Don't miss this dreamy falafel pita recipe, made with homemade falafel from scratch, silky tahini sauce, and a gorgeous array of toppings.
Why we love this recipe
Making falafel at home isn't hard, but it's a little bit of a project. Whenever that's the case with a recipe (see also dumplings, for example), I like to make a whole lot at once. We'll enjoy some right away, keep some in the fridge to eat throughout the week, and stash the rest in the freezer as gifts to our future selves.
- Brings the best of street food to your own kitchen
- Is vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free (if you skip the pita or use a GF version)
- Makes a huge batch of falafel, which freezes brilliantly either before or after frying
- Comes with a bangin' tahini sauce
- Gets tucked into a gorgeous pita sandwich with a rainbow of fresh and savory toppings
I first published the falafel recipe here way back in 2011. I've since updated the post for clarity and added the pita sandwich. If you're a fan of old-school food blog narrative, you can scroll down below the recipe card to read the original text.
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
For the falafel
- The day before, you'll soak a gazillion dry chickpeas in plenty of water. They'll double in size while they soak, and be all ready to use in your recipe.
- Plenty of onion and garlic get added right into the mixture.
- Tons of fresh cilantro and flat-leaf parsley add flavor and create falafel's characteristic green speckles.
- A combination of ground cumin, coriander, and cayenne spice things up.
- Safflower oil is my high-smoke-point, neutral-tasting vegetable oil of choice. You can substitute another oil that has similar properties, such as canola, sunflower, peanut, corn, or vegetable oil blend.
For the falafel pita recipe
- If you're lucky enough to be able to get beautiful fresh pita from a local market or restaurant, please do. The ones pictured here came from a local vendor via Whole Foods.
- A quick and fabulous tahini sauce comes together in minutes with just a few ingredients. All you need is tahini paste, freshly squeezed lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and salt. You'll find full instructions in the recipe card below.
- Use a crunchy lettuce like romaine. I buy romaine hearts and shred them by running my chef's knife crosswise, then wash and dry in a salad spinner.
- Olives, tomato, paper-thin slices of red onion, and a big squeeze of lemon juice add bursts of flavor. You can use any kind you like.
- I haven't pictured hummus here, but it makes an amenable addition, too.
How to make it
Here's an overview of what you'll do to make this fabulous falafel pita recipe from scratch. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.
- Twenty-four hours before you want to make the falafel pita recipe, you'll soak the chickpeas. Then drain them, pop them into the food processor in two batches, and pulse. To the second batch, add the rest of the ingredients and pulse again.
- Stir the two batches together in a large bowl, and chill for an hour.
- Form into balls and chill for 15 minutes.
- Fry in batches until golden brown. That's it! Falafel is ready to make into pita sandwiches.
Expert tips and FAQs
In my opinion this recipe (and all falafel) is at its best when fried. But if that's just not your thing, you don't have to. I've provided options for pan-frying and baking in the recipe card below.
Yes, and I really encourage it. The falafel will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for a year. You can freeze it either before or after frying and defrost overnight in the fridge.
Assemble sandwiches right before eating.
Alternatively, you can easily halve or even quarter the falafel recipe if you'd rather make a smaller batch. I've given some guidance in the recipe card below.
More favorite chickpea recipes
For the falafel
- 4 cups (800 grams) dried chickpeas
- 2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
- 12 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Safflower oil for frying
For the tahini sauce
- ½ cup (120 grams) tahini
- 5 tablespoons (75 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 large garlic clove
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt (see note 1 below)
- ¼ cup (60 ml) cold water
For the pita sandwiches
- 4 good pitas
- 2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
- 1 cup (240 grams) hummus, optional
- 1 large ripe tomato, sliced, or 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
- ½ cup olives of your choice
- Lemon wedges, for squeezing
Make the falafel
- Place chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water by several inches. Soak for 24 hours.
- The next day, drain the chickpeas well and rinse in a colander, then shake dry.
- Half at a time, pour chickpeas into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.
- Process, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary, until chickpeas begin to form a very coarse paste. It should just hold together when you squeeze it in your palm but still be made up of thousands of little chickpea bits.
- Scrape the first batch of chickpea paste into a large mixing bowl.
- After pulsing the second batch, add the onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, baking powder, coriander, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper to the food processor right on top of the pulverized chickpeas. Pulse until combined.
