Attention, dear readers! This is the 100th post to be published on the Sprout Diaries, which feels like a milestone worth celebrating. And what better way to celebrate than with my all-time favorite food? (I know that “all-time favorite” is a big statement, but when it comes to expressing my love of falafel, there’s no such thing as hyperbole.) I hope you are all well-acquainted with the taste sensation that is falafel — or, better yet, a falafel pita with hummus and veggies, preferably from Jerusalem Garden — but you may be less familiar with the somewhat-controversial history of these deep-fried and well-loved chickpea fritters. So allow me to fill you in.
Although Israel has proudly proclaimed falafel to be its national food, the true originators of the dish is a point of some contention (as many things are in the Middle East). A 2002 New York Times article reported that many Palestinians believe Israelis have stolen falafel from them, observing that “Jews and Arabs argue about falafel in a way that reflects the wider conflict” of the region. As murky as this particular slice of culinary history may be, there are at least a couple consistencies across various historical accounts. Most likely, falafel is a descendant of ta’amiya, a fava bean snack created by Coptic Christians in Egypt who needed something tasty to eat during holidays when meat was forbidden. The dish spread in popularity thanks to entrepreneurial Yemeni Jews who brought their chickpea-version to Israel in the 1950s, forever changing the street food scene in the Holy Land. Americans were a little slower to embrace the dish, but today falafel-love is alive and well in the States, particularly among vegetarians who very much appreciate this deliciously protein-packed meat alternative.
The recipe I’ve recreated here comes from Bowl + Spoon, a beautiful cookbook by the creator of the food blog Sprouted Kitchen, Sara Forte. Her version is unorthodox in two ways: its baked not fried (your arteries will thank you) and it uses flax seed meal instead of flour, making it grain-free. I’ve tweaked her recipe just a bit by using canned chickpeas (ain’t nobody got time for soaking dry chickpeas), using almonds instead pistachios (I’m a cheapskate), and replacing the cilantro with parsley (holler at me, fellow cilantro-haters). I’ve also included a recipe for the best ever sauce, which requires a word of caution: once you try this stuff, you’ll want to put it on EVERYTHING. Consider yourself warned.
falafel & kale bowl + the best ever sauce
Adapted from Bowl + Spoon
for the falafel
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 Medjool dates, pitted
1/3 yellow onion
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley (about 1 cup), chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons flax seed meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
for the best ever sauce
1/2 cup tahini
2 tablespoons miso
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1-2 teaspoons Sriracha
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
juice of 1 orange
salt & pepper
lemon juice, to taste
suggestions for the bowl
curly kale, sliced into ribbons
grape tomatoes, halved
couple handfuls julienne carrots
pickled beets, sliced
a sprinkling of feta
toasted pita wedges
Let’s get the best ever sauce taken care of first (note: Sara Forte calls this “Tahini Citrus Miso Dressing” in her book, but I really do think that “best ever sauce” says it all). Combine everything but the lemon juice in a small mixing bowl and blend with an immersion blender. Add lemon juice (or water) by the tablespoon until desired consistency is reached. Keep this sauce in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.
And now to the main event. You’re gonna hate me, but I do think it’s a good idea to peel the skin off your chickpeas before tossing them in, so as to reduce water retention. Simply give them a squeeze and they pop right out. It’s kind of fun. Just do it.
In a food processor, combine garlic, pepper flakes, cumin, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, dates, and onion. Process until you get a well-mixed puree. Add the chickpeas and chopped almonds, and give it a few pulses until it’s chunky, not smooth.
Toss in the parsley, mint, flax meal, and baking soda. You may need to stir these in manually somewhat before pulsing it all a bit more. Your goal is a coarse mixture. Big hunks of chickpea and almond are encouraged.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the falafel batter into two-inch balls, and arrange them on the baking sheet. I eked out 18.
Bake 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and just beginning to get crispy.
Meanwhile, prepare a salad throne on which to showcase the falafel. I started with a bed of kale, followed by tomatoes, cucumber, julienne carrots and olives (plus a good twist or two of freshly ground pepper). You may want to experiment with beets, peppers or feta. Whatever you do, make sure you drizzle everything with a generous helping of the best ever sauce. Don’t be shy!
Once the falafel is finished, divide evenly among the salad bowls (4-5 per). Pair with a handful of toasted pita wedges or even brown rice, if you’d like. Personally, I loved how the warm, spiced falafel fell apart and mixed in with the cool crunch of the fresh veggies and the tangy nuttiness of the sauce, and I really think you’ll love it too.
Pro tip: drizzle some best ever sauce on TOP of the falafel. Now we’re talkin’.