Meet my new obsession. After moving to the Hudson Valley last year, I’ve been dreaming about falafel. It’s one of my favorite comfort foods—born during our years in New York City—but there are none to be found in these parts, not even any facsimiles. Thus began my crusade to create my own. Let me tell you, it’s been worth every bite. These ladies are verdant with fresh herbs (literally, notice their green color), garlic and spices, with a crisp crust and tender center. Drizzled with a bright, lemony Tahini Yogurt Sauce, they beat any falafel stand. Oh, and did I mention that they can be either baked or fried? Mmm, mmm, I’m doing my falafel dance.
I have to be honest, this recipe doesn’t quite meet my parameters of “meals and recipes from scratch in under an hour,” but it’s close, and the results are worth breaking the rules slightly. It’s still very doable during a workweek with a bit of planning. The first step actually starts the day before—soaking the chickpeas. I love Sally Fallon’s cookbook Nourishing Traditions, and she recommends soaking the chickpeas in boiling water and lemon juice. Not only does this make the chickpeas more digestible and nutritious, but it also makes for an incredibly smooth-textured falafel. The soaking plumps and hydrates the chickpeas so they don’t need to be cooked at all before making the patties. They’re simply drained then blended with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor. I spread the mixture out into a pan and pop it into the freezer to help it cool quickly (this helps the falafel hold their shape). From there, the mixture is formed into patties and then fried or baked.
I highly suggest giving frying a go—it creates a more authentic result with a lighter texture, moister center and a crisper crust. Deep frying gets a bad rap for being difficult and unhealthy, but in reality, it’s not hard at all and not much worse from a health standpoint than sautéing (if done properly not much oil is absorbed). The trick is to get the oil to the right temperature. I confess I hardly ever use a thermometer but instead throw a little bit of the falafel mixture into the pot to test the temp; if it starts bubbling, it’s ready to go. If it sinks with no action, the oil is too cold, and if it sputters like a madwoman and browns instantly, it’s too hot. You’ll get a feel for it, I promise. Baking the falafel is a great alternative, but you’ll get denser and drier patties (the flavor is still delicious, however, and it’s nothing a little extra Tahini Yogurt Sauce can’t fix).
From Scratch Falafel with Tahini Yogurt Sauce
- 2 cups dried chickpeas
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice , divided
- 4 garlic cloves , peeled
- 1 cup packed parsley leaves and stems
- 1 cup packed cilantro leaves and stems
- 4 scallions (white and green parts), coarsely chopped
- 1 medium onion , coarsely chopped
- 2 jalapeño peppers , stems, seeds and ribs removed, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon sea salt (*I use Eden brand Celtic sea salt)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- Tahini Yogurt Sauce for serving (see below)
- Grapeseed oil for frying
- Pita bread , shredded lettuce, feta for serving (optional)
- Starting 24 hours before you’re going to make the falafel (a.k.a. the evening before), put the chickpeas in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. Stir in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Cover lightly and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours. The next morning, drain the chickpeas and cover again with boiling water and the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Let sit at room temperature until dinnertime. Drain and rinse the chickpeas before proceeding.
- In a food processor with the blade running, add the garlic cloves and chop. Add the parsley and cilantro and finely chop. Add the chickpeas and remaining ingredients except Tahini Yogurt Sauce and oil. Process to a smooth puree, scraping down the sides as needed (this will take about 5 minutes—just let the machine rip). Spread the mixture out in a 8- or 9-inch baking dish (this will help it cool faster); cover and freeze 20 minutes, or up to 1 hour. While the mixture freezes, make the Tahini Yogurt Sauce (see below).
- Cut the falafel into 16 squares (this is just to help you portion it evenly). Using your hands, shape the mixture into 16 patties, about 2 ½ inches wide (the mixture will be quite soft but should hold together without a problem). Place the patties on a parchment- or wax-paper lined baking sheet. If you have the time, cover the patties with plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer for 5-10 minutes (to help them to keep their shape when cooking). If you’re baking the falafel, preheat the oven to 450˚F with a rack in the upper third. Do Ahead: The patties can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 hours.
- To Fry: Pour 1 inch of oil into a large, heavy saucepan, preferably enameled cast iron. Heat oil over medium-high until the oil shimmers (when you toss a crumb in it should start to bubble and float back up to the surface). Add a few of the patties, making sure not to overcrowd the pot. Cook 4-5 minutes, flipping the patties one or twice (a fish spatula works great for this), or until evenly golden brown all over. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the falafel to a paper-towel lined baking sheet. Cook the rest of the patties, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the oil temperature. To Bake: Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and rub it generously with oil (don’t skimp on the oil, this is what will give the falafel their crust). Place the baking sheet in the oven (on top third rack) for 1-2 minutes to preheat. Remove pan from oven, and carefully place patties on top. Brush tops of patties with more oil. Bake 7-10 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. Flip the patties and cook an additional 5-6 minutes, or until golden brown on the other side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Do Ahead: The falafel—baked or fried—can be made up to 30 minutes in advance. Line on baking sheet and place in a 200˚F oven to keep warm.
- Serve the warm falafel drizzled with the Tahini Yogurt Sauce. I prefer the falafel either over a lemony salad or stuffed in pita bread with shredded lettuce.
*The falafel are also very tasty the next day. Heat the patties on a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven or toaster oven until warmed through.
Tahini Yogurt Sauce
- 1 clove garlic , peeled
- ¼ cup tahini
- Sea salt
- ¼ cup cold water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- In a mini food processor with the motor running, add the garlic clove and process until finely chopped. Add the tahini and a pinch of salt. Start the motor and slowly drizzle in the water. Scrape down the sides, and add the lemon juice, yogurt and 1 tablespoon olive oil; process until smooth. Season with salt. The sauce should taste nice and tart (so that it cuts through the richness of the falafel), but if it’s too sour—especially if you’re using fat free yogurt—whiz in another tablespoon of olive oil. If you want a thinner texture, drizzle in some more water as well. Do Ahead: The Tahini Yogurt sauce can be made up to 3 days in advance. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.