These homemade falafel are crispy with a soft and fluffy herbed centre. They’re an utterly delicious snack drizzled with creamy tahini. But they’re even better stuffed into warm pita bread pockets with fresh chopped salad and tahini sauce.
Falafel sandwiches are a classic Middle Eastern breakfast sold freshly fried by street vendors across the Middle East. Serve your pita sandwich while the falafel are still warm and crispy for the ultimate falafel sandwich experience.
What are falafel pita pocket sandwiches?
Traditional falafel are deep-fried fritters of ground chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or fava beans (broad beans) with lots of fresh green herbs.
Street vendors shape the falafel mixture into small balls or patties before deep frying it in hot oil. They serve the warm and crispy falafel in pita bread with fresh vegetables, hummus and tahini sauce.
The falafel sandwich is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Falafel pita ingredients and substitutes
The list of ingredients may seem long, but there is nothing to be intimidated by here.
Feel free to substitute herbs and spices. Just be sure to use dried chickpeas soaked in plenty of water overnight. Never use cooked chickpeas (like canned or jarred chickpeas) for traditional fried falafel.
The main ingredient in this Israeli falafel recipe is dried chickpeas. We also add onion, fresh herbs and spices for flavour.
- Dried chickpeas: Soak dried chickpeas in ample water overnight. Never use canned chickpeas for a traditional falafel recipe. Your falafel will fall apart because cooked chickpeas (including jarred or canned chickpeas) lack the starch required for binding falafel.
- Garlic: You can substitute the fresh garlic cloves with a teaspoon of dried garlic powder for flavour.
- Herbs: A mix of parsley, cilantro (coriander leaves) and mint give this herb falafel its distinctive green inside and herby flavour.
- Onion: Use any chopped onion – white, yellow and red onions work well.
- Spices: I add ground cumin and coriander, but you can play with the spices you have on hand.
- Baking powder: It keeps the falafel light and fluffy inside as the outside crisps up.
- Seasoning: I use ground sea salt, but you can use kosher salt. Taste a bite of the uncooked falafel mix and add the salt in stages if you are worried about over-seasoning.
- Oil: Use a neutral frying oil like vegetable, canola or sunflower oil. You need no more than a quart (a litre). But it depends on the size of your pot.
Falafel salad mix ingredients
This fresh salad is a simplified Arabic chopped salad (also called Israeli salad).
Dicing the veg and mixing them with olive oil and lemon juice is a great way to get ahead. But you can also stuff sliced tomatoes and cucumber directly into the pita halves.
Fresh vegetables for falafel:
- Cucumbers: Use English or small Persian cucumbers. Anything goes, as long as they are fresh and crunchy.
- Tomatoes: I use cherry tomatoes sliced in half, but you can also use diced Roma tomatoes. Or swap the tomatoes for fresh diced red bell pepper.
- Onion: I use red onion, but you can use yellow, white or even green onions (skip the soaking step if you use spring onions, green onions or scallions). Or make a quick batch of sumac onions instead.
- Olive oil: Don’t skimp on the olive oil. Use good quality extra virgin olive oil.
- Parsley: What would classic Middle Eastern food be without a healthy dose of fresh parsley? You can use fresh mint or chopped cilantro (coriander) instead.
- Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice adds fresh acidity and lemony goodness, but you can also use lime juice, white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
Tahini sauce ingredients
I don’t include the tahini sauce recipe instructions in the falafel pita recipe card. (I know how unnecessarily intimidating an overly long recipe card can be!) But don’t fret – this easy lemon tahini sauce recipe has all the instructions.
You can make the creamy tahini sauce a few days in advance.
The ingredients you’ll need for your tahini sauce:
- 3 garlic cloves: If you don’t have fresh garlic, substitute it with a teaspoon of garlic powder.
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice: You can also try the salty lemon brine from preserved lemons (use half the amount of fresh lemon juice and omit the salt).
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin: The cumin powder adds an earthy flavour that complements the tahini.
- 1 cup tahini paste: Use good quality shop-bought tahini or make your own tahini from hulled sesame seeds using a food processor or high-speed blender.
- ½ cup cold water: Mixing in the water, a little at a time, creates the creamiest tahini sauce.
- 1 teaspoon sea salt: Or use kosher salt and adjust the salt to your liking.
Falafel sandwich ingredients
- Pita: Make homemade pita bread or grab some from your local grocery store. You can also use whole-wheat pitas for a wholesome falafel sandwich.
