Baked Falafels: original taste, lighter and healthier recipe
Time: prep. 10 mins
(+soaking + cooling)
bake. 30 mins
Yields: 2-3 portions
Cost : Low
Baked falafels are the healthier and lighter version of well-spiced chickpea balls / patties served inside Arabic bread, (also called pita bread) and dressed with a tahini based sauce.
According to linguistic experts of the Arabic language, the word ‘falafel’ is supposed to mean something like ‘small piece of food’ or ‘small good thing’. These fantastic examples of ‘Middle Eastern street food’ are so loved and popular that they even exist in a McFalafel version in the restaurants of the well-known multinational fast food chain (in Egypt).
It must be said, however, that if you are a fan of CHE, you will know my weakness for humble, traditional and nutrient-rich functional foods, preferably plant-based. So you may wonder why it has taken me so long to tell you about this recipe; since all the ingredients, chickpeas above all, perfectly match the above mentioned characteristics.
The reason is only one, as I have no particular liking for fried foods, I have for a long time snubbed such delicious little things that have inspired several films and books. It therefore took me some time to perfect a non-fried version.
The challenge was not a walk in the park, as already making the fried ones, and therefore easier (as you may know, if you deep fry even shoe soles taste good), requires a certain amount of experience, mixed with good luck; let alone baking them in the oven, with less oil and without distorting the original recipe, in order to obtain something different from the dry and mushy prunes, or the deadly bullets with a considerable specific weight!
For this I thank Hagar, a dear and generous friend and definitely an expert on the subject: without her help I probably would not have been so lucky.
So let the drum roll begin: get ready to taste scrumptious baked falafels, as good as the originals and undeniably much more digestible, light and liver-friendly.
Exactly as I said in the article on air fryers: all the pros and cons, frying causes the formation of unwanted molecules, even from the oil defined as the best and healthiest; consequently accepting a minimal remission of taste (provided your scale of values is not set on Masterchef et similia), why unnecessarily load yourself up with empty calories and deprive yourself of such a good, inclusive and nutrient-rich food?
Falafels are not always made of chickpeas, though they are almost always gluten-free ( check all the time).
In fact, falafel is made in Egypt with broad beans; in Palestinian and Israeli cuisine, chickpeas are used; in Jordan and Lebanon, both legumes are used.
And in Turkey? They simply do not exist. Only recently have a few small restaurants offered them; I, for example, got to know them and learnt to love them in Italy: strange isn’t it!
Ingredients for baked falafels
180g dried chickpeas, soaked for at least 24 hours (strictly no pre-cooked canned ones)
25g fresh parsley, finely chopped (about 6 tablespoons)
25g fresh coriander, finely chopped (optional, I don’t use it because my husband can’t stand it)
1 medium onion
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons tahini (homemade is also fine); alternatively 2 tablespoons toasted and chopped sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
a pinch of baking soda
salt to taste
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for cooking)
for the Tahini sauce
2 tablespoons of tahini
2 tablespoons of water
2 tablespoons of parsley (optional)
2 tablespoons of yoghurt (optional)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 clove of grated garlic
seasonal salad dressed with evo oil and lemon juice
To make crispy and perfect baked falafels, you should absolutely pay attention to three things:
1) The chickpeas must be raw; only soaked and never cooked
2) You must not, under any circumstances, chop the chickpeas to a puree: they must remain a little grainy
3) The mixture obtained by chopping/mixing the ingredients must be kept in the fridge for at least 1 hour or 10 minutes in the freezer (exactly as I recommended for the recipe for quinoa patties), so that the patties can be shaped better; for a certain result, it is preferable to leave it in the fridge for at least 4 hours
By obeying these simple ‘commandments’ of mine, obtaining compact and perfect chickpea falafel will become possible, even without using flour, breadcrumbs, or egg whites.
The recipe starts with soaking the well-washed chickpeas: I suggest not settling for the usual 8 to 12 hours of soaking, but at least 24 hours, changing the water every 6 to 8 hours: this will finish the cooking process earlier, without drying out the patties too much, as well as removing a significant concentration of lectins and other anti-nutrients naturally present in chickpeas.
At the end of this stage, rinse them one last time and transfer them into the container of a food processor, or a meat grinder (in case you have one). Grind the chickpeas together with the other ingredients (except the bicarbonate, which should be put in at the last), until you get a compact, but not dry dough: don’t try to overdo it, the mixture should not become puree and a grainy appearance is fine. If you use the meat grinder, grind the mixture 2 times.
Once you have the mixture, transfer it to the fridge to solidify: this step is necessary in order to handle the mixture without crumbling it, when creating the balls or patties.
When the resting time in the fridge has also elapsed, add the baking soda, mix well one last time and turn on the oven, setting it to 190°C.
While the oven heats up, you start forming the falafel balls or patties; the shape matters little, but the homogeneity of size does, for the purpose of equally homogeneous cooking. Use your hands or 2 spoons or even a measuring spoon.
Place the chickpea falafels on a well-greased (or lined with baking paper) baking tray and brush (or drizzle) some olive oil over their entire surface.
About 30 minutes will be enough to brown them well on the outside and cook the inside properly; in any case, do not forget to turn them inside out halfway through cooking.
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For a more sustainable and economical use of the oven, take the opportunity to bake several things at once: personally, in the summer I bake some aubergines straight away, excellent ingredients for salads, Karniyarik, or imam bayildi; or some bell peppers, great for romesco sauce; in the winter, on the other hand, I always put slices of cauliflower in addition to my iconic sourdough bread, to make a tasty and surprising side dish.
And don’t forget that the time needed for heating the oven is a good opportunity to bake vegetables and/or meatballs, which do not require a specific temperature, unlike cakes and/or bread
Other cooking alternatives
This recipe is equally good for making deep fried falafels, or cooking them in the air fryer. In the case of deep-frying, fry them for a total of 6-8 minutes, or until golden brown (not dark brown). For cooking in the air-fryer, set the fryer to 190°C and cook one side for 6 minutes, then turn them over and cook them for another 6 minutes on the other side. If you wish, you can also pan-fry them with very little oil.
While the chickpea falafels are cooking, prepare the green tahini sauce.
Take a deep bowl, first add the salt, lemon juice and grated garlic; mix vigorously; then add the tahini, water and, if you like, chopped parsley and the yoghurt (vegan yoghurt with no added sugar is also fine); mix well; then keep the sauce in the fridge until you are ready to serve the baked falafels on a bed of seasonal salad.
I would like to remind you that baked falafels can be conserved in the fridge for approx. 5-6 days.
You can also freeze them, either cooked or raw. In case you are tempted to freeze them raw, know that for best results, it is advisable to form the falafel balls first. To prevent them from sticking, you can place the falafels in the freezer on a tray, well separated from each other; after about 1 hour, in the pre-freezing phase, transfer them to a bag, or an airtight container, exactly as I advised you to do for the local avocado.
Baked falafels, thanks to their main ingredient, chickpeas, can compete with meat for protein and essential minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and more); the massive presence of fresh herbs, spices, onion and garlic, add vitamins and antioxidants; while probiotics and prebiotics are provided by the tahini and yoghurt-based sauce (making at home your own tahini and yoghurt, besides being sublime, will let you save a fortune).
To double the pleasure, in case you are not satisfied with the tahini sauce alone, combine them with babagannush, made with roasted aubergines seasoned with yoghurt and tahini.
To increase the bioavailability of iron and other minerals, and certainly to ignite their flavour, I recommend serving the chickpea falafel on a bed of vitamin C-rich salad (instead of stuffing the usual pita, which causes increased carbohydrate and blood sugar levels).
In summer, you can also prepare a small salad à la Hagar (the friend mentioned above) by cutting 2 tomatoes and 1 cucumber into tiny cubes, then adding half a bunch of chopped parsley, some mint, white onion topped with sumac (optional) and the juice of 1 lemon.
Enjoy your baked falafels and have a good revolution