Homemade Lebanese Falafel Recipe
This is just the very BEST Lebanese falafel recipe you can make, packed with fresh herbs and a luscious tahini dipping sauce.
I’d like to get right to the heart of why, other than perhaps one or two bites, I had never eaten Lebanese falafel before I made my own, from scratch.
In a word: cumin.
I . . . don’t like it.
I think this is something one is born with, like the taste for or against cilantro (which I love). Either your taste buds receive cumin with warm welcome, or they are reminded of something else, akin to perspiration?, every time cumin walks in the room. That’s not a criticism, by the way, of the friends of cumin. Much of the world, including me, enjoys stinky cheese, after all.
My mama has never used cumin; I can say with confidence our spices have never rubbed shoulders with it. She is not alone. No food in our extended family, in either Abowd or Abood branches, is made with cumin. Some say cumin use is aligned with your religious affiliation in Lebanon, Muslims into it and Christians not. I will say though that my brother Richard champions the camun, the cumin, just a dash in his kibbeh, which he got from his days living in the environs of Detroit and which is the subject of incessant family banter. If you are a cousin reading here and you use cumin, all I can do is shake my head. Kids these days.
Commercial falafel, or Lebanese falafel you make at home from a commercial mix, tastes to me of one singular flavor. I didn’t really even understand what falafel was composed of, and didn’t ever try to, because I thought it inherently had to taste the way it tasted. Of cumin.
When I wrote the proposal for my cookbook, I listed homemade falafel with tahini sauce as one of the recipes I’d include. I was curious how I was going to play that one out, since I had no love for the dish and certainly had never made it before. But it sounded good, and at that point, that’s what mattered. When it came time to develop the recipe, I nearly crossed it off before even giving it a second look. How can I offer something I genuinely don’t like and still be sincere about it?
I persevered, and was richly rewarded (my life’s mantra, in a falafel nutshell).
The pleasure of developing a recipe is that you are in charge (well, the ingredients are in charge, then you), and you get to decide what’s what. Falafel is fritter made from a crumble of soaked, not cooked, dry chickpeas and fava beans. Some versions leave out the favas but I wouldn’t do that, since their flavor is so smooth. Along with an abundance of herbs, onion, garlic…and no cumin…this Lebanese falafel has become one of my favorite things to cook and eat and put on my table, hot from the frying pan. Homemade falafel has that irresistible crisp-fried exterior and tender fresh herb infused center, and a tahini sauce that brings how-good-is-this tears to your eyes.
Everyone around here, the little Lebanese crew of guys who taste test my work with no mercy, is in unison on this one: A+ for the falafel. Or as one of my darling cousins said: Valedictorian! Or as Dan puts it: MmmMMMMM!
Even if you love the Lebanese falafel you get from a restaurant, or the falafel made from a boxed mix at home (there’s no shame), I invite you to take up the delicious mantle of making falafel from scratch. The difference is light years apart. I’ll go out on a limb and say that even if you decide to put a pinch of cumin in your homemade falafel, if you handed a hot one from the fryer to me wrapped in a little pita? I’d wolf it down, and give it high marks.
For the falafel:
- 1/2 cup dry (uncooked) chickpeas
- 1/2 cup dry peeled fava beans (be sure they’re the pale, peel dry favas, not the dark unpeeled favas which won’t work)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- 3/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
- 1 small jalepeno, ribs and seeds removed and coarsely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion (1 small onion)
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Safflower or canola oil, for frying (about 3 cups)
For the tahini sauce:
- 3/4 cup yogurt or laban
- 1/3 cup tahini (stir before measuring)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 clove garlic, green sprout removed and minced
- Juice of 1 lemon
- In a medium bowl, cover the chickpeas and fava beans with cool water by several inches. Soak them overnight and up to 24 hours.
- Drain the chickpeas and fava beans. In the food processor, process them with a teaspoon of salt until they are ground to a coarse crumb. Add the mint, parsley, cilantro, jalepneo, garlic, onion, and sesame seeds and pulse until everything is finely ground and the mixture is a fine, web crumb—but not pureed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, stir in the baking soda, and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to one day.
- To make the tahini sauce, process the yogurt, tahini, salt, and garlic until combined. Pour in the lemon juice and pulse to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings so that the sauce has a nutty flavor of tahini with a bit of the tang of the yogurt.
- Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan or sauté pan until a pinch of herb dropped in floats and bubbles dramatically. Using an ice cream scoop or a large spoon, pack the falafel mixture tightly in to the scoop to form 2-inch ovals, and fry a few at a time until they are golden brown, flipping them over with tongs as soon as they are browned on one side. Remove the falafel from the oil with the tongs to a paper towel-lined plate, and fry the remaining falafel in the same way.
- Serve the falafel hot with the tahini sauce on the side or drizzled over top.
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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
Hi Maureen we love your blog and love following. your recipes are all amazing. was just wondering about whether or not we could bake the falafel balls instead of trying to save on calories.
Hi Denise–thanks so much! I understand completely, though I don’t think you’re going to get even a similar outcome in the oven, since these are at heart a fritter that just wants to be fried. If you do bake them, I’d love to know how they come out!
I just have to share that my husband Joe, Finnegan and I moved to Qatar for his job and I too had never experienced falafel… Once I had…I could not get enough… My friend and I would stop once or twice a week and grab a pita full of fresh, fried chickpeas… Yummmm!! I can taste it now… Such great memories!! Thank you for sharing… I need to try my hand at this recipe…!!
How cool Meaghan, didn’t know you lived in Qatar. What a great memory and I have a feeling your homemade falafel will live up to the ones you had there!
Love it Maureen. I agree with you on the cumin, but now what do I do if I also don’t like cilantro…just add more parsley?
Thanks Geralyn! And yes absolutely, more parsley works great, I’ve done it often!
I am 100% with you on cumin. I really want to like it, especially when I heard others wax rhapsodic about it, but I just can’t get past what seems to me like a musty aroma. I will definitely give this recipe a try, though!
Hi Maureen, I love your blog so much, spend countless hours on it when Im at work (shame on me!) but I am really obsessed with it! I cant wait to get your book, do you know when it will be ready?
thanks again for the joy (and sometimes tears!) you bring
Mimi, thank you so much! You made my day, my week! The book will be out in spring 2015….
Dear Maureen: I think your falafel recipe must be simply delicious. It’s more carefully composed than the one that I was taught by a friend, just a couple of years ago. I agree that falafel made from scratch is truly superb, and much tastier than the one made from a mixture.
My family never made falafel until now. I’ve asked my mother why, and she suspects that falafel was introduced to Lebanon in the last hundred years, and wasn’t originally Lebanese, but brought by Muslim immigrants. Could this be true? Do you have any info on the origin of falafel?
I think cumin-less falafel is just as wonderful! I like keeping a stash of frozen falafel balls. I shape the balls and place them on a non-stick tray, freeze them for 24 hours and then bag them by the dozens. They have gone for as long as six months in the freezer without losing their flavor. You just throw them -frozen- into the hot oil and let them fry.
I was brought up with cumin, since my family’s Lebanese side uses it, though in small quantities. My grandma was a big fan, but my mom isn’t, in spite of having been brought up with it, so she is always cutting back on cumin when she cooks. But I do like it.
How interesting, Carlos. I would love to know more about the history of falafel because it seems you and I are not alone as Lebanese without the falafel tradition. Your freezing method is just great!! Thanks so much!
How ironic to be reading your post today while eating my white chicken chili, flavored with cumin 🙂 Yes, I think you either love it or hate it and I only like it in moderation and love lime with it.
I love falafel and was disappointed that I didn’t see much of it when in Lebanon. We have a local restaurant in Columbus that serves broken falafel in a salad with tahini dressing and its delicious!
I’ll look forward to trying your recipe!
No cumin in my family either or falafel. (all of we Abowds and Atiyehs are from Ammun, Leb., Nassirs from Hisbaya, Leb., late 19th c.). First tasted falafel while at UCSB graduate school, 1974, two exchange students from Saudi(?) or Jordan(?) had a falafel stand (about 8’x10′-small was part of the charm) in Isla Vista. Luckily for me, Trader Joe’s carries ready made falafel in their cold case. I am enthusiastically waiting for your cookbook!!!
It’s interesting how our taste buds change over time. Never liked cumin, now I can take it or leave it. Cilantro back when, no. Now,yes! Liver never then, now, or ever. Some things don’t change.
I make falafel using chicpeas and green split peas, and comes out good.
I cannot tolerate the smell of parsley but simply love cilantro.
So i tend to substitute cilantro for parsley in most recipes.
With the cumin, we roast and then when cool, powder it.
if not properly roasted , then you get the smell that you mention.
In Indian cooking, cumin is sauteed with other spices and that takes away that peculiar odor.
Thank you Vanita!
