Falafels are truly a comfort food of mine.
I’m a sucker for all types of Mediterranean food: give me a platter with some whole wheat pita, hummus, feta, olives, veggies and other delicious dips and I’m a happy camper.
I’m also a sucker for cheese plates, but that’s a different story 🙂
When I was a kid, we used to go to the “Falafel Drive-In” near my house in Cupertino, California. They’re a little hole-in-the-wall joint, but they make the best falafels I’ve ever had.
Of course, since falafels are deep fried chickpea patties with a pretty heavy sauce and served in a white pita, they’re not exactly the healthiest meal. But they are great for a treat once in a while. The husband also loves falafels, but he’d always ask me to make them at home – which I was hesitant to do because I wasn’t really trying to deep fry anything in my kitchen.
But then I realized that this was my opportunity to makeover the traditional falafel, by baking them instead of frying them, and they turned out GREAT.
My healthy substitutions included:
- Using a whole wheat pita instead of a white one
- Adding spinach and tