Israeli Falafel

Israeli Falafel: Mix Chickpeas and Seasonings 

“Joan Nathan, author of The Foods of Israel Today, defines Israeli cuisine as "pan-Middle Eastern cuisine—the best from Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt, and others—with an Israeli twist." Falafel is the perfect illustration of the cuisine. Considered Israel's national dish, the humble fritter has become a hot-button issue, stirring up accusations of cultural appropriation. Originally an Arabic dish (various versions hail from Egypt and Palestine), the fried patty, made from ground chickpeas, became popular in the early days of the Israeli state (after the country declared independence in 1948) , when easy-to-eat street foods lent themselves to the active lifestyles of the settlers.


Falafel is generally served in pita bread with tahini (sesame paste) or a tahini sauce made from the sesame paste, onion, and lemon juice. The Israeli additions to the sandwich are a dizzying array of accompaniments: pickled mango and turnip; North African harissa (hot sauce); and chopped peppers, onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Though the dish's function as a symbol of Israeli pride has led to reluctance to acknowledge its Arabic origins, it is increasingly celebrated as a symbol of pan-Middle Eastern unity.” 

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For tahini sauce

  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

For falafel

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, refrigerated overnight in water to cover by 2 inches, then drained, or 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
  • 1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • About 6 cups vegetable oil for frying

To serve

  • 5 to 6 pita breads, top 1/3 cut off each
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • Pickled turnip*
  • Mango amba (pickle)*
  • Harissa hot sauce


Make tahini sauce
In food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and 1/4 cup water. Process into smooth paste. (DO AHEAD: Sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.)

Make falafel
In food processor, combine chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, cumin, coriander, salt, red pepper flakes, and baking soda. Pulse just until finely chopped and crumbly (mixture will resemble wet bread crumbs; do not overprocess into paste, or balls will be heavy). (DO AHEAD: Mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.)

In large shallow skillet over moderately high heat, heat 3 inches oil until thermometer registers 350°F.

Using 2 teaspoons or falafel scoop, form mixture into approximately 1-inch-diameter balls or disks. Working in batches of 5, lower carefully into hot oil and fry, turning occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat to fry remaining falafel, returning oil to 350°F between each batch.

to serve

Divide falafel balls among pita pockets. Tuck in diced tomatoes, onion, pepper, and cucumber, pickled turnip, and mango amba. Drizzle in tahini sauce and harissa sauce. Serve immediately. 


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