Well, I am not a cumin hater or lover—I just use it as a hidden ingredient in things like chili to round out the flavor. I definitely do not remember my mother ever talking about it so I guess it comes from my adult discovery of Indian food (from India), but only with some raita and garlic naan (which has cilantro!!).
Anyway—thank you for the recipe Maureen–this is a great place to visit when I need a taste from back home.
Thank you Jim, very interesting!
My chili recipe for my resturants had 19 ingredients including several seasonings, one of which, was cumin. it was ever so slight as were others, including chili powder. My belief is that no seasoning should dominate so as to distract from the main ingredients but to offer a blend that allows for an overall enhancement of the whole preparation.
Well your chili was delicious because of your excellent balancing of flavors, Uncle Dick. I’d love to taste it again sometime!!
Dreid Fava beans are not available here in Pakistan, only foul in cans. What can I use as a substitute for the fava? Thanks
You can just use all chickpea for this. I’m surprised the favas aren’t available there! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Maureen, will be making it this weekend.
Maureen, would you suggest using the peeled chickpeas for this, or is it okay to skip peeling, since we’re not going for hummus-smooth consistency, please?
Hi–great question–no peeling of the chickpeas for this. They aren’t cooked, they’re dry-soaked, so the peeling would not be possible. But as you say, it’s not necessary for this because we’re just grinding them up. Let me know how the falafel goes for you!
I just came across your blog looking at some stuffed grape leaves recipe. I have been cooking Lebanese foods for a long time as I used to help my great aunt cook all the time when I was very young. I have continued the tradition to this day, cooking many Lebanese dishes routinely. I have a long history in the food, beverage and restaurant field, and the last couple of years, I created and ran an independent restaurant (cooking everything), including the many Lebanese dishes that were part of the menu. At first, I also used a blend of chickpea and fava beans, but gradually, I moved to just chickpeas. I felt the taste was cleaner, and it really let the cilantro and parsley shine in flavor.
However, I love cumin. It’s used in my hummus and my falafel. My mother echoes your sentiment often – so much so my teenage son essentially mocks his Sitto when she would complain about the cumin in the hummus. “I don’t like it.”
Your cumin loving new reader,
P.S. Love your blog! And title!
Hello Jim–what a pleasure to hear from you and know about your family and your restaurant. Interesting that you like just chickpeas best for falafel, especially in deference to the herbs (best part!). I’m with Sitto on the cumin and your son sounds like a true Lebanese spirit…great fun! Thanks so much for your kind words and I look forward to keeping in touch, Jim!
Check out this guy if you’re not familiar with him.
Perhaps there is a spice, or spices, that will transform your “dreaded” cumin to a spice of wonder, mystery, flavor and depth of a deeper understanding when properly blended with some other spices. Never hurts to try 🙂 Right?
Absolutely Jim! Thank you!
Had to do it!
Thanks so much for the recipe! But…what is up with you people and cumin!!! Ha ha…I love cilantro too and many family members don’t…so I must be the rebel outsider. My husband will love you for this…he shares your cumin dislike…but will tolerate just a little. Most of the falafel sandwiches we have had usually have a hint of it. I could sprinkle it on mine for good measure and to heck with him. We’ve tried many other recipes and have been disappointed so I am really looking forward to this…it does seem to be different from what others have shared. Some restaurants have the cumin and some do not…it’s all good to taste anyway. I have never encountered a truly bad falafel ever. If more people would come together over falafel I think the world would be a happier place!
Agreed, Theta–what a great line. Falafel for peace! Thanks so much. And you just go right ahead and add your cumin to your falafel, and it’ll be delicious!
so glad Saveur picked you as a finalist, or I may have never found you!
Love your site and your recipes. I am a pro-cumin foodie…so I will be adding it to your beautiful falafel recipe tomorrow. Can’t wait…
Thanks a bunch!
Thanks so much Elisa! I’m so glad you are here, even if you do like cumin…!! I’d love to hear how you like the falafel.
Hi Maureen, Do you think these would be good if I made them about 4 hours ahead and brought them to a picnic? They won’t be fresh and hot but I’m thinking they might still be crispy and tasty at room temperature. Any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks. Stan
Stan, thanks for asking this–I find the falafel is SO much better fresh out of the fryer…I don’t think you’ll have crisp results several hours later at room temp, though they certainly won’t taste bad! I tend to save falafel for on-the-spot eating. If you do serve them later, let me know how you like it!
I feel the same way about cumin! I think it’s a cultural thing for sure. As a Persian, it’s just not in my genes. I’ll never use it in my recipes either. Anyway, thank you for a falafel recipe that I WILL try out!
