You don’t need a deep fryer to make these crispy little balls of chickpeas and spices. They can be prepared in the oven and still have that traditional flavor and texture.
I’ll never forget the first time I had falafel, decades ago. My girlfriend and I went to Boston to attend a writers conference, a hectic two days of shuttle buses to different locations and hit-or-miss meals. One of those days, we didn’t manage to have lunch and couldn’t get dinner reservations until 9, way too late for a couple of country girls! We happened by a small stand that sold one thing – deep-fried falafel balls in a pita with a lemon tahini sauce.
One taste, and I was forever hooked!
I had never had this experience before, but we were starved and knew that dinner was a long way off. One taste and I was forever hooked. I remember biting into this delicious mix of hot, crispy, soft, textured wonderful, all doused with a sauce from heaven. We said not a word, just looked at each other as we ate with messy greed, sauce running down our chins and covering our fingers – they used a lot of sauce, and we needed to use a lot of napkins and lick a lot of fingers. Street food at its absolute best.
Start with dried chickpeas
Alas, my falafel experiences since then could not compare to the first time, but I’ve had some pretty amazing samples along the way. I learned ages ago that the best falafel is made using dried chickpeas that are soaked and then ground with lots of herbs and spices, and then deep fried. When I make my own, the preparation evolved from deep fried to shallow fried in a cast-iron pan, but I wanted to reduce the fat a little more and try my hand at baking them.
Saves time, not necessarily fat
I’m not sure I saved all that much in terms of fat since in my experiments, I needed a good amount of oil on the baking sheet and a good drizzle on top in order for them to crisp up the way I wanted. What it did save was fuss-over time; I could just put them in the oven and set the timer rather than hoover over the stove. Another time, I might shallow fry them, but if one is juggling to keep a lot of balls in the air at dinner time, set and forget in the oven is just fine!
Because the baked falafels can be a little dry, I added a bit of tahini right to the mixture. It acts to moisten them, and helps to bind them together as well.
Easy, fast prep
You have to think ahead and soak the chickpeas, but after that it’s all about putting everything in the food processor and letting it do most of the work.
Tuck them in a pita with lettuce, tomato, and onion and drizzled with the tahini sauce, serve them atop a salad, float them on some hummus and drizzle with olive oil, or just make them a part of a pretty plate of dinner. They are extremely nutritious, high in fiber and protein, and filling as well. As a bonus, they are gluten free, and the sauce is dairy free. Some lemon-tahini sauces use yoghurt, but this recipe does not.
Traditionally, both parsley and cilantro are used, but I do not like the flavor of the latter so I use just parsley. You can use both if you like, or add another green herb as well.
Baked Falafels with Lemon Tahini Sauce
2 cups dried organic chickpeas
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 small onion, chopped up
6 cloves garlic, smashed
zest and juice of one lemon
Bunch of parsley, chopped
1/3 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup tahini
Lemon tahini sauce
Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water by a few inches. Set aside overnight to plump up. In the morning, place in a sieve, rinse, and drain.
Place all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the mixture has an even grain, but still has texture. You don’t want a smooth paste here. If you pick up a small clump and squeeze, it will stay together.
Refrigerate the dough for an hour or more. This allows everything to get absorbed together, and the spices to settle in.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and place a rimmed baking pan on the middle rack.
Form the falafel into balls or patties, the size you want for the dish you are making. Pack them together well, and smooth the sides.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and coat generously with olive oil. Place the patties or balls on the sheet, and brush with a little more oil.
Bake for 15 minutes, gently turn, and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. I like them nice and crispy.
Serve stuffed into whole wheat pita bread along with lettuce, tomato, onion, or other favorite salad veggies, and drizzle with lemon-tahini sauce.
Lemon Tahini Sauce
I think I could eat cardboard topped with this. You can use this as a sauce for anything, delicious on roasted vegetables. Or, serve it as a salad dressing.
Juice and zest of two lemons
Equal measure of tahini
Pinch of cumin
1 garlic clove, pressed
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to thin
Blend together the lemon juice and zest, tahini, cumin, and garlic and whisk well. the mixture will thicken and get kind of airy. Add water to thin to your desired consistency, add salt and pepper, taste, and correct seasoning. You can also add a little hot sauce here.
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