The vibrant streets of Tel Aviv are flooded with falafel stands. They usually open around noon for the on-the-go lunch crowd and stay open late, catering to energetic night owls looking for cheap grub.
My father was born and raised in Tel Aviv and remembers going to the neighborhood cart and ordering the only thing they had: basic fried chickpea fritters, served in a white flour pita and topped with tahini, and maybe some chopped salad if you were lucky.
Todays falafel options are endless. Storefronts offer organic varieties, whole-wheat pita options, different flavors, colors and extensive all-you-can-eat salad bars. You name it, theyve got it. This version with spiced red lentils and fresh herbs makes a fantastic weeknight meal.
This prized Middle Eastern street fare was originally made of fava beans and later with chickpeas, and it has gained international recognition for its wholesome, vegan ingredients. By baking it instead of deep frying, you create a healthy, balanced meal, packed with hearty legumes and zesty, fresh ingredients.
Ive experimented countless times with homemade falafel recipes, and I prefer the red lentil version. Theres no need to precook the lentils. Soaked overnight, they blend up nicely in the food processor and maintain moisture.
Lentils keep falafel creamy on the inside and not too grainy, as chickpeas tend to be. Blended with plenty of herbs, garlic, spicy peppers, warm spices and a touch of olive oil, these are bursting with flavor and have great texture. The baked version will never be as crispy as the fried ones, but olive oil spray gives these a nice crust.
For a light and satisfying dinner meal, I eliminated the pita pocket and served the falafels on a simple, crisp salad of kale, sweet carrot ribbons and thinly sliced onion, topped with a tangy tahini dressing.
With minimal planning just soak the lentils before you go to bed and a few simple steps, these come together quickly. In under an hour you can prepare a batch of 20 falafels that will last all week, and leftovers are perfect for weekday lunches.
Karen Biton-Cohen is a writer for TheKitchn.com, a website for home cooking.
Baked Red Lentil Falafel
1 cup dry red lentils
2 cups loosely packed Italian parsley, stems removed
2 cups loosely packed cilantro, stems removed
5 garlic cloves
1 red onion
1-2 serrano peppers, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini paste
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 to 3 tablespoons chickpea flour (see note)
Olive oil spray
SOAK the lentils in water overnight. Strain and rinse the soaked lentils. Pick through the batch and discard any stones or debris.
PULSE the lentils in a food processor until they are coarsely ground, 3 to 5 times. Add the parsley, cilantro, garlic, onion and serrano pepper to the bowl, and pulse another few times.
DRIZZLE in the tahini paste, olive oil, spices, salt and pepper, and blend until almost smooth. Make sure not to over-blend the mixture; you still want some crumb. Taste the mixture, and adjust the seasoning. Add the baking soda and chickpea flour. Add 1 tablespoon of chickpea flour. If the mixture is too liquid, add another. The mixture should be fairly moist, and if you add too much flour, the falafels will become too dry and hard when baked.
REFRIGERATE 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
SCOOP out 2 tablespoons of the falafel mixture into the palm of your hand. Roll into a ball and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Generously coat the falafels with olive oil spray and bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Don’t overcook them – you don’t want them to dry out.
SERVE the falafels on a bed of salad with tahini dressing, or use in a pita as a sandwich.
NOTE: To keep the recipe gluten-free, I chose chickpea flour, but any flour would work, including spelt, whole wheat or all-purpose.
Yield: 20 falafels, or 8 to 10 servings.