- Hummus: Make homemade hummus or look for good quality hummus at the grocery store. Try this creamy lemon hummus recipe (with instructions for dried or canned chickpeas). Or, for a fiery kick, make spicy harissa hummus.
- Zhough: This spicy Middle Eastern cilantro sauce is the perfect hot sauce for herb falafel. Or try another favourite, shatta sauce. Fermented shatta sauce can last a month or more in the fridge, so it’s well worth the effort. You can also use shop-bought hot sauce or skip the spicy stuff altogether.
Tips for perfect Middle Eastern fried falafel
For traditional, crispy falafel with a soft and fluffy green inside, you need to mind three important tips:
- Use dried chickpeas, not canned chickpeas: Cooked chickpeas do not have enough starch to bind your falafel mixture into perfect little falafel patties.
- Deep fry the falafel: Deep-frying traditional falafel delivers the best result.
- Serve the falafel warm: The best falafel are freshly fried – still warm and crispy.
See this Middle Eastern falafel recipe post for more falafel tips and tricks. It has freezing instructions for quick-and-easy falafel cooked straight from frozen if you want to get ahead. Or try a fuss-free baked falafel version that uses canned chickpeas instead.
How to make the ultimate falafel pita sandwich
As with most things in life, it pays to be well-prepared. The falafel sandwich recipe may look imposing, but much is doable in advance.
And while freshly fried homemade falafel is first prize, you can buy good-quality premade falafel or frozen falafel mix to save some time.
There are six simple steps to make the best falafel sandwich:
- Step 1: Soak chickpeas and make sauces
- Step 2: Make the falafel mixture
- Step 3: Prepare the fresh vegetables
- Step 4: Shape the falafel patties
- Step 5: Cook the falafel
- Step 6: Assemble your pita sandwich
Step 1: Soak chickpeas and make sauces
Start this step the day before you want to make your falafel mixture.
Place chickpeas in enough water to remain covered while soaking. Use roughly three cups of water for each cup of dried chickpeas. Top up the water if the chickpeas are exposed.
You can also make the tahini sauce, hummus and zhoug up to three days in advance. Or use good quality store-bought versions.
Step 2: Make the falafel mixture
The next day, drain the soaked chickpeas in a colander or fine mesh strainer and pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Place the soaked chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor. Blitz for 15 seconds and scrape down the sides.
Add the chopped herbs, onion and garlic. Blitz for another 30 seconds or so – scrape down the sides as necessary. The chickpea mixture should be well combined and damp with a coarse texture.
It should hold together when shaped, but it should not be wet and pasty.
Transfer the coarse mixture to a large bowl or airtight container and add the spices and salt. Mix it well. Then, sprinkle over the baking soda and give it a final mix.
Cover the falafel mixture and refrigerate for 1 hour (up to 24 hours) while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
Step 3: Prepare fresh vegetables
Fill a bowl with water. Finely slice half a red onion and allow it to mellow in the water while you chop the cucumber, tomatoes and fresh parsley.
Drain the onion and mix it with the cucumber, tomatoes, chopped herbs, olive oil and lemon juice in a large bowl.
Add half a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of black pepper.
Step 4: Shape the falafel patties
Divide the falafel mix into 24 even-sized small portions (about a heaped tablespoon).
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use a silicone mat).
Roll each portion of the falafel mix into a ball. Then gently flatten the ball into a rounded pattie. Don’t flatten it too much, or the centre won’t be light and fluffy.
Use wet hands to smooth any cracked edges on the pattie.
Arrange the falafel patties on the baking sheet in a single layer as you go.
Or shape the mixture into falafel balls (or falafel bullets) if you prefer.
Step 5: Cook the falafel
Fill a deep, heavy-based medium saucepan with enough oil to rise about 2½ inches (7 cm) up the side. And place the pan on medium heat to bring the oil to 350 °F (180 °C).
Gently lower the falafel into the hot oil in batches – I do six to eight falafel per batch. Cook small falafel patties for three to four minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer cooked falafel to a bowl lined with kitchen paper.
Step 6: Assemble your falafel sandwich
I like to heat the pita bread in the oven for 2 minutes at 350 °F (180 °C), but you can skip this if the pita is super fresh.
Cut each warm pita in half. Spread hummus inside the pita pocket and add some chopped salad. Place two to three small falafel patties in each pita pocket.
More ways to serve crispy falafel
Falafel pita sandwiches are the ultimate Middle Eastern breakfast or easy lunch. But you can also serve crispy fried falafel in so many different ways.
