Are you looking for a way to send out those last beautiful summer tomatoes and cucumbers in style? Do you need more genuinely delicious vegetarian recipes in your life? Do you crave Middle Eastern food?
If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, keep reading. We’re going to falafel!
Falafel is what happens when you puree garbanzo beans with lots of Middle eastern herbs and spices, then fry small balls of the mixture in oil until they become deeply browned and crunchy, with mellow, steamy centers. They’re usually served gyro-style – in a pita, with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers, slathered with the most delicious yogurt/tahini sauce.
Seriously, if you do nothing else with this recipe, go make the sauce. The falafel are great – they’re the best I’ve had – but that sauce! I could eat it with a spoon. Actually, I have eaten it with a spoon. It’s fantastic.
Anyway, back to the falafel. The first thing you need to know about making falafel at home is that it can go horribly wrong.
But don’t worry! This is totally preventable. Just watch out for a few key things and you’ll soon be piling your pitas high with falafel and summer veggies
First: If you’re using dried garbanzo beans, soak them in the refrigerator. Chickpeas are quicker to ferment than most beans, and if you leave them soaking on the counter for too long, they can start to smell a little funky.
Second: Puree your beans! A finely chopped mixture is disastrous. You need a paste. If the mixture is too coarse, your falafel balls will disintegrate into nothingness when you try to fry them. Adding flour as a binder will not solve this. Trust me. I think I got a few grey hairs figuring this one out.
There. Now, since I’ve already made all the falafel mistakes for you, your falafel-making experience should be utterly straightforward and delicious. Just don’t ask me how to eat one of these without dripping that amazing sauce all over yourself. I haven’t figured that one out yet.
Yields roughly 24 falafel balls, enough for about 16 pita sandwiches. This equates to 8 normal-sized servings, or 16 light meals.
Adapted (and debugged) from Tyler Florence and JoAnn Cianciulli.
A food processor is pretty much essential for getting the right texture here. And as I mentioned above, the texture isn’t just a matter of personal taste – the falafel simply will not hold together if the mixture is too coarse. I don’t think you could get the needed consistency with a knife, at least in any reasonable amount of time. And the paste is too thick for a blender. A food mill might work, although I haven’t tried this.
Tahini paste can be expensive or hard to find in regular grocery stores. Your best bet for price and availability is to go to an ethnic store, but you can find it online in a pinch.
This recipe makes a lot of sauce. Trust me, if you’re anything like us, you’ll use it all. And if not, it’s a fantastic veggie dipping sauce.
One last thing – I made a double batch of everything when taking these photos. I pureed and cooked the falafel in batches, but the spice grinding and sauce pictures show the full double batch amounts.
2 C dried garbanzo beans/chickpeas
1 T whole cumin seeds
1 T whole coriander seeds
1 small onion, quartered
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 handfuls fresh parsley
1 handful fresh cilantro
2 t baking powder
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t kosher salt
vegetable oil, for frying
1 C tahini paste
1 C plain yogurt*
juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
about a pinch each of salt and paprika (I like smoked paprika here)
Pita halves, warmed and split open, pocket-style
Onions, thinly sliced
The night before
Put the dried beans in a bowl and cover with water by 2-3 inches. Let beans soak in the refrigerator overnight (at least 12 hours, up to 24 is fine).
Make the Falafel
Put cumin and coriander seeds in a small pan and roast over medium heat. Remove from heat once they start to smell fragrant and turn just slightly darker (careful, they burn easily!), and grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Put onion through cilantro in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Drain garbanzo beans and add them to the food processor, along with the baking powder, red pepper flakes, salt, and roasted spices. Process, scraping down sides as needed, until the mixture forms a paste, almost like a gritty hummus. (It won’t be smooth like hummus because the beans aren’t cooked, but the bean pieces should be about the size of that coarse sugar you see sprinkled on cookies.) This will take a few minutes.
Let the falafel paste rest in the refrigerator while you heat the oil.
Fill a large cast iron pan or other heavy pot with 1.5 inches (3 cm) of oil. Heat over medium heat until a small bit of the falafel mixture sizzles and starts to brown when you drop it in. When your oil is hot but not smoking, gently drop ping pong-sized balls** of falafel paste into the oil (you will need to fry the falafels in at least two batches). Fry, turning once, until the falafel balls turn a deep, crunchy brown. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and repeat with remaining falafel mix.
Make the Sauce
Combine tahini paste through garlic in a medium-sized bowl. Season with salt and paprika to taste.
Cut a few falafel balls in half. Spread the inside of a pita half with a generous amount of tahini sauce. Fill with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, and 3-4 falafel halves. Enjoy!
*Greek yogurt will make the sauce way too thick. You can substitute half or all of the yogurt for water, in a pinch.
** I use a #30 disher, which holds about 2 tablespoons, to scoop out my falafel mix. I drop it directly from the scoop into the pan, no rolling needed.