooting: If your falafel is too hard/too crunchy on the outside, there are two possible reasons-- 1) you didn't process the mixture enough-- return the chickpea mixture to the processor to make it more paste-like. 2) the chickpeas you used were old. Try buying a fresher batch of dried chickpeas next time.
  • SESAME FALAFEL VARIATION: After forming the balls or patties, dip them in sesame seeds prior to frying. This will make the falafel coating crunchier and give it a slightly nutty flavor.
  • HERB FALAFEL VARIATION (GREEN FALAFEL): Add ½ cup additional chopped green parsley, or cilantro, or a mixture of the two prior to blending.
  • TURMERIC FALAFEL (YELLOW FALAFEL): Add ¾ tsp turmeric to the food processor prior to blending.
  • EGYPTIAN FALAFEL: Use 1 lb. dried peeled fava beans instead of chickpeas; cover them with cold water, soak them for at least 24 hours, then drain and rinse. You can also use a mixture of fava beans and chickpeas if you wish; just make sure the weight of the dried beans adds up to 1 lb.
  • After the beans are soaked and rinsed, add the Classic Falafel ingredients to the processor along with the following ingredients – 1 leek, cleaned, trimmed, and quartered; ¼ cup chopped dill; ¼ cup chopped cilantro; and an additional ¾ tsp cayenne pepper. When mixture is processed to a coarse meal, pour into a bowl. Stir 2 ½ tbsp sesame seeds into the mixture with a fork until it’s evenly dispersed throughout the mixture. Refrigerate and proceed with frying. If mixture seems too “wet” when making the falafel balls, add additional flour by the teaspoonful until the mixture sticks together better. Continue with frying.
  • HOW TO MAKE A FALAFEL PITA: Making a falafel pita is actually really simple. The two main ingredients are pita bread and falafel.
  • Cut the pita bread in half to form two “pockets.” Each pocket is a serving size. Stuff the pocket with falafel, as well as any add-ons you fancy.
  • Here are some traditional add-ons that can be added to your pita; these are the ingredients most widely available at falafel stands throughout Israel:
  • Tahini sauce
    Shredded lettuce
    Diced or sliced tomatoes
    Israeli salad
    Onions
    Dill pickles
    Hummus
    Tabouli
    French fries
  • Here are some less traditional add-ons that are also tasty:
  • Sprouts
    Cucumber slices
    Roasted peppers
    Roasted eggplant slices
    Sunflower seeds
    Feta cheese
    Yogurt
    Tzatziki

 

Comments (449)Post a Comment

  1. They look really good and the recipe looks spot on. I try not to eat too much fried food but once in a while I can indulge. I used to get some really good falafel when I lived in NY.

  2. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    These are awesome..the best yet. After trying so many recipes from all different books and website, these are the greatest! Try them with some lemon zest incorporated into the recipe before you fry them.

  3. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi Tori! I was searching the web for a falafel recipe and came across your blog and so very happy I did! I had attempted to make them one other time using canned chickpeas and they just wouldn’t stick together…what a mess! I decided to try your recipe and mmmm all I have to say is amazing! My fiance love them as well. I’ve bookmarked your site and will be trying many more of your yummy ideas! I think chicken shawarma next. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Okay, these are the most amazing felafel balls!!! Since going gluten free three years ago, I’ve been dreaming of felafel, my pre-gluten free favorite food. I followed your recipe to the tee except used Quinoa flour instead of garbanzo flour as I did not have garbanzo flour. Yum, Yum Yum!! What I did not calculate is how many balls I will get from the recipe and so I just decided to freeze half the batter, and then I got smart and read the comments and realize how much of a better idea it is to freeze them as balls….Oh well, next time! Hopefully, they will form as well after frozen, but man, even my Spanish cleaning girl is raving about them, re-warmed in my toaster oven from last night. Yay!! I can have felafel any time now, and that makes me absolutely in heaven!!

  5. I used to work in an authentic Lebanese restaurant as a student and I remember the owner used to insist on peeling the chickpeas for his falafel and humous recipe. What say you Shiska? (I love your recipe btw but a skip the flour and I do peel the chickpeas.

    1. Hi James, I usually peel the chickpeas for hummus (unless I’m in a hurry), however I think it would be pretty difficult to peel them for falafel because the chickpeas are only soaked, not cooked. The skins aren’t really very loose after soaking, in my experience.

    2. Hi Tori, Thanks for the response (and apologies for not referring to you by name!) I love your blog and wish you every success in gaining followers. Yes it is a chore to peel soaked uncooked chick peas, but it is possible if one scratches the husk near the little peak on the pea. Next time I make them, I will skip the peeling and see how it goes. Once again thanks for sharing your knowledge and passion!

  6. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Made these tonight. Looked at a bunch of different recipes before I chose this one. I left out the flour so they would be gluten free, and they stuck together pretty well. I also used the turmeric as well because I love it. Used only half the garbanzos, but kept the same amounts of spices. I was not disappointed. These were yummy! And my husband, daughter and I ate them all. Would need to do a full batch if I ever had guests over. Another winning recipe! Thanks so much, Tori!

  7. OMW…. I can’t wait to try these variations of Israeli falafel. I have a question though, I’m doing a fast where I must refrain from eating anything from animals, with leveners or refined. It called the Daniel fast. So what other flour can i use to bind the falafel. I was think whole wheat or corn meal?

  8. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi! Since you rehydrate the Garbonzo beans by soaking them over night, I was wondering if you could just use canned beans instead or if there is a difference. Sounds amazing I can’t wait to try them!

    1. Canned chickpeas will not provide the proper texture for the falafel; they will result in mushy falafel and they are more likely to fall apart when frying.

  9. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I love these yummy falafels!!!
    I added some corriander powder along w/tumeric powder & green chile paste & juice 1/2 fresh lemon…I baked in oven @ 350 15 min. ea. side

  10. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I made these this afternoon and they came out wonderful! They taste better than any falafel I can get at a local restaurant. Thank you for sharing your recipe!

  11. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Hi I just made these falafel. It tastes great, but just one thing, they were quite dry inside. I didn’t want to deep fry them, so I shallow fried to brown them and cooked further in the oven for 30 mins or so. Do you think it is why they weren’t soft?

  12. hi do these freeze well. i get up early for school and don’t have time to prep them fresh so i’m planning on making a bunch over the weekend and freezing them.

    1. Hi Karen, I always recommend making falafel fresh for best results, however other readers have tried freezing them with some success. Please report back and let us know how it works for you.

  13. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Hi, thanks so much for this! Here in Norway flfl stands are non-existant, and you’re lucky to get flfl in kebab shops. They’re rarely any good. With this recipe, problem solved. I made them with less flour than suggested, and the batch was so wet and loose I never thought it’d work out, but it did! Just needed to be extra careful in the cooking process, and now I have the most yummiest, crunchiest and tastiest flfl ever! Thanks again :)

  14. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I am planning on making falafel this weekend but am starting a low carb diet Monday. I know the recipe only calls for 1 1/2 tbsp of flour but is there a substitute I can use? Would almond flour work or would it change the take of it. Maybe I’m over thinking this. Would 1 1/2 tbsp of flour up the carb count for this much? Also will the falafel balls freeze well?

    1. Hi Terri, some people have tried gluten free flour as a substitute with success, but I’m doubtful it’s a low carb solution. Almond meal will not work. The flour adds a negligible amount of carbs here, so I would keep it in if I were you… it really helps to bind the mixture. As for the freezing question, please read previous comments.

  15. Hi Tori, I love this recipe and many others on your website. One question I have is how long can I keep the mixture in the fridge for prior to frying? I am preparing a large batch and would rather do this the night before? Do you know if one day would be OK, two? more?

    Many thanks

  16. Hello Tori

    I see you use uncooked beans, yet some recipes call for cooked beans. which way is better, as this will be my first time making these and I don’t want to mess it up :-)

    Thank you

    Manuela

  17. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This recipe rocked! Thanks so much! I added the turmeric AND the bit of cilantro. I used this recipe, along with the Tahini Paste and the Quinoa Tabbouleh for a dinner at my house and it was a HUGE hit — these three recipes together made a wonderful amount of food for 5 of us — all to have 2 or 3 falafel pitas — we tried them with dill pickle and it was ooook. Should’ve just gone with the sliced cucumber — I think I’ll try with french fries next time! Might be weird and yummy!

  18. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I tried making falafel several times before but it was always disappointing. Thanks to your great detailed instructions, this time it was perfect! Thank you!

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