Baked, Not Fried: These Oven-Baked Falafel Are No Compromise
Crisp on the outside, bright green inside—and all-round delicious
The world of falafel
There are so many variations of falafel it can be difficult to compare one to the next. They can be light and fluffy, or dense, meaty or nutty, they can be round or flat, made of chickpeas or fava beans… You get the picture. Like many ancient foods, their origin is much disputed, we can broadly say they originated in the Middle East, but after that things become a little murky. Recipes vary from country to country and even region to region—many places speak of original recipes, unsurprisingly, who wouldn’t want to lay claim to these beautifully crisp, delicious and filling balls of legume-y goodness?
Life outside the fryer - can you really bake falafel?
Despite the many variations, what is universally important for great falafel is that they are crispy on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. This is normally achieved by deep-frying them, but I wanted to see if I could get a similar result by baking them; sometimes it’s nice to just throw something in the oven, set a timer and forget about it. So if you don’t want the hassle or the mess of deep-frying, or just want a slightly cleaner and lighter alternative, then this is the recipe for you.
Lots of the falafel recipes out there, especially for oven-baked falafel, have good flavor, but always end up either dense and mushy or dry and rubbery. Through some trial and error, I’ve come up with a recipe that remedies that and is optimized for the oven, ensuring great flavor and texture.
The pulse of the matter
The first step towards achieving the right texture comes down to the choice of pulse (lentil, pea, or bean). Whatever you use, the most important thing is that you use the dried version (chickpeas in this case) and soak them overnight—just place them in a large bowl with lots of water, so they have room to expand. The stuff in cans has already been cooked and is soft, so if you use them for falafel then they tend to end up mushy. Dried pulses that are soaked overnight are still raw and will only be cooked when you cook the falafel, so they, on the other hand, retain their texture and flavor.
Spice up your life (and the falafel)
The key to getting great flavor from your falafel is in the combination of fragrant spices and lots of vibrant, fresh herbs. The most important spices are ground cumin with its distinctive warm, and earthy flavor and ground coriander with its floral and citrusy notes. I find the ratio of 2 parts cumin to 1 part coriander provides the best balance. In terms of the herbs, you can use any one, or a combination, of parsley, mint and coriander—just make sure there’s a lot of them, you want the falafel to be bright green!
How fine do you grind?
As I have been banging on about it, the most important thing for falafel is the texture, and it’s difficult to get that crispy exterior and moist and light interior in the oven, as by the time the outside gets crispy the inside is already dry and gummy or still dense and mushy.
For these falafel I decided to keep the mixture coarse, so they have a nice chunky almost nutty texture. Instead of being pasty, they are nice and crumbly and still moist – I also added some baking soda to help lighten them. You want to process the mixture until it just starts to come together and hold its shape, but you can still see some chunks.
Forming and baking
Falafel come in all shapes and sizes, but when baking it is best to make them fairly small. Around 1 oz. (to be exact, 25 g, I like to use scales to be precise) or 1 in. (2.5cm) across is perfect, as it ensures they cook quickly, and that outside gets crisp while the inside stays moist.
Now the mixture may seem a bit wet and crumbly and you may be tempted to add some binding agents (flour or egg), but don’t! That will give you the very gumminess you’re trying to avoid. The natural starch within the chickpeas is enough to keep the balls together. Just give them a good squeeze while shaping and they should hold together. If you’re having trouble, put the mixture in the fridge for 30 min. to allow the starch to seep out of the chickpeas and then try again.
After you’ve formed the balls, place them in the fridge for about 30 min. so they firm up a bit and dry slightly on the outside, which means they will crisp up quicker. Then, bake them in batches on high heat for about 15 min. Make sure to drizzle each with olive oil and spread them out, as you don’t want to overcrowd the oven, this ensures that the heat can circulate around each falafel, so that they crisp up properly and bake quickly, before drying out. If you can’t eat all of them at once (we managed!), then you can freeze the uncooked falafel for up to 6 months.
The final flourish
The best thing about falafel is that they go well with just about... anything. These are good enough to be eaten on their own, but I chose to serve mine with some traditional Israeli accompaniments, a rich and creamy tahini sauce, a fresh and zesty tomato and cucumber salad, and of course some good quality pita. Now you have everything: crispy and moist falafel, creamy sauce, and fresh salad, so add whatever hot sauce you can find, put it in a pita and find a way to stuff it in your mouth!
Make oven-baked falafel with Steven
Published on October 31, 2020