One of my top vegetarian cravings is falafel! Stuffed in a pita or tossed on a salad and served with veggies and sauce, these crunchy little spiced nuggets have only one downside: The Deep Fryer. To get them perfectly crunchy, you need to fry these guys, which can involve a lot of clean up.
Or you could air fry them.
Now, I don’t expect that there will be too many falafel street carts setting up with air fryers any time soon. It’s true that the falafel cooked this way doesn’t get 100 percent as crispy as a traditional deep fry, but it’s very close. Plus, the the easy clean-up and use of less oil make it totally worth it.
- New to the air fryer? Check out our First Timer's Guide to Using an Air Fryer.
What Is Falafel?
Falafel is traditionally made by soaking dried chickpeas and mashing them with spices, garlic, and a few other simple add-ins. Shaped into balls or discs and deep fried, they are a great vegetarian option stuffed in a soft pita.
I like to make my falafel with canned chickpeas and pair them with crunchy veggies, lettuce, and a simple tahini sauce.
How to Shape Falafel for Air Frying
After you process your chickpeas together with your herbs, garlic, and spices, you need to shape them into a small unit. Typically, this takes the form of tablespoon-sized balls that get tossed in a deep fryer. For air frying, though, I think discs work better. They lay flat in the air fryer basket and don’t roll around as they air fry and cook evenly.
Plus, it’s a bit easier to stuff them in a pita if they are flat!
Ways to Serve Falafel
- Sandwich them! For my money (and it is my money, because I buy the groceries and my kids don’t have jobs yet), it’s hard to beat this crunchy, air-fried falafel stuffed in warm pita bread.
- Vegetarian salad! I’ve also enjoyed them tossed on a bed of greens as a salad, and used the tahini sauce as a salad dressing.
- Bento box for lunch? You can also use leftover falafel as a bento box ingredient paired with other Mediterranean ingredients such as olives and sun-dried tomatoes.
Making the Tahini Sauce
Tahini is basically a nut butter but made with sesame seeds rather than peanuts. It’s incredibly smooth and savory.
This is an easy sauce to stir together right in a bowl, although you could use the food processor if you wanted to. I blend the tahini with some yogurt to lighten it up and add some lemon juice to balance out the richness.
The only note about this sauce is that it will be very thick with just the yogurt and tahini. You have to thin it considerably before it’s spreadable. I just use hot water for this and you’ll need anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup of hot water to get it to the right consistency. The sauce should be easily spreadable and barely pourable. You can make this ahead of time—a day or so—and store it in the fridge until you're ready to use it.
Freezing and Reheating Falafel
If you have leftover falafel discs, which you probably will because each pita sandwich takes about 4 to 5 falafel and this recipe makes about 30 falafel, they keep great in the fridge for 5 to 6 days or you can freeze them for longer storage in airtight ziptop bags.
I recommend reheating them in a 350°F oven until they are reheated and crispy again, about 10 to 12 minutes. You could also reheat them in the air fryer a second time for a few minutes at a lower 300 F ̊ if you want to bust it out again.
If You Like Falafel, Try These Other Middle Eastern Recipes!
- Easy Homemade Hummus Recipe
- Cucumber Salad with Tahini Dressing
- Baba Ganoush
- Orange Blossom Carrot Salad
Air Fryer Falafel
Alternative cooking options: If you don’t have an air fryer, you can do one of two things:
Deep fry: If I’m deep frying them, I roll them into balls rather than discs. Deep fry them at 350°F for about 4 minutes until they are golden brown on the outside.
Pan fry: This works best in a cast iron skillet with about 1 inch of oil in the skillet. If you are using the pan fry method, shape the falafel into discs, like air frying. Fry the falafel over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Remove and drain on paper towels.
- For the tahini sauce:
- 1/2 cup tahini (I like Joyva)
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 lemon, juice only
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup hot water
- For the falafel:
- 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup cilantro
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 large shallot, chopped
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 lemon, juice only
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Spray olive oil, for cooking
- For serving:
- 6 pita breads
- Fresh lettuce
- 1 large tomato, sliced thin
- 1/2 red onion, sliced thin
- 1 cucumber, sliced thin
Make the tahini sauce:
In a medium bowl, stir together tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, and olive oil. The mixture will be very thick to start. Thin it out with hot water until it’s easily spreadable. You’ll have to slowly add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of hot water to get it to the right consistency.
Make the falafel mixture:
In the bowl of a food processor, add the chickpeas, parsley, cilantro, garlic, shallot, flour, sesame seeds, cumin, paprika, lemon, and salt. Pulse until mixture comes together in a rough paste. It shouldn’t be completely smooth.
Shape the falafel mixture into tablespoon-sized discs, about 1-inch in diameter. Repeat until you use all the falafel mixture. You should get 25 to 30 falafel discs.
Air fry the falafel:
Spray the basket for your air fryer with some nonstick olive oil. Add as many falafel discs into the basket as you can without them touching and spray them with olive oil very lightly. Air fry the falafel at 350°F ̊ for 8 minutes. Flip and fry for another 6 minutes on the second side.
Repeat until you've cooked all the falafel.
Serve the falafel:
Serve the falafel in warm pita (I like to microwave my pita first for 15 seconds). Serve with tahini yogurt sauce and any toppings you like!
Leftover falafel will store great in the fridge for 5 to 6 days or you can freeze the falafel for longer storage. Reheat falafel in a 350°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes until warmed through.