What is falafel?
Falafel is a popular Middle Eastern dish of lightly fried balls of ground chickpeas, tahini, herbs and spices, and served either in a pitta bread with salad or as part of a mezze.
Falafel has become increasingly common around the world as a popular street food, as well as an easy go-to option for vegetarians and vegans due to its high protein levels (13g per 100g) and versatility – the patty can be shaped into burger patties to make veggie burgers and served with a variety of toppings or in a bun.
Is falafel healthy?
The health benefits of falafel hugely depend on how it was cooked and how it’s served. A deep fried falafel in pita with dressings can have as many as 750 calories and 30g of fat a serving. Nothing deep fried is ever going to be healthy, but if you’re making your own you can shallow fry or oven bake (see recipe below) for a much healthier falafel. If you’re watching your waistline you can also use a low fat yoghurt to make the dressing, or replace with pickled vegetables or a fresh salsa of chopped tomato and lime juice.
Visit our healthy recipe section for more healthy cooking ideas.
Can you use tinned chickpeas to make falafel?
Authentic falafel recipes will always use dried chickpeas. Tinned chickpeas are pre-cooked and too soft to survive the frying process without breaking up.
Can you make falafel in advance?
Falafel can be made a day ahead, ready for frying or baking the next day. If you want to prepare it even further in advance you can freeze it and cook from frozen.
Makes: 16 balls
- 225g/8oz dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water
- 1 tbsp tahini
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 50g fresh parsley, roughly chopped and stems removed
- 40g fresh coriander, roughly chopped and stems removed
- 10g fresh dill, roughly chopped and stems removed
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
Drain the chickpeas and place in a food processor with the tahini, salt, baking powder, cumin, cayenne, coriander, garlic, the fresh herbs and lemon juice.
Process until very finely chopped. Use the pulse setting, if you have it, to make sure it doesn’t purée.
Ideally put the mixture in the fridge for a couple of hours, so the flavours can mingle and the mixture can firm up, making it easier to shape, but if time is tight it isn’t necessary.
Using wet hands to prevent sticking, shape the falafel mixture into 16 balls, then flatten slightly to form patties.
Baking falafel in the oven
Preheat the oven to 220C/Fan 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Place a roasting tin in the oven to heat up.
Add the oil to the roasting tin, then return to the oven for a couple of minutes. Carefully add the falafel, tossing lightly to coat in hot oil.
Bake for 20 minutes, turning once halfway through, until crisp and golden.
Deep frying falafel
Pour about 3 inches of oil into a saucepan, or switch on your deep fat fryer.
Place your falafel into the oil for a few minutes – probably no more than five. Keep an eye on them and remove when they look like they’ve turned crispy.
Shallow frying falafel
Flatten your patties a little more than you would if you were oven baking or deep frying, as they’ll cook more easily if they’re thinner.
Warm up some oil in a frying pan.
Place your patties in the pan and cook them for a few minutes on each side, turning over until they are golden brown on both sides.
How to serve
Mint and yoghurt sauce
- 2tbs dried mint (or dill)
- 150g Greek style yogurt
- 1 small clove garlic, crushed
- Lettuce leaves or watercress
- 4 wholemeal pitta breads
Whilst the falafel cooks, stir the dried mint into the yogurt with the crushed garlic. Season to taste.
Lightly toast the pittas on each side, cut each in half and open up each half to make a pocket. Fill the pitta pockets with falafel, lettuce and the yogurt sauce. Serve whilst warm.
What to serve with falafel?
You can eat falafel on its own with a salad if you’re trying to be healthy, or served in an Arabic flatbread, pitta pocket or wrap with a range of toppings. Popular sauces to serve with falafel include houmous, yoghurt sauce (often labneh, a thick Middle Eastern strained yoghurt). If you would rather avoid the bread you could serve it with Middle Eastern vegetables such as courgettes stuffed with rice, harissa-glazed aubergine, carrot salad or a Middle Eastern salad with creamy tahini dressing.
Can you freeze falafel?
Yes you can. Simply shape into balls and freeze on a tray. Once frozen they can be boxed or bagged up. They can be cooked from frozen.
Is falafel vegan?
Falafel is usually vegan, but vegans eating out do need to watch for yoghurt-based toppings, you can usually request houmous or pickled vegetables instead. Lebanese flatbreads, which falafel is sometimes served in, often have milk as an ingredient, although pittas usually don’t.
Is falafel gluten free?
Falafel itself is gluten-free, but of course it is often served with bread. If you’re cooking yourself you can buy gluten free pitta breads or wraps, but this might not be an option when eating out so you should request it with a salad.