Baked Falafels with Tahini Sauce (vegan and gluten free)

Falafels must be one of my favourite foods (although to be fair, anything made of chickpeas is amazing! 😉 ) I had my first falafel  when I was about 10 and loved it! Of course, this was a traditional fried falafel (I didn’t know any better!) served in a soft, warm pita with tahini, salad and pickled veg… are you drooling yet?! Since then, I have had plenty of falafels – some great and some not so great (think dry, bland or too oily). By far, the most amazing falafels I have ever had are the ones I ate in Israel (which one could find on almost every street) and for good reason – it is the national dish of Israel (as well as Egypt and Palestine). In fact, its origins are very controversial and even the cause of many political disagreements. It is believed to have originated in Egypt, possibly as far back as to the time of the pharaohs, and thereafter spread to the rest of the Middle East. However, apparently the Egyptian falafel is made using fava beans rather than chickpeas.

If for some reason you have absolutely no idea what a falafel is (where have you been?!), here is a description and some interesting facts on this humble tasty treat from Wikipedia:

“Falafel (/fəˈlɑːfəl/; Arabic: فلافل‎‎, [fæˈlæːfɪl], dialectal: [fæˈlæːfel]) is a deep-fried ball, doughnut or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern food, commonly served in a pita, which acts as a pocket, or wrapped in a flatbread known as taboon; “falafel” also frequently refers to a wrapped sandwich that is prepared in this way. The falafel balls are topped with salads, pickled vegetables, hot sauce, and drizzled with tahini-based sauces. Falafel balls may also be eaten alone as a snack or served as part of a meze (assortment of appetizers).”

Falafel is a common food eaten throughout the Middle East. The fritters are now found around the world as a replacement for meat[1] and a form of street food.

The word Falāfil (Arabic: فلافل‎‎) is the plural of Filfil (فلفل), meaning “pepper”. The word itself spread and is used in other languages such as Persian pilpil from the Sanskrit word pippalī (पिप्पली), meaning “long pepper”; or an earlier *filfal, from Aramaic pilpāl, “small round thing, peppercorn,” derived from palpēl, “to be round, roll”. Thus in origin, falafel would be “rollers, little balls.”

A Coptic Egyptian origin has recently been proposed via the unattested phrase *pha la phel (Φα Λα Φελ), meaning “of many beans”…. Falafel is known as taʿamiya (Egyptian Arabic: طعمية‎‎ ṭaʿmiyya, IPA: [tˤɑʕˈmejjɑ]) in Egypt. The word is derived from a diminutive form of the Arabic word ṭaʿām (طعام, “food”); the particular form indicates “a unit” of the given root in this case Ṭ-ʕ-M (ط ع م, having to do with taste and food), thus meaning “a little piece of food” or “small tasty thing”. (LOVE this description and I quite agree! 😉 ) The word falafel can refer to the fritters themselves or to sandwiches filled with them.”

Since my trip to Israel a few years ago, I no longer eat any gluten products and avoid fried foods (especially deep fried), although if I am really stuck when eating out I may have a small plate of chips/fries if there is nothing else. So this left me with a bit of a dilemma – the combination of fried falafels in a wheat pita was no longer an option. Yes, I will have a falafel salad now and then, but I don’t always feel great afterwards with all that oil. So when my cravings for a tasty and healthy falafel wouldn’t go away, I did some research on how to make this happen and the experimenting began. I knew I wanted to bake them instead of the traditional frying for obvious reasons, but I kept ending up with falafels which were either too dry or which crumbled and fell apart. Finally, I found a recipe which I adapted according to my tastes and needs which actually worked… twice! And I couldn’t be more excited to share it.  I have also included the recipe for my basic tahini as what would falafels without tahini be?! Now, if anyone has a recipe for vegan, gluten free pitas, my perfect meal would be complete… but for now, I will continue to enjoy these in a gluten free wrap or on a fresh salad… hope you enjoy them too!!

Baked Falafels

Time: 5-10min prep + 20-30min baking

Makes: about 25 falafels 

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (best to precook beforehand although I have also used tinned chickpeas with success)
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 2-3 tsp cumin powder
  • 1-2 tsp herb salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon (use less if you don’t want it too lemony)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ – ½ cup almond flour (start with less and add more if necessary – will vary especially if using canned chickpeas)

Optional (for extra flavor):

  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 TBS mixed herbs
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 ºC/356 ºF
  2. Add parsley, cumin (and other optional spices), salt, lemon and garlic to a food processor. Blend togethern until combined. 
  3. Add chickpeas and pulse a few times until combined, but still a bit coarse (you want to still see pieces of chickpeas rather than a smooth paste).
  4. Place mixture in a bowl and stir in almond flour – the mixture should not be too sticky – if it is, add a bit more almond flour). Taste mixture and add more salt/lemon/cumin etc according to desired taste.
  5. Place dessert size spoonfuls of the mixture into your hands and roll into balls – flatten slightly and shape (I usually make them about 5cm/2 inches in diameter and about 2cm/1 inch thick). NB: if they seem to be too difficult to handle and need some firming up – place on a tray in the freezer for 15-30min (but I didn’t find this was necessary).
  6. Line a tray with a baking sheet (I used a silicon mat – these are amazing!) and place the raw falafel balls on top.
  7. Bake falafels in oven for 20-30min, flipping them over about 10min towards the end. Take care not to dry them out – they should slightly golden brown on the outside and soft inside.
  8. Serve in pitas/wraps (or on salad), add chopped veg (e.g. tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce/rocket/baby spinach, grated beetroot, grated carrot – be creative!) and finally, drizzle with a generous amount of tahini/hummus.
  9. Enjoy!! 
  10. P.S. If you have any leftovers (although I can almost guarantee you won’t 😉 ) these falafels freeze wonderfully! Place in a freezer-safe container in the freezer, then pop onto a tray and into the oven when you next need them.

Tahini Sauce

Tahini sauce is amazing drizzled over a salad, roast veg and of course, falafels! It also makes a great alternative to hummus, served with veg sticks to dip

Ingredients:

  • 4 TBS (1/4 cup) tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
  • 2-3 TBS spring water
  • 1-2 TBS lemon juice (depending on how lemony you want it)
  • 1/4 tsp herb salt
  • 1 clove garlic, grated/crushed
  • Optional: 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Optional: 1 tsp cumin and a dash of cayenne

Method:

  1. Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix by hand (can also use a hand whisk). Start with less water (2 TBS) then add more, according to desired consistency
    NB: At first, it will look like the ingredients are not combining and the the sauce will almost look “curdled” – keep mixing!!
  2. After about a minute, the ingredients will “magically” come together in a beautiful, smooth paste. The consistency will be almost like peanut/nut butter – great as a dip. For a more liquid consistency to drizzle over salads or falafels, add more water (a teaspoon at a time).
  3. Adjust salt/cumin/lemon juice according to taste.
  4. NB: This tahini sauce will keep in the fridge for at least 4-5 days.
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