The vibrant and hustling streets of Tel Aviv are flooded with falafel stands. They usually open up shop around noon for the on-the-go lunch crowd and stay open late, catering to the 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.
Today's 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, they've got it. This version with spiced red lentils and fresh herbs makes a fantastic weeknight meal.
The prized Middle Eastern street fare were originally made of fava beans, and later with chickpeas, and it has gained international recognition for its wholesome, vegan ingredients. By omitting the deep frying step and opting to bake instead, you've created a healthy, balanced meal, packed with hearty legumes, and tons of zesty, fresh ingredients.
I've experimented countless times with homemade falafel recipes, and I have to say, I think I prefer the red lentil version. No need to precook the lentils, once soaked overnight, they blend up really nicely in the food processor and maintain moisture. Lentils keep the falafel creamy on the inside, and not too grainy, as the chickpeas tend to do. 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 the olive oil spray definitely 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 earthy kale, sweet carrot ribbons, and thinly sliced onion, all 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 fairly quickly. In under an hour you can prepare a batch of twenty falafels that will last all week, and leftovers are perfect for weekday lunches.
Baked Red Lentil Falafel Salad
Makes 20 falafels and 2 salad servings.
For the falafels:
1 cup dry split red lentils
2 cups loosely-packed Italian parsley leaves, stems removed
2 cups loosely-packed cilantro leaves, stems removed
5 garlic cloves
1 red onion
1-2 serrano peppers, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons whole sesame seed tahini paste
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-3 tablespoons chickpea flour (or whole spelt/whole wheat/all-purpose)
Olive oil spray
For the tahini dressing:
1/3 cup whole sesame seed tahini paste
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons water
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the salad:
3 cups shredded lacinato (tuscan) kale
3 carrots, shaved into ribbons
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Soak the lentils in fresh water overnight. When ready to make the falafels, strain and rinse the soaked lentils. Make sure to pick through the batch and discard any stones or debris.
In a food processor, pulse the lentils 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 according to your liking. Add the baking soda and the chickpea flour. Start by adding 1 tablespoon of chickpea flour at a time. If the mixture is still too liquidy 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. I wouldn't add more than 3 tablespoons.
Refrigerate mixture for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375° F.
To make the tahini dressing, whisk the tahini paste, lemon juice, water together until creamy. Mix in the grated garlic clove, minced parsley, paprika, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss the salad ingredients together.
Using a tablespoon measure, scoop out 2 tablespoons of the refrigerated 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. Make sure not to over cook these — you don't want them to dry out.
To serve, plate the falafels over a bed of kale-carrot salad with a heaping dollop (or two) of tahini dressing.
- To keep the recipe gluten free, I chose chickpea flour to bind the ingredients together, but any flour would work well here.
(Image credits: Karen Biton-Cohen)