Air-fried falafel is the closest thing to the deep-fried version. It's packed with herbaceous flavor, just as crispy and crunchy on the outside, but slightly less moist on the inside. The best part? Air-fried is completely oil-free. Just like any traditional falafel, it's also vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, and nut-free.
I have had my fair share of falafel during my travels through Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. I have had falafel made with chickpeas (in Israel), fava beans (in Egypt), and a combination of the two (in Lebanon). I have tried them in restaurants as well as on street corners from local vendors. I have eaten them stuffed in pita bread and on salads.
While I have tried different variations of falafel, they all had one thing in common - they were deep-fried. Always.
When I came back to Canada, I really wanted to recreate the authentic falafel - crispy and golden on the outside, moist and fluffy on the outside, with a fresh herbaceous flavor - all of it minus the oil. I know traditional falafel is always deep-fried, but I really didn't want to go that route. While deep-frying produces the most crispy and delicious falafel, it's not particularly healthy cooking method.
So, I tried baking the falafel in the oven, frying it in the pan with 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, I made falafel in the air fryer.
Tips for Making Air-Fried Falafel
The idea of making air-fried falafel at home may sound intimidating, but the recipe actually requires only a handful of ingredients:
- Chickpeas: for the best flavor and texture, always start with dried (soaked), uncooked chickpeas. In the past, I tried making falafel with cooked chickpeas, but the mixture would completely fall apart as soon as it came into contact with heat. 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.
- Onion and garlic: while herbs and spices play an important role in the flavor profile of any falafel, the true essence of flavor comes from much more modest members of the pantry - the aromatics. Aromatics are a seemingly humble group of vegetables, but any good falafel is never cooked without them.
- Herbs: always use fresh herbs. They brighten up the flavor and add a beautiful green color. My favorite herbs in falafel are fresh parsley and cilantro.
- Chickpea flour: the flour helps to absorb the moisture from the raw ingredients and bind them together. You can use any flour you like, but chickpea flour works the best here simply because it has the same flavor profile as the main ingredient.
- Cumin & coriander: there are a lot of options when it comes to seasoning falafel. The two most common spices include cumin and coriander. Cumin is earthy while coriander is citrusy and nutty. If you like a little bit of heat, you can also add fresh green chili pepper or cayenne pepper.
- Salt: it brings out the flavor of herbs and spices.
How to Make Air-Fried Falafel
Traditional falafel is typically deep-fried. However, air-fried falafel is just as good but without the use of any oil.
- Soak the chickpeas. Add the chickpeas into a large bowl, cover them with water, and soak them for 24 hours at room temperature. You might be wondering whether you can do a quick-soak instead, that is 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.
- Process all the ingredients. Add all the falafel ingredients into the food processor and process them into a coarse meal that just holds its shape.
- Refrigerate the mixture. The trick to getting the falafel mixture bind together really well is to let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes before shaping it into balls. This allows the excess starch to seep out.
- Form the falafel mixture into balls. Using your hands, shape the mixture into small balls, about 1.5-inch/3.8-cm in diameter. Avoid packing the balls too tightly or they will come out tough and dense.
- Air-fry. Preheat the air fryer to 370°F/187°C. Arrange about 9 falafel balls in a single layer in the air fryer basket and air fry until crispy and golden brown, for 13-15 minutes.
How to Serve Air-Fried Falafel
Falafel is best while still warm. That’s when the exterior is the crispiest and the interior the fluffiest.
As a main dish, falafel is often served inside a pita pocket with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Adding a traditional dip or sauce, such as hummus or tahini, is the perfect way to pack even more flavor into a falafel pitta.
As an appetizer, falafel can be served on a simple salad or alone with hummus and tahini.
How to Store & Reheat Falafel
You can store leftover falafel either uncooked or cooked. I prefer storing uncooked falafel and baking it when needed. However, if you’re trying to get ahead and prepare meals you can just quickly reheat, storing cooked falafel might be a better option for you. Just know that freshly cooked falafel will always taste better.
- Refrigerate: allow falafel to cool to room temperature (if storing cooked falafel). Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 3-4 days (uncooked falafel) or for up to 5 days (cooked falafel).
- Freeze: allow falafel to cool to room temperature (if storing cooked falafel). Transfer to an airtight, freezer-safe container, separating each row with a piece of parchment paper (so the falafel patties don’t stick to each other as they freeze), and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Reheat: transfer frozen falafel into the refrigerator 24 hours before reheating. If reheating uncooked falafel, follow the instructions for air frying above. If reheating cooked falafel, preheat the air fryer to 370°F/187°C. Arrange about 9 falafel balls in a single layer in the air fryer basket and reheat until warmed through and crispy again, for 3-4 minutes.
More Falafel Recipes
There are several ways to cook falafel. No matter which method you choose, the finished falafels look very similar. The difference is in the texture.
- Deep-fried falafel: crispy and crunchy on the outside, tender and fluffy on the inside – deep-fried falafel is as authentic as it gets. I don’t typically deep-fry falafel (because of all the extra oil), but deep-frying does yield the best texture. To deep-fry falafel, heat about 3 inches/7.6 cm of oil in a small pot over medium heat to 350°F/176°C. Carefully drop 6-8 falafel balls into the oil at a time and cook until golden brown, for 1-2 minutes.
- Pan-fried falafel: not nearly as crispy and crunchy on the outside as the deep-fried or baked, but quite moist and fluffy on the inside. To pan-fry falafel, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Gently place the falafel in the skillet and cook each side until golden brown, for 2-3 minutes.
- Baked falafel: crispy and crunchy on the outside, but not as moist and fluffy on the inside as the deep-fried or pan-fried. To bake falafel, preheat the oven to 425°F/218°C. Arrange the falafel, ideally shaped into patties, onto a greased baking sheet and bake until golden brown, for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through baking.
If you try any of these recipes, please, leave a comment and rate the recipe below. It always means a lot when you do.
- 2 cups dried chickpeas *
- 1 cup parsley , leaves and soft stems only
- 1 cup cilantro , leaves and soft stems only
- 1 onion , chopped
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 Tbsp. chickpea flour
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
- sea salt , to taste**
- Soak the chickpeas. Add the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover with water. (The chickpeas will double or triple in volume, so use more water than you think you will need). Soak the chickpeas for 24 hours at room temperature. Then drain the chickpeas, rinse under cold running water, and use as instructed.
- Preheat the air fryer. Set the air fryer temperature to 370°F/187°C and let the air fryer heat for 3-5 minutes.
- Process all the ingredients. Add the soaked chickpeas, parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, chickpea flour, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and salt into a food processor with an S blade and process until well combined. The texture of the chickpeas should be uneven and coarse, with some slightly larger pieces still visible. The mixture should hold together when you press it between your fingers, but it shouldn't be completely puréed. If the mixture is too wet, add a little bit more chickpea flour, 1 Tbsp./5.7 g at a time. If it's too dry and crumbly, pulse it a little bit more.
- Season. Taste and adjust the flavor as needed, adding more salt for saltiness, garlic for pungency, cumin for earthiness, coriander for a citrusy-nutty flavor, and cayenne pepper for heat.
- Refrigerate the falafel mixture. Transfer the falafel mixture into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Form the falafel mixture into balls. Scoop out 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture and roll it gently between your hands into balls, 1.5 inch/3.8 cm in diameter. Avoid packing the balls too tightly or they will come out tough and dense. Repeat until all the falafel mixture is used up.
- Air-fry. Arrange about 9 falafel balls in a single layer in an air fryer basket and air-fry until crispy and golden brown, for 13-15 minutes.
- Serve immediately, while still warm and crispy over greens or in a warmed pita bread with hummus, tomatoes, and shredded lettuce.
- Store. Leftover falafel keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, though best when fresh. For longer term storage, freeze uncooked pre-shaped falafel in a single layer. Once firm, transfer the falafel into a freezer-safe bag or a container and place it back into the freezer for up to 3 months. (You can freeze cooked falafel as well, but it’s never quite as good).
- Reheat in a 370ºF/187ºC air fryer until heated through and crispy again, for 3-4 minutes. If reheating frozen (uncooked) falafel, transfer the falafel into the refrigerator 24 hours before baking to thaw. Once thawed, follow the instructions for air frying above.