Even if you think you know nothing about Middle Eastern food, you probably still know something — because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of falafel. Yes, they’re always vegetarian and made out of some kind of beans. Middle Easterners argue amongst themselves about which legume is the star of a falafel dish: Egyptians, the creators of this age-old recipe, use fava beans to make theirs, and they call it something else entirely, ta’ameya. Actually, a friend recently pointed out to me that the word falafel is in the Coptic dictionary; it means ‘beans’. So, let’s give credit where credit is due – the Egyptians knew how to turn beans into burger-like patties way before veganism became a Western fad! While fava beans are the main ingredient in the Egyptian version, most other Middle Easterners use chickpeas (garbanzo beans) to make falafel. Given the choice between the two, I’d choose the homemade one. Yeah, I don’t discriminate between Middle Easterners but I do have a strong preference for all things made at home, using good ingredients. (The alternative, ready-made falafel, often contains questionable ingredients that will leave your stomach feeling less than comfortable, and will never contain fresh veggies.)
Since I fast from animal products during Lent, I like to get a bit creative with my vegan meals. Instead of making a typical falafel mix, I wanted to get a little crazy and add in a whole bunch of vegetables. And sweet potatoes. Don’t ask me why, but I am a fan of sneaking in ingredients you wouldn’t expect into traditional meals. I Googled it make sure I’m not too crazy, and sure enough, there was a recipe for baked sweet potato falafel on 101 Cookbooks. Using that as a guide, I kind of experimented with adding the other greens in there. Fresh cilantro is a must in this recipe, given that even traditional ta’ameya has it; the flavor it imparts just can’t be replicated by any other green veggie. A large bunch of organic parsley and baby spinach leaves were chillin’ in my fridge, so thought of adding them too.
The chickpea flour bag (1.5 lbs) was only $2.65 from Vitacost, so I made that purchase a couple of weeks ago, knowing I was going to try my luck with a chickpea-based falafel mix. However, after making the purchase, I realized that it might be a little difficult to soak the chickpea flour, since it’ll get watery … and I didn’t quite know how this will impact the consistency of the mixture. I didn’t want falafel-flavored soup, after all! I could have easily omitted the soaking process, but my stomach doesn’t do very well with unsoaked beans and legumes, so I decided to soak the flour anyway. When I first added water to cover the cup or so of chickpea flour, my heart sank, because it looked like a soupy mess — how would I ever separate the water from the flour? Well, let me tell you the secret. It’s called gravity. Overnight, the flour settles to the bottom and the water can easily be poured from the top. Then, you can use a nut milk bag to strain any water left in the flour if you wish. Easy breezy! If you wanted to grind your own chickpeas, you can do that too, but I haven’t tried yet to see if there’s any difference in texture. You’d still have to soak the dried chickpeas in acidic water overnight, rinse them well the next day, and boil for a few hours until they’ve cooked. You’d then have to drain them very well to get rid of as much moisture as possible, and grind them into paste, a la a traditional hummus recipe.
Other key ingredients in this recipe are the spices (the cumin and coriander are musts), the minced garlic and the toasted sesame seeds. I don’t think this recipe would work very well if you choose to omit any of these, especially the garlic and sesame seeds. The unmistakably garlicky background taste takes this recipe from good to great, and the toasted sesame seeds officially convert these from ‘veggie-burger-like patties’ to traditional falafel with a twist.
I ended up making this mixture yesterday, using half of it, and refrigerating the rest for today (it served 4 people each day, by the way). This setup worked out perfectly, because today was a busy day for me! I made this alongside a vegan curried cauliflower coconut soup, a huge salad with tahini sauce, and guacamole, and I was satisfied. And that’s a rarity, my friends, because vegan meals usually get me hungry just a couple of hours later. This time, I was happily stuffed for the rest of the day!
Prep Time: 50 min + soaking time
Cook Time: 25 min + 60 min to refrigerate
Ingredients (25 pieces – serves 5)
- 3 medium sweet potatoes, baked and peeled
- 1 cup plain chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour, soaked overnight in filtered water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- 3-4 cups organic fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup organic fresh cilantro (I use the stems too)
- 1 cup organic fresh parsley (I use the stems too)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
- 2 teaspoons unrefined salt, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida powder (gluten-free) (optional) – traditional Indian spice, helps with digestion of beans and legumes
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
- 3-4 tablespoons raw sesame seeds, lightly toasted at home
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
(1) Soak chickpea flour overnight: Soak 1 cup of the chickpea flour in filtered water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The flour will settle in the bottom by morning, and you can then strain out as much of the water so the flour is not watery.
(2) Cook the sweet potatoes: Preheat oven to 375 F. Rinse 3 medium sweet potatoes, pierce them in a few places, and bake for 50 minutes to an hour until they’re done. When potatoes have cooled, peel them, throw away the skins, and mash the flesh.
(3) Puree everything: In a food processor, add the following ingredients and puree till smooth: drained chickpea flour, mashed sweet potatoes, spinach, cilantro, parsley, minced garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, baking soda, salt and pepper. Taste test a little bit to adjust the seasoning. Feel free to sneak in some more greens if you’d like.
(4) Stick the mixture in the fridge: No need to transfer to another container if you can fit the blender/food processor container in your fridge. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours (or even overnight) until the mixture hardens and the flavors therein have been incorporated.
(5) Toast the sesame seeds: In a small saucepan or skillet, add a few tablespoons of sesame seeds and stir for a few minutes on medium heat till toasted.
(6) Preheat oven: Preheat oven to 375F. Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large baking sheet and spread to make sure entire surface is covered.
(7) Add mixture in small patties to baking sheet: Using a spoon, scoop out a tablespoon of the mixture and add to the baking sheet. Flatten out with the back of the spoon, and sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top. The mixture measurements above make about 25 2-inch patties. Feel free to split the mixture in half, and bake only 12 patties at a time. Refrigerate any unused mixture.
(8) Bake the falafel patties: Bake for 15 minutes and then flip, sprinkle more toasted sesame seeds on top, and bake for another 10 minutes. The center should still be moist in the middle. Turn off the oven and leave in the oven until ready to serve.
(9) Serve warm: These falafels taste best with tahini sauce, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, or other vegetables. I served it with tahini sauce atop a big salad.