Falafel Salad with Zesty Tahini Sauce

My wife had asked that I make falafel for the longest time. I seem to be in the minority–I’d never had or even seen them before. With an abundance of fresh produce, this was the perfect excuse to make a salad, satisfy my deep fried food craving, and try something new for me.

Falafel Salad with Zesty Tahini Sauce

If you’re like I was and have never had falafel, they’re actually pretty simple: a ball/patty of coarsely ground, dried chickpeas with a mix of herbs, vegetables, and spices, all mixed and deep-fried to form a crisp, richly browned nugget with a tender, deliciously mealy interior. Falafel are typically served in a pita with a mix of vegetables, but having a ton of vegetables, I chose to turn this inside out and have a salad with falafel and a few pieces of pita. The falafel themselves were incredibly delicious (where have you been all my life!) with a great, herby/earthy flavor and a nice delicate, but gritty texture. I was also surprised to find that, despite being deep-fried, they were light.

Now I haven’t mentioned another fundamental component: the sauce. As with many things deep-fried, a sauce is an important complement, and falafel is no exception. I started with a traditional tahini sauce (tahini, for the uninitiated, is the sesame equivalent of peanut butter–basically, sesame butter), but opted to add a tzatziki style twist. This sauce had a blend of acid, earthy nuttiness, spice, tanginess, and sharpness that made the dish interesting, and helped marry the falafel and salad together into a cohesive meal.

As far as the salad goes, I say go with what you like. I used a simple mix of Bibb lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper, and oil cured olives with pita bread. I derived the falafel recipe from a New York Times recipe.

  • 1.75 cups dried chickpeas
  • water
  • 1 large shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1.5 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1/8 cup flour
  • Neutral oil (e.g. canola, grapeseed, corn–something suitable for frying)
  • Tahini sauce
    • 1/2 cup tahini
    • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
    • 2 tsp anise seeds
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 3 cloves garlic
    • 1/2 a cucumber
    • juice of 2 lemons
    • generous salt
    • pepper
    • cayenne
    • water, as needed (~1/4-1/2 cup)
  • Salad
    • 1 head lettuce (or whatever greens)
    • 2 or 3 tomatoes
    • 1 red bell pepper
    • 1/2 cucumber
    • oil cured olives

Throw the soaked chickpeas and seasoning into the food processor

Begin by soaking the dried chickpeas in a large bowl of water (submerged by 3-4 inches and add more if necessary to keep it this way) for 24 hours.

The next day, drain the beans and hang on to a little bit (~1 cup) of the soaking water (you might need it, you might not). Then, throw the (peeled) shallot, garlic, herbs, and seasoning into the food processor (so everything but the chickpeas, oil, and flour) and grind it well. Add the chickpeas and pulse in the food processor. This part can be a little annoying as you’ll (in all likelihood) have to keep stopping, scraping down the sides, move things around, and pulse again to ensure a somewhat even grind throughout all of the chickpeas.

Puree the chickpea mixture until coarse and crumbly, but not a smooth puree

The goal is to mince them somewhat finely, but not puree them down into mush. You want some crunchy texture. If things aren’t going well, work in smaller batches. If that still doesn’t do the trick, add a small bit of the reserved soaking water to help the food processor out (but be sparse with it–you’ll pay for it later when you have to fry these). Taste the batter and adjust the seasoning more to your liking.

Form balls and gently squish each one from the chickpea batter

Once you’ve processed things uniformly, grab a small handful and try to form a ball. Press it down a little bit (to make it a bit more patty-like in shape). Does it seem ground finely enough? Is the batter really crumbly and not sticking together well? If so, the deep frying process will destroy your falafel, so a small bit of flour to the batter and try again. You only want a small amount of flour to help bind them together, as being too heavy handed with the flour will make the falafel feel “heavy.”

Fry the falafel

Finally, in a deep pan, heat up some oil (roughly 2 inches deep) to roughly 350°F. Give it a few minutes to warm up and add a pinch of batter to assess if the temperature seems right–it should sizzle quickly. Sinking dully or instant burning means you’re temperature is a bit off, so adjust, give it a few minutes, and test again. Once the oil is ready for action, divide the batter into balls and smoosh them slightly into patties. Working in batches appropriate to the size of your pan (e.g. 3-5 at a time), carefully add the falafel to the oil and turn them as necessary to brown evenly on all sides for roughly 5 minutes total. Remove from the oil and let drain on a paper towel for a minute or two before you serve (or serve at room temperature). While you can chill and reheat these, like most fried foods, they will never be the same.

During all of the other falafel making steps, you’ll want to prepare the sauce and the salad. These are both very quick tasks. For the sauce, seed and peel the cucumber and toss it in the food processor along with the peeled garlic, lemon juice, and everything else short of the water. Process until uniform in texture. The sauce will probably be fairly thick at this point and not very spreadable. Beat in some water until it takes on a consistency more to your liking. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.

Finally, the salad. I just chopped up the vegetables, tossed in a bowl, and well, I guess there’s not a whole lot to explain on that front. ;-) Add whatever floats your boat–I just used whatever I had on hand. Throw in some wedges of pita bread, add two or three falafel, and pour on some of the sauce. Enjoy!

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7 Responses to “Falafel Salad with Zesty Tahini Sauce”

  1. nina Says:

    I LOVE falafels, but have never been able to muster up the courage to try…I think I have just been pushed in the right direction!!

  2. Bellini Valli Says:

    I do love falafels as well so in the salad they would be outstanding. This is like a deconstructed pita in my eyes ;more green to love.

  3. dawn Says:

    I love love love falafels! And using a zesty tahini is perfect!

  4. Kevin Says:

    Those falafels look really good!

  5. Sandie Says:

    Falafels are something I have never eaten or tried, not that I’ve avoided them—they just haven’t been on my radar screen. But guess what? They are now!

  6. Toni Says:

    I love falafel, but like Nina I’ve never mustered the courage to try making them. The timing of this is perfect – I’m having some friends over for dinner this weekend and need a great vegetarian/vegan dish. Thanks!!!

  7. joanne at frutto della passione Says:

    Everynow and then I tell myself I am going to make these, but then never do. I miss falafel so much. Luckily an Islamic butcher shop opened up in our neighbourhood and I can now get tahini and lots of other goodies that were too hard to find before. Of course when I get really desperate I head for a Doner Kebob shop, but it just isn’t the same!

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