Serve your falafel as:
- a snack with dips and tzatziki or tahini sauce,
- a falafel sandwich stuffed into a warm pita pocket with creamy hummus, chopped tomatoes and cucumber, fresh parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous drizzle of tahini sauce,
- a vegan falafel burger with a large falafel patty stuffed into a hamburger roll with relish, crunchy lettuce and pickles,
- a falafel plate or mezze spread alongside more Middle Eastern sides like lemon hummus, labneh balls and sumac onions,
- a vegan falafel bowl with bulgur wheat salad and tahini dressing, or
- a falafel salad with a zesty Arabic chopped salad, an Israeli-style tahini salad or a fresh green salad, topped with crispy falafel.
See the best sides and sauces to serve with falafel pita for more inspiration.
Frequently asked questions
A falafel sandwich is a crispy falafel stuffed into warm pita bread with fresh vegetables and hummus drizzled with tahini or tzatziki sauce. Typical vegetables include tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, onions and roasted eggplant.
Serve falafel pitas with fresh Middle Eastern salad, like Arabic chopped salad, and dips such as hummus, baba ganoush or labneh. Use Middle Eastern sauces like classic falafel tahini sauce, tzatziki sauce, and zhoug hot sauce.
Falafel are also great as part of a falafel platter or as a snack.
Find more Middle Eastern sides and sauces to serve with falafel pita.
You can make a falafel sandwich ahead of time for a room-temperature work lunch or an easy picnic sandwich. However, falafel are at its best when served warm and freshly fried.
Falafel mixture (or use shop-bought falafel)
- 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in plenty of water*
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup roughly chopped herbs, a mix of parsley, cilantro and mint
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- oil for frying
Falafel salad mix
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced and placed in a bowl of water
- ½ English cucumber, sliced into half-moon shapes
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- salt and black pepper, to taste
To serve falafel pita sandwich
- 4 pita, or whole-wheat pita
- ½ cup creamy lemon hummus, or store-bought hummus
- ½ cup tahini sauce
- zhoug or hot sauce (optional)
- You can make the tahini sauce, hummus and zhoug up to three days in advance. Or use good quality store-bought versions.
Make the falafel mixture
- Drain the soaked chickpeas in a colander or fine mesh strainer and pat dry with a clean tea towel.
- Place the chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor. Blitz for 15 seconds and scrape down the sides.
- Add the chopped herbs, onion and garlic. Blitz for another 30 seconds or so – scrape down the sides as necessary. The falafel mixture should be well combined and damp with a coarse texture. It should hold together when shaped.
- Transfer the chickpea mixture to a large mixing bowl or airtight container and add the spices and salt. Mix it well. Then, sprinkle over the baking soda and give it a final mix. Cover the falafel mixture and refrigerate for 1 hour (up to 24 hours) while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
Prep the falafel salad
- Drain the onion and mix it with the cucumber, tomatoes, chopped herbs, olive oil and lemon juice. Add half a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of black pepper.
Shape the falafel
- Divide the falafel mix into 24 even-sized small portions (about a heaped tablespoon).
- Roll each portion of the falafel mix into a ball. Then gently flatten the ball into a thick rounded pattie. Use wet fingers to round any burst edges.
Cook the falafel
- Fill a deep, heavy-based medium saucepan with enough oil to rise about 2½ inches (7 cm) up the side. And place the pan on medium heat to bring the oil to 350 °F.
- Gently lower the falafel into the hot oil in batches – I do 6 to 8 falafel per batch. Cook the falafel patties for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer cooked falafel to a bowl lined with kitchen paper.
Assemble the falafel pita sandwiches
- I like to heat the pita bread in the oven for 2 minutes at 350 °F, but you can skip this if the pita is super fresh.
- Cut each warm pita in half. Spread hummus inside the pita pocket and add some salad. Place 2 to 3 small falafel patties inside each half-pita pocket and top with tahini sauce and zhoug (or hot sauce).
- The tahini sauce recipe makes more than you need. But there are plenty of ideas for leftover tahini sauce.
- I like to make small patties because they fit better into the narrow pita pockets. But you can also make round falafel balls or bullet-shaped falafel. Read more about crispy Middle Eastern falafel for all the tips and tricks, frequently asked falafel questions, freezing instructions and more.
- If you are not going to eat the falafel sandwich immediately, allow the cooked falafel to cool to room temperature before assembling your sandwich.