I’ve eaten too many dense and soggy falafels in my life. It’s tricky to get it just right—fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside. That’s how my mom makes them, which turned me into a very picky falafel eater. This recipe is my adaptation of her foolproof light-and-crispy method, with a main ingredient that’s perhaps a bit different from other falafels you’ve had: split peas (more on them in a minute!). In an Egyptian household, falafel, or ta'amiya, is served as part of a traditional breakfast, eaten with tahina, arugula, pickles, and tomatoes; but a falafel sandwich can also be eaten at any time of the day. The Egyptian version is made with broad beans (aka fava beans), not chickpeas, like the falafel of the Levant. When my family emigrated to Namibia, my mom couldn’t find broad beans, and so began the search for a good substitution.
Adapting traditional recipes to the ingredients found locally is such a common thing for immigrant families, and it paves the way for some genuinely exciting innovation at times. After a few years and many experiments, my mom landed on dried green split peas. This cheap and accessible ingredient that’s usually used for soup in fact makes an amazing falafel. With the addition of a lot of green herbs, the centers are bright green, which is how an Egyptian falafel is meant to look. It does take a bit of time compared to other meals, but for a falafel recipe, it doesn’t get simpler.
Note: This recipe makes a large amount and can serve up to 10 people. I recommend splitting the falafel mixture and freezing half for a future meal. If you plan to freeze some, split the mixture right after finishing Step 5. Store the mixture in a freezer-safe bag or container. To defrost, place in the fridge overnight or place the closed bag in cold water for quicker defrosting. Return to the recipe at Step 6 when you’re ready to make the frozen batch (just be sure to use only half the salt, spices, and baking powder for each half of the mixture!)
- Prep time 13 hours
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes about 35 falafel
dried green split peas
medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
garlic cloves, peeled
fresh dill, washed, woody stems removed, and patted dry (about 1½ packed cups)
fresh cilantro (leaves and tender stems), washed and patted dry (about 2 packed cups)
fresh parsley (leaves and tender stems), washed and patted dry (about 1 packed cup)
chili powder (optional)
fine sea salt
sesame seeds (optional)
Sunflower or another neutral oil, for frying
Pita, tahini sauce, arugula, sliced tomatoes, and pickles, for serving
- Place the peas in a bowl and cover with about 2 inches of water. Soak the peas, covered with a towel, unrefrigerated overnight (at least 8 hours and no more than 12 hours).
- Drain the split peas, then dry well. (I spread them out on a towel and pat dry with another.)
- Add the onion and garlic to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
- Add the herbs to the onion mixture and blend until finely chopped.
- Add the split peas to the food processor and blend until the mixture is a coarse paste. It should look like fine granules, but still firm enough to hold a shape with your hands. If you choose to split the mixture for freezing, split the mixture and see the Author Notes for freezing instructions.
- Transfer the mixture into a large bowl and add the spices, salt, and baking powder and use your hands to mix well. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Shape the mixture into golf-ball-sized rounds with your hands, like you would a meatball, then flatten slightly into round disks. Sprinkle each ball with sesame seeds on each side if using and press lightly to secure.
- Heat about 2 cups of the vegetable oil in a high-sided saucepan or Dutch oven over high heat—it should fill at least one-third of the pan. Test if the is hot enough by adding a little bit of falafel mixture into the oil, if it bubbles furiously and floats, it’s ready; alternatively, use a candy thermometer and heat the oil to about 350°F.
- Carefully transfer the falafel disks into the oil without crowding the pan—I add 4 at a time. They should be completely submerged in the oil. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook until golden brown, about 2 to 4 minutes total, flipping each disk halfway through cooking to make sure both sides are browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the falafel and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining falafel.
- Serve with pita bread, tahini sauce, arugula, sliced tomatoes, and pickles for the perfect falafel pita.