- Add the second batch of chickpea mixture to the bowl and stir well but gently so that all ingredients are well-distributed.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour.
- Using a medium cookie scoop or a heaping measuring tablespoon, scoop out portions of the mixture and use your hands to roll lightly into balls. The balls should stick together well, but try not to work the batter too much.
- Divide falafel between two parchment-lined half-sheet pans, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- Pour oil into a large, heavy pot to a depth of about 1 inch (I use a 5-½ quart Dutch oven).
- Insert a candy/deep fry thermometer and heat oil over medium heat until it reaches 350°F.
- Carefully drop balls one by one into the hot oil. Don't crowd them—you'll fry in batches of about 8 at a time, depending on the size of your pot.
- Fry until golden brown on all sides, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Drain on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Keep warm in a 250°F oven if you like.
Make the tahini sauce
- Place the tahini paste into a medium mixing bowl.
- Add the lemon juice and cumin.
- Using a chef's knife, mince the garlic. Sprinkle the salt overtop, and use the side of the knife to scrape and smash the garlic and salt mixture into a paste. Add the paste to the bowl.
- Stir well. Mixture will seize up a bit and become very thick.
- Add the water a tablespoon at a time (you may need even more than indicated, depending on the thickness of the tahini paste), and stir well until sauce is homogenous and is the consistency you'd like.
Assemble the pita sandwiches
- Cut pitas in half and gently separate each half to make a pocket.
- Into each half, spoon some hummus if using, and tuck a couple of pieces of falafel.
- Tuck in lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and olives.
- Drizzle with tahini sauce, sprinkle with lemon juice, and serve right away.
- I like this tahini sauce very well seasoned. If you're sensitive to salt, you may want to use only ¼ teaspoon.
- In my opinion this recipe (and all falafel) is at its best when fried. But if that's just not your thing, you don't have to. You can bake it on parchment-lined baking sheets in a 350°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned and cooked through. Or you can serve this recipe as falafel burgers. To do so, shape the mixture into patties. Heat two tablespoons of safflower oil over medium-high in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Cook patties for about three minutes, until golden brown, then flip and cook three minutes more. Transfer skillet to the center of a 350°F oven and bake until cooked through, about 8 minutes.
- The falafel will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for a year. You can freeze it either before or after frying and defrost overnight in the fridge. To freeze after frying, simply place in an airtight container or zip-top freezer bag. To freeze before frying, in step 10 above, place the entire parchment-lined sheet pans into the freezer until balls are frozen solid, then transfer to an airtight container or zip-top freezer bag.
- Assemble sandwiches right before eating.
- You can easily halve or even quarter the falafel recipe if you'd rather make a smaller batch. If quartering, you'll use 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander (it's just math, but I thought I'd help out with it).
- Falafel recipe is adapted from The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook by Kim O'Donnel.
Serving Size:1 piece
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 70Total Fat: 2.7gCarbohydrates: 9.3gFiber: 1.8gProtein: 2.9g
Here's the 2011 text
The beauty of street food
Even for the avid home cook, certain foods are worth buying at a street cart in the middle of a particularly tough day, biting in when you know they’re still too hot, letting the sauce dribble down your chin.
There’s satisfaction is tossing those flimsy paper napkins into a wire trash can on the street corner, checking your teeth with a shop window glance, and stepping back into the office as if the whole salacious affair never happened. The escapism’s the thing.
I used to think falafel was one of those foods. If you’d still like to think of it that way, please, don’t let me deny you the pleasure. But I'm here to say that it doesn't have to be.
The beauty of falafel at home
It was Kim O’Donnel, writing about Meatless Monday in the Washington Post back in 2009, who convinced me to try making falafel at home.
The glug-glug of a quart of oil pouring into a Dutch oven on your very own stovetop may just be the antithesis of escapism.
But it turns out that falafel is not only easy to make at home—it’s also dearly beloved by children and adults, zealots and skeptics, veg-heads and carnivores alike. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, is what I’m trying to say here. And if there’s one thing better than escaping from the crowd, it’s being responsible for putting soulful, herb-flecked grins on their faces.
It’s a wholesome, grown-up pleasure, to be sure, befitting of cloth napkins more than paper ones. Still and all, I highly recommend it.