A kindrid spirit!! Enjoy the falafel!
Maureen thank you for this absolutely wonderful recipe! You are bringing back many nostalgic memories for me as my mother made falafel with our Egyptian foul for breakfast every morning. Nothing beats a breakfast like that with a warm cup of tea and some crispy pita bread! Your pictures are beautiful and recipe is a keeper since I am now off to college! I can make this in my tiny kitchen apartment! Shokran kteer 🙂
You will have the most delicious college apartment in the world! Enjoy and very best wishes to you Shouk. Good food = good grades!
I already have the beans soaking, and am soaking a lot at once, for hummus, chana masala, and to make this recipe. I’m assuming that 1 cup of dried beans does not equal 1 cup of soaked beans, but I’m not certain. Please help!
Kelly, it all depends on the size of your beans, which can differ. Generally though, the expansion isn’t that substantial. A cup of dried yields just over a cup soaked, about 1 1/4 at most.
Thanks for your work! I’m using your site to plan the meals for the week. Love your recipes! I’m lebanese too. Just wanted to write you a note that I too hate cumin! Especially in falafel! Glad someone shares the sentiment.
I love falafel and am certainly open to your recipe. Will deffo give it a try. The ex-teacher in me cannot but mention the their/they’re confusion in your text, but hope that you will forgive me.
Ach! I’m a former lit teacher myself…so that’s an unforgivable grammar confusion! But not because of confusion, but rather a girl speeding along far too fast for her own good sometimes. All fixed up now. Thank you!
I can’t find the actual recipe.. I am sure it is right in front of me. Help!
Phoebe, you’re absolutely right–the recipe had disappeared! Should be back up and visible now. Thank you and my apologies!
In Palestine we use cumin and cilantro.If you don’t like to add cilantro use coriander. It comes out delicious.
Could I use split fava beans? The store I went to was out of the whole dry favas.
Hi Sarah–are the split favas white/light in color? The main thing is that they are peeled, with no dark brown color. That color means the skin is still on them; those won’t work.
Hi Maureen – first of all thank you for all your recipes. As a half-Lebanese guy living far from home, you’ve helped me learn/ perfect so many dishes that I miss dearly. With some tweaking to make it taste like my aunties’, of course 😉
I’m also currently writing a a little bit about Lebanese diaspora food traditions in a small, relatively remote place in Canada. I was struck by your observation about cumin – nobody here uses it (at least traditionally), and I can’t really recall it being used in my own family either! The community here is predominately Maronite, which I am as well. I find the possibility of it breaking down along religious lines really fascinating, and I was just wondering if you have any more info about that! Doesn’t have to be academic or anything per se – anecdotal is fine.
Anyway, in any case thanks again! And I’m going to have to try our this falafel recipe soon 🙂
Hi Wyatt–thanks so much, and how interesting, what you’re writing. My mother’s family is also Maronite. I have heard it stated casually and without negativity that the use of cumin can be seen along religious cultural lines. Feel free to send me an email for more discussion as you are working on your project! firstname.lastname@example.org. And enjoy the falafel! So very good!
you made me laugh so heartily! I too, am not a fan of cumin. It really does not smell good to me, I will leave it at that. But I am glad that there is a way to make it, without the offensive spice. No offense to those who love it, LOL. What should I substitute for the hot spicey peppers? I don’t like those either. Also, cilantro makes me get dizzy. Seriously fall down dizzy. Can I get substitutions for those two things?
Thanks Tyara! You can substitute the cilantro with all parsley, or use some basil. Just leave the hot peppers out, no need to sub. You could try regular green peppers but that flavor wouldn’t be quite right to me.
It’s interesting how much the spice Cumin is such a dividing factor. I grew up with Lebanese food because of my father and my Sithee. My mother was American/western european but also fell in love with the food of my father’s family. We did not use cumin in anything and it was actually shocking and very disappointing to me when it was added in dishes ordered in Middle Eastern restaurants. Even in salads! I just can’t have it in my Lebanese food. BUT… conversely, I love it in TexMex, Indian food or any other “ethnic” dishes. Just not Lebanese.
Same Claudia! Thanks for your story!
Love this recipe! Have made it and the sauce several times and always ready for the next batch. Especially enjoy that it holds in the fridge and you can get a few at a time. Thanks for all you do. Love my Lebanese heritage and you make it real and so good!!!!
I love those words Michele, thank you! And the falafel, so good!