Falafel doesn't always have to be a deep-fried grease bomb. Learn how to make this popular Middle-Eastern street food healthier at home.
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Falafel is a popular Middle Eastern street food that makes a delicious and satisfying vegan main dish or appetizer. It's made from rehydrated dry chickpeas or fava beans. (Canned beans are also acceptable.) The beans are soaked until plump and then combined with flavorful ingredients like green onions, parsley, onion, garlic and a host of warm and toasty spices like cumin, coriander and red pepper.

The word falafel refers to the fried chickpea balls as well as the sandwich that's often made with the balls. It's a versatile food, and it doesn't always have to be a deep-fried grease bomb. Learn how to make a healthier falafel at home from scratch with these easy tips.

How to Make Falafel

Falafel Burgers

Featured Recipe: Falafel Burgers

The key to healthier falafel is making a flavorful dough. No matter how you choose to cook falafel, the dough is made in practically the same manner.

Start with dried chickpeas or fava beans. Soak these beans overnight or up to 24 hours so that they turn creamy and tender. If you forget to soak the beans or don't have the time, you can also start with canned chickpeas or garbanzo beans.

Combine the beans with onion, garlic, parsley, green onions and any number of fragrant ingredients you prefer. Next, add your preferred spices. Traditional falafel recipes include spices like coriander and cumin. Cayenne or red pepper is used for a hint of heat. Salt and pepper are also added.

Mash all of your ingredients with a fork or potato masher. For a reliably smooth dough, you can whir all the ingredients in a food processor, too.

If the dough is too wet, add all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough rolls into a ball without sticking to your hand.

Scoop two tablespoons of the dough into your hand, and roll the dough into balls. Slightly flatten the dough into a thick patty. For faster cooking, you can also flatten the patties with a rolling pin or the palm of your hand until they're just under 1/2-inch thick. When they're this thin, however, they may crumble if you're not careful when handling them.

How to Cook Falafel on the Stove

Stove-top Falafel

Pictured Recipe: Falafel

On the stovetop, you can fry falafel, or you can pan-sear it. Traditional falafel is deep-fried. If you do not have a deep fryer or don't want to use all the oil that's necessary for that, you can shallow fry falafel on the stovetop.

For fried falafel, add two inches of oil to a tall-sided pot, and heat to 350°F. Drop falafel balls into the hot oil, and flip with a wooden spoon to cook all sides. (Work in batches as necessary and do not crowd the pot.) Fry until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Pan-seared falafel is also crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. While not traditional, it's an option that introduces less fat into the final dish.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, and turn to coat pan. Fill the skillet with falafel, keeping about 1/2 inch around each patty for even cooking. Sear each falafel until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip each falafel, and add an additional 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Cook until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.

How to Bake Falafel in the Oven

Baking falafel is another great way to cook this vegetarian dish without introducing unnecessary oil, fat and calories.

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Place each falafel on the baking sheet, and slightly flatten to form 1-inch thick patties. Brush each falafel with oil.

Bake 12 minutes, then flip each patty. Bake until golden brown, another 10 to 15 minutes.

How to Cook Falafel in the Air Fryer

Air fryer falafel

Pictured Recipe: Air-Fryer Falafel

This clever countertop kitchen cooker lets you get the crispy results of a deep fryer with less fat than traditional deep frying.

Lightly coat air-fryer basket with cooking spray. Place the patties in a single layer in the basket and coat the tops with more cooking spray. Air-fry the falafel at 375°F, carefully turning them over halfway through and coating the tops with more cooking spray, about 12 minutes total.

Air fry in batches for the best results. If you crowd the basket, the individual balls or patties won't have as much surface room to get crispy and golden brown.

How to Serve Falafel

Falafel Pita Sandwiches with Tzatziki

Falafel is commonly served as a sandwich. Three falafel balls or patties are stuffed into a tender pita pocket. Lettuce, tomato and a flavorful dressing or spread, such as tahini sauce, tzatziki or hummus, are also added.

Or, serve falafel as part of a platter. The ingredients on the platter depend on which food tradition you're enjoying. The side dishes can include pickled cucumbers, hummus, pita, fattoush or tabbouleh.

As an appetizer, falafel may be served with a variety of dips and sauces. These may include tahini-yogurt sauce, hummus, baba ghanoush and spicy harissa.

A Note on Falafel Nutrition

Edamame Falafel with Lemon Aioli

Thanks to the protein-rich beans used to make the dough, falafel is a protein-packed food. Plus, all of the protein in this vegan dish comes from plant sources. A typical falafel serving is three balls or patties, which has between 10 and 15 grams of protein. For comparison, one egg has six grams of protein.

What's more, a serving of falafel also has between 7 and 10 grams of fiber. That's about one-quarter of your daily recommended fiber.

The number of calories in a falafel varies based on the falafel's ingredients and how it's prepared. The typical falafel has about 100 calories per ball or patty. Dressings, sauces or other elements of a falafel recipe can add more calories to the dish.

At a three-patty serving, the falafel alone will total around 300 calories. However, for these 300 calories, you're getting a healthy dose of nutrients, including fiber, protein and vitamins.

Watch: How to Make Falafel Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing