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What is Falafel?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Falafel is a popular Middle Eastern food that is made with spiced chickpeas and fava beans that are ground into a paste, formed into balls, and then fried. The resulting patties are typically rolled up in a flatbread like pita and topped with a tangy sauce. Many people associate falafel with street food, since it is a common street offering in regions with large Middle Eastern communities; it is also possible to find it in delis or to make it at home.

Different regions of the Middle East use varying ratios of chickpeas to fava beans. In some regions, one legume exclusively is used; in Egypt, for example, falafel is made with fava beans only. The spicing typically includes onion, garlic, minced parsley, cumin, and coriander. Some cooks also add diced chilies to the mixture to make it more spicy. Flour or egg may be mixed in as well to act as a binding agent so that the falafels do not fall apart when fried.

Tahini and yogurt based sauces are both used to dress falafel. When the sauce is made with tahini, it is typically very simple, with just tahini, lemon, and water. Yogurt may be mixed with lemon, dill, and cucumbers or other ingredients to make it both cooling and tangy. Lettuce is also often wedged in with the falafel, along with tomatoes and other salad ingredients in some regions.

In the United States, hummus is a common accompaniment to falafel, although this is rare in the Middle East. It is also possible to find spicy tahini sauces to make the consumption experience a bit more exciting. Depending on the region, people may be offered falafel that is stuffed into a piece of pita bread or wrapped up in a flatbread to make a cylindrical sort of sandwich that is very easy to eat while strolling.

Falafel is also known as ta'meya in some parts of the Middle East. If cooks want to make this dish at home, they can purchase a pre-made mix, which greatly simplifies the process. It is also possible to purchase chickpea meal, or cooks can buy and soak dried chickpeas and then grind them. The ground chickpeas are mixed with seasonings of the cook's choice, and then fried in a deep fryer or wok. Cooks may want to use peanut oil for a less oily end product, and drain the falafel well before serving.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By literally45 — On Nov 03, 2012

@burcinc-- Oh yea, falafel ingredients are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. I'm also vegetarian and I've been enjoying Middle Eastern cuisine for years.

When I go to a Middle Eastern restaurant, I usually order a vegetarian plate which has falafel, hummus, salad, yogurt or cheese and bread. It makes for a really good meal.

If you get the chance, also try the falafel sandwich. It's pita bread stuffed with falafel, veggies and a delicious yogurt or tahini sauce.

By ysmina — On Nov 03, 2012

Can someone give me an easy recipe for falafel?

And where do I get the ingredients?

By burcinc — On Nov 02, 2012

This sounds really good. I thought that Middle Eastern food was mainly meat. This is great because I am vegetarian and I've been dying to try some different cuisines.

By manykitties2 — On Jun 22, 2011

@letshearit - There are actually some great blogs around that focus on how to turn Middle Eastern food favorites like falafel into a healthier version of what you already know and love.

Apparently you can bake a falafel and it will retain the same flavor as if you had deep-fried it.

You prepare your falafel mix from your favorite recipe then preheat the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a non-stick cookie sheet and brush it with olive oil. After that, take your falafel balls and flatten them on the sheet so they aren't touching. Lightly brush the patties with olive oil.

Once the oven is hot, put them in for 10 minutes, then flip them, and leave for another 10 minutes.

By letshearit — On Jun 19, 2011

Falafel can be a great food but as with anything you have to watch how it is prepared. I was pretty surprised to find out how many calories and fat a serving can contain. On average, a falafel pita can run you upwards of 550 calories and 32 grams of fat due to the dressing and frying.

I find that if you want to have your falafel and benefit from it being vegetarian you should make it at home and control not only what you add to it, but also what you use as a dressing.

Does anyone have a good falafel recipe they feel is extra healthy?

By turquoise — On Jun 19, 2011

I love falafel! It's one of those foods that I have a weak spot for. If I see it at a restaurant, I can't resist myself. But I don't want to have fried falafel twice a week, so now I get the falafel mix at the store and make it at home. I found a baked falafel recipe where instead of frying it, I bake it in the oven. It's a great healthy version and it tastes just as good. I know it doesn't fit the original recipe, but I like eating it with tzatziki sauce as a snack.

Sometimes I make it into a meal by making tomato sauce and putting the oven baked falafels in it. I make rice and salad to go with it and it's a full meal! My kids love it too. They say it kind of tastes like meatballs in tomato sauce.

By serenesurface — On Jun 19, 2011

I saw a really funny video about falafel and how both Israelis and Palestinians claim to have found this food originally. I personally think that there is no way to know who exactly found falafel first. It's very common in both Israel and the surrounding countries. Plus, the whole region eats some of the same foods because the same ingredients are found and grown.

Falafel probably became popular because it is really easy to make. Since it's made from beans, you can keep dry beans at home or travel with it without it going bad. It's really nutritious too because both fava beans and chickpeas has high amounts of fiber and protein.

It doesn't matter who found falafel. It's delicious and everyone should be able to enjoy this tasty snack!

By discographer — On Jun 19, 2011

I ate so much falafel when I was in the Middle East. Meat dishes are very common in that region and I am a vegetarian. When I decided to go on a trip to Egypt, I was worried that I would not be able to find many vegetarian options. There were quite a few options available for me, one of my favorite ones being falafel. Many restaurants had this available as a sandwich or as a side with salads, bread and tahini sauce.

Since I've come back from my trip, I still get a craving for falafel and I rush to a Middle Eastern restaurant for some. I love a platter with falafel, hummus, stuffed grape leaves and salad. I want to learn how to make falafel at home, but I don't know if I can pull it off.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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