What Is Falafel?

Falafel is a popular dish around the world that has gained popularity as a quick and easy meal. Falafel originated in the Middle East and can best be described as a deep-fried chickpea ball -- it's made by grinding chickpeas, adding garlic, herbs and then deep-frying them. Falafel tastes its best when dipped in yogurt or hummus and wrapped in a warm pita. Falafel can also be topped with salad toppings such as chopped lettuce, cucumber, tomato, carrots and pickled vegetables. And because the dish doesn't contain meat or any other animal by-products, it's a popular meal for vegetarians and vegans. This article will show you how to make your own falafel at home, and a few Middle Eastern dishes you can make with falafel:

History Of Falafel

Falafel is the national dish of Israel, but it did not originate there. The standard theory is that falafel was created in Egypt when the Coptic Christians were forbidden from eating meat during Lent. The Egyptians came up with a tasty meat alternative, "ta'amiya," which was made out of fava beans. Today, the tasty meal is more commonly made out of chickpeas and is known by "falafel," which means "little ball." There are also theories that the food was created in India or Yemen.

Before the 1970s, falafel was hard to find in the U.S. Typically, you would have to go to predominately Middle Eastern or Jewish neighborhoods to find it. Today, it is a popular dish in restaurants and commonly served as a street food throughout North America.

falafel in pita with lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber

gkrphoto/Shutterstock

Make Falafel Yourself

Making falafel at home involves many steps. And although these steps are relatively simple, it's easy to become overwhelmed with the process. Here are a few tips to make the steps seem more manageable:

Use dried chickpeas: Using chickpeas that have been dried and soaked will give the falafel a coarser texture, which is more similar to meat. Canned chickpeas will not give you the same effect. So if you're given the option to pick between the two, go with dried chickpeas every time.

Soaking the chickpeas: Typically, chickpeas are soaked for 20 to 24 hours at room temperature. But if you've forgotten to soak them the day before and need to whip up some falafel immediately, you can boil your chickpeas in a saucepan for a few minutes and let them sit for one hour before draining. This will produce relatively the same effect as soaking the chickpeas overnight.

Frying: You don't have to use a deep fryer to achieve the best results. Instead, you can pan fry your chickpea fritters and still have them come out golden and crispy, so don't fret if you don't have a fancy frying utensil.

Classic Falafel Recipe

This recipe will produce a delicious classic falafel, and it couldn't be more simple. Simply blend the chickpeas with a variety of spices, shape the mixture into balls and fry them up. Serve on a pita with lettuce, cucumbers and tomato. This recipe also walks you through a delicious sauce topping made from tahini and garlic powder to spice up the dish.

falafel balls on a wooden cutting board

Martin Rettenberger/Shutterstock

Variations

If you're a falafel connoisseur looking for more unique spin on the dish, check out these variations:

Falafel Salad With Lemon-Tahini Dressing

This dish ensures you get all your daily veggies, with a Middle Eastern twist. Falafel is mixed in with the tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers and parsley for a hearty meal that is drizzled in a tahini and lemon mixture for extra zest.

Falafel Burger

A heartier take on the classic falafel on pita, this recipe calls for you to shape larger falafel patties. Instead of the traditional small balls, each falafel should be reminiscent of a burger patty. Use it as you would a ground beef patty and serve on a bun or between toasted pitas with tomatoes and cucumbers.

Baked Pumpkin Falafel

Can't get enough pumpkin spice this fall? This recipe combines chickpeas with sweet pumpkins to create a delicious dish. The falafel mix in infused with cinnamon and the tahini sauce contains maple for a sweet treat that is almost dessert-like.

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