You haven’t had falafel until you’ve tried freshly made crispy falafel balls. And this Middle Eastern recipe delivers that perfectly crispy exterior with a soft and fluffy herbed centre for the best falafel experience.
Serve your Middle Eastern falafel balls as a delightful snack with tahini sauce or tzatziki for dipping. Or shape the falafel into small patties and stuff them into warm pita bread with hummus and hot sauce for a light meal.
You can even turn them into vegan falafel bowls or quick and easy fresh falafel salad.
I adapted this homemade falafel recipe from Sammi Tamimi’s authentic falafel recipe in Falastin.
Though, over time, I also added tips and tricks from the Ottolenghi falafel recipe in Jerusalem and a few other traditional falafel recipes. Can you tell I had my fair share of fried falafel balls during the recipe development process? I’m certainly not complaining.
This post contains detailed instructions for traditional falafel. It’s a long one. Keep reading for all the tips and tricks, or go straight to the section you’re after:
What is a Middle Eastern falafel?
Traditional falafel are deep-fried fritters of ground chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or fava beans (broad beans) with lots of fresh green herbs. Middle Eastern street vendors shape the falafel mixture into small balls or patties before deep frying it in hot oil.
Falafel is considered a national dish of Egypt, Israel and the State of Palestine. But it is a popular street food across all Arab countries.
In Egypt and Lebanon, falafel is often a mix of dried chickpeas and fava beans.
This falafel recipe uses only chickpeas because dried chickpeas are more accessible. But also because these Israeli chickpea falafel are what my food idols, Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi, grew up eating in Jerusalem. It quickly became my favourite falafel as well.
Falafel ingredients & substitutes
The main ingredient in these Middle Eastern falafel is dried chickpeas. But fresh herbs, onion and spices also add tons of flavour.
As long as you use dry chickpeas, you can play around with the spices and herbs to make this vegan falafel recipe your own.
You can substitute dried fava beans (broad beans) for dried chickpeas or mix the two. The combination is traditional in Egyptian and Lebanese falafel. Use dry uncooked chickpeas, and never canned chickpeas for traditional falafel.
I always add fresh minced garlic cloves, but you can substitute the fresh garlic with a teaspoon of dried garlic powder for flavour.
The fresh green herbs give herb falafel its distinctive green inside and herby flavour.
Use a mix of fresh parsley, fresh cilantro (coriander leaves) and mint.
I use mostly parsley and cilantro with only a few mint leaves, but you can use what you have or prefer.
A chopped onion adds flavour and moisture to the falafel mix.
I use a yellow onion, but you can also use white or red onions.
I add Aleppo pepper flakes for a slightly spicy falafel. It only adds a subtle spicy flavour that I adore, but you can omit it if you prefer.
You can also use red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper instead. Or find more Aleppo pepper alternatives.
Add two teaspoons of spices for every cup of unsoaked dry chickpeas. I use equal parts ground cumin and ground coriander.
But you can use either of the two or add some sumac to the mix for an exciting twist.
Don’t skip the baking powder. It keeps the gluten-free falafel light and fluffy inside as the outside crisps up.
I use ground sea salt, but you can use kosher salt. Taste a bite of the uncooked falafel mix if you are worried about over-seasoning.
Or you can omit the fresh garlic and salt in the recipe and try another seasoning like garlic salt.
Sesame seeds (optional)
Press a few seeds into the uncooked falafel balls before frying.
Oil for frying
Use a neutral frying oil like vegetable oil, canola or sunflower oil. Depending on the size of your pot, you will use less than a quart (a litre).
Tips for perfect fried falafel
For traditional, crispy falafel with a soft and fluffy inside, you need to mind three important tips:
- use dried chickpeas, not canned chickpeas,
- deep fry falafel instead of baking them, and
- serve the falafel warm and freshly fried.
Tip 1: Use dried chickpeas
Don’t use canned or cooked chickpeas – your falafel will fall apart in the hot oil. Cooked chickpeas do not have enough starch to bind your falafel mixture into perfect little falafel balls. No one wants oily chickpea soup instead of crispy falafel.
Soak dried uncooked chickpeas in cold water overnight or until roughly doubled in weight (or almost tripled in volume). If you want to add fava beans, the same rule applies – soak the dried uncooked beans overnight.
As long as you stick to the recipe and use uncooked soaked chickpeas, there is no need to add chickpea flour or eggs. It means that the falafel recipe is naturally gluten-free and vegan!
Tip 2: Deep fry falafel balls
Unfortunately, you need to deep-fry the falafel balls for the best authentic falafel.
It is the key to crispy falafel with soft and fluffy centres.
While you can bake or pan-fry falafel patties, deep frying the falafel undoubtedly delivers the best results. There is a reason why this is the traditional method of cooking falafel across Arab countries.
Tip 3: Serve the falafel fresh
The best falafel are freshly fried.
Place the freshly fried falafel on a paper towel or napkin to let the excess oil drain. Eat the falafel still warm. They lose their delicious crisp as they cool down.
You can keep leftover cooked falafel in the fridge or freezer for a few days, but they won’t remain crispy.
How to make authentic falafel: step-by-step
There are five main steps before you sit down to eat your delicious falafel balls or patties:
- Soak dried chickpeas
- Make the falafel mixture
- Rest the mixture
- Shape the falafel mix into balls or patties
- Cook the falafel in hot oil
Keep reading for the step-by-step instructions with images, or jump to the crispy falafel recipe card to get started.
Step 1: Soak dried chickpeas
Start the day before and soak your chickpeas in plenty of water. Use about three cups of water for every cup of dried chickpeas.
The dried chickpeas will roughly double in weight and almost triple in volume as they soak up the water.
The next day, strain the soaked chickpeas with a fine mesh strainer. Leave them to dry while you get the rest of the ingredients ready. Or pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Step 2: Make the falafel mix
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, scraping down the sides as necessary.
The mix should have a damp mealy texture with all the ingredients well combined. When pressed into a ball, it should keep its shape.
But it should not be a wet and mushy fine paste.
Transfer the ground falafel mixture to an airtight container or large bowl. Add the chilli flakes, ground cumin, ground coriander and 1½ teaspoon of salt and mix it well.
Then, sprinkle over the baking soda and give the paste a final mix.
Close the container lid or cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Step 3: Refrigerate for an hour
Place the bowl in the fridge for an hour.
You can leave the falafel mixture in the fridge for up to 24 hours before cooking the falafel balls. It is great for getting ahead on prep!
Step 4: Shape falafel balls
Keep a small bowl with water nearby to wet your hands as you shape the falafel. Spoon a heaped tablespoon of falafel mix – about 25 grams – into your palm and roll it into a ball.
Alternatively, gently flatten the balls into patties and round the cracked edges with wet fingertips. Don’t flatten them too much, or you’ll lose your fluffy centre.
I prefer small bite-sized falafel balls. But if you want larger falafel, use two tablespoons (50 grams) of falafel mixture and increase the frying time to five minutes.
Place the falafel on a baking sheet with parchment paper. You should have 22 to 24 falafel balls.
Sprinkle the falafel balls with sesame seeds, gently pressing the seeds in.
You can leave the falafel balls in the fridge until you are ready to fry them (up to 24 hours).
Step 5: Fry falafel balls
When ready to serve, fill a deep, heavy-based medium saucepan with enough frying oil to rise about 2½ inches (7 cm) up the side. Place the pan on medium heat to bring the oil to 350 °F (180 °C).
Gently lower the falafel into the oil. Work in batches to not overcrowd the pot – I do six to eight falafel per batch. Cook small falafel balls or patties until golden brown for three to four minutes.
Try to maintain a frying temperature between 325 °F (160 °C) and 350 °F (180 °C).
Increase the cooking time to five minutes for large falafel balls.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked falafel to a bowl lined with kitchen paper. Allow to cool for only a moment, and eat the gluten-free falafel still warm and crispy.
Don’t want to deep-fry?
While deep frying is the traditional method – and it certainly produces the crispiest falafel – you can pan-fry or bake the falafel patties if you want to use less oil.
Flatten the falafel balls into small patties using wet hands to round the cracked edges.
Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat and add enough oil to coat the pan.
Cook the falafel patties for five minutes per side until crispy, golden and cooked through.
Preheat your oven to 350 °F (180 °C).
Flatten the falafel balls into small patties and give each falafel a quick brush with olive oil.
Arrange the oiled patties on a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the falafel patties halfway through baking.
The best way to freeze falafel
After shaping the falafel mix into balls or patties, place them on a parchment-lined baking tray and put the whole tray in the freezer.
Once the uncooked falafel balls are frozen solid (about an hour), transfer them to a resealable bag (Ziploc bag) or a freezer-safe airtight container.
It is best to use the frozen falafel balls within one month. But you can safely keep them for up to three months.
How to cook frozen uncooked falafel?
If your falafel balls are small, you can serve them fried straight from frozen. Simply add an extra 30 seconds to the frying time.
However, if you opted for large falafel balls (two heaped tablespoons of mixture that make balls larger than a golf ball), it is best to finish the fried frozen falafel in the oven to ensure they cook through.
Deep-fry large falafel balls for five minutes, then place the golden falafel in an oven, preheated to 350 °F (180 °C), for another five minutes.
How to eat falafel
Falafel are best when freshly fried and still warm. But you can also let them cool to room temperature for an easy picnic meal. Fresh falafel always beat pre-cooked and chilled falafel from any local grocery store.
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.
Find more sides and sauces to serve with falafel.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, traditional falafel are always vegan. The main ingredients are chickpeas, fava beans and fresh herbs. But always check the label on store-bought falafel to confirm.
Though it is safe to freeze the cooked falafel for three months, it will lose its crispy texture when thawed. Fried falafel are always best served freshly fried. However, uncooked falafel balls freeze very well.
Falafel balls vary from green to tan depending on the proportion of fresh herbs to dried chickpeas (or fava beans) used in the falafel mixture. The more fresh parsley, cilantro, and mint in the recipe, the greener the inside of the falafel will be after cooking.
The uncooked falafel mixture keeps for 24 hours in the fridge or 30 days in the freezer. But cooked falafel is best served warm and crispy.
You can’t make traditional falafel from cooked chickpeas. The cooking process releases the starch that binds the falafel mix. Canned chickpeas are already cooked and do not have the starch required to bind falafel properly.
Use dried chickpeas soaked in water to avoid your falafel falling apart when frying it in hot oil. Cooked or canned chickpeas do not have the starch to bind your falafel mix.
If you are already using dried chickpeas and your falafel balls still fall apart, allow them to rest in the fridge for another 30 minutes before frying.
- 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in plenty of water*
- 2 small garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup roughly chopped herbs, a mix of parsley, cilantro and mint
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes, Aleppo pepper, or freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
- oil for frying
Strain soaked chickpeas
- Place the soaked chickpeas in a colander or fine mesh strainer – shaking off any excess water. Leave them to dry while you get the rest of the ingredients ready.
Make falafel mixture
- 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, scraping down the sides as necessary. The coarse falafel mixture should be well combined and damp. It should hold together when shaped.
- Transfer the falafel mix to a large bowl or airtight container and add the chilli flakes, cumin, coriander and 1½ teaspoon of 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.
- Keep a small bowl with water nearby to wet your hands as you shape the falafel. Spoon a heaped tablespoon of falafel paste – about 25 grams – into your palm and roll it into a ball.
- Arrange the falafel balls on a parchment-lined baking tray and continue rolling the remaining mixture – you should have 22 to 24 falafel balls.
- Sprinkle the falafel balls with sesame seeds, if using, and gently press them in.
- When ready to serve, 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 oil in batches – I do 6 to 8 falafel per batch. Cook for 3 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. If they brown too quickly, the oil is too hot.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer cooked falafel to a bowl lined with kitchen paper. Enjoy freshly fried and still warm.
- Don’t use cooked or tinned chickpeas! Your falafel WILL fall apart in the hot oil. Start one day ahead, and cover a cup of dried chickpeas with about three cups of cool water. Leave to soak overnight or until the chickpeas have roughly doubled in weight.
- If you don’t have a thermometer to measure the temperature of your oil, place a pinch of falafel mix in the oil. If it sizzles instantly, the oil is hot enough. Next, test the temperature with a single falafel. After 3 minutes in the oil, the falafel should be golden brown outside, with a soft and fluffy inside. Adjust the temperature of your oil accordingly.
- I prefer small round falafel balls for snacking, but you can also flatten them into small patties. Or make them double the size (cook for 5 minutes).
- Freeze the uncooked falafel balls: Place the parchment-lined baking sheet with rolled falafel balls in the freezer. Once they are frozen solid (about an hour), transfer them to a sealable bag. They will stay fresh in the freezer for one month.
- Fry small falafel balls from frozen: Fry as per the recipe for 30 seconds longer (3 minutes 30 seconds) until the falafel are crispy and cooked through.