Regardless of where it’s from, falafel is a simple street food, a Middle Eastern fast food if you will. Yet, for something served up on pretty much every street corner, it can seem exceedingly difficult and daunting to get right at home. Not anymore! This air-fried falafel is so easy to make, packed with flavor and crispy even without deep-frying.
I usually have this falafel with some tahini sauce on a bed of lettuce. My husband, on the other hand, prefers his falafel stuffed into pita bread together with some tzatziki sauce or guacamole.
My biggest struggle used to be producing golden crispy falafel. I know traditional falafel is always deep-fried, but I just really didn’t want to go that route. While deep-frying produces the most crispy and delicious falafel, it also adds a lot of calories and free radicals. I tried baking the falafel in the oven, frying it in the pan with just a little bit of oil, but it just never came out as crispy as from a deep-fryer. I literally went through bags of chickpeas, trying different modifications, but just couldn’t get it right. Until one day my husband bought me an air fryer. The air-fried falafel is crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and perfect on salads or stuffed in a pita with some tahini dressing.
Tips for Making Air-Fried Falafel
I’ve seen falafel recipes that call for either cooked chickpeas or uncooked, soaked chickpeas. In the past, I tried making falafel with cooked chickpeas, but the dough would completely disintegrate in the oil. As I later learned, cooked chickpeas are too tender and contain too much moisture to achieve the right consistency. That’s when you start adding binding ingredients like all-purpose flour, breadcrumbs, or eggs, leaving falafel territory. So, take the time to soak the chickpeas and don’t settle for the canned variety.
There are a lot of options when it comes to seasoning falafel. The most common herbs and spices include cilantro, parsley, cumin, and coriander. However, I’ve seen recipes calling for mint, sage, and even cardamom or turmeric. I prefer to stick with the traditional herbs and spices, but you can experiment with different flavors and see what you like.
While spices and herbs play an important role in the flavor profile of the traditional crispy falafel, the true essence of flavor comes from much more modest members of the pantry – the aromatics, namely the onions and garlic. Aromatics are a seemingly humble group of vegetables, but any good falafel is never cooked without them.
You might be wondering whether you have to soak the dry chickpeas for 20-24 hours or whether you can do a quick-soak instead (= bringing the chickpeas to a boil and letting them sit for an hour to soften up). Well, because the chickpeas for falafel have to be completely raw, the quick-soak method simply does not work in this recipe. I start by soaking the chickpeas for about 20-24 hours, draining them afterwards, and then processing the raw, soaked chickpeas with all the other ingredients into a coarse meal that just holds its shape.
The trick to getting the falafel mixture bind together really well is to let the dough rest for about 15-30 minutes before shaping it into balls. This allows the excess starch to seep out.
To get a great ratio of crisp exterior and moist interior, make the falafel balls small – just an inch or two in diameter.
As you probably know, traditional falafel is typically deep-fried. However, I find that air-fried falafel is just as crispy without the use of any oil. So, if you have the option, use an air-fryer. Other cooking methods, such as pan-frying or baking, also work, but not so well. The reason is that the heat is surrounding the falafel instead of connecting directly with it. So pan-fried and/or baked falafel comes out much drier and the browning isn’t as even.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Food Processor (Breville Sous Chef) | 2. Airfryer (Philips) | 3. Knife Set (6 Pieces, Utopia, Stainless Steel) | 4. Cutting Board (24″x 18″, Michigan Maple Block, Maple) | 5. Mixing Bowls (Set of 3, Pyrex, Glass) | 6. Measuring Cups (Set of 6, Stainless Steel) | 7. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel) | 8. Tongs (2 Pieces, Dragonn, Stainless Steel)
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- 2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked*
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. chickpea flour
- 2 tsp. cumin powder
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 2 tsp. maple syrup
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1/2 clove garlic, minced into a paste
- 2-4 Tbsp. water, to thin
- sea salt, to taste
Place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the chickpeas are finely minced. Do not over-pulse - the mixture should be coarse, not smooth/paste-y,
Using your hands, shape the falafel mixture into small balls, about 1.5" (3.8 cm) in diameter. Arrange about 9 falafel balls in a single layer in your air fryer basket and air-fry for about 15 minutes at 380°F (193°C). Repeat this process until you use up all the dough. The falafel is done when it's golden brown and crisp.
Store leftover falafel covered in the refrigerator for a few days, though best when fresh.
For longer term storage, place the uncooked falafel balls on a cookie sheet. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for about an hour or so. Remove the cookie sheet from the freezer and place the falafel balls into a freezer-safe bag or a container and place it back into the freezer. To thaw the uncooked falafel, transfer it in the refrigerator the day before you plan to eat it. Reheat in a 325°F (160°C) oven/air fryer.
Mix the tahini, maple syrup, lemon juice, garlic paste, and salt in a small bowl. Add 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) of water at a time to reach the desired consistency.
*Soak the chickpeas in water for 24 hours so they soften up. When the chickpeas are soaked, drain the water, rinse the chickpeas thoroughly, and use as instructed. Do not cook the chickpeas.
*2 cups dried chickpeas yield about 5 cups soaked chickpeas.
**Prep time does not include soaking the chickpeas (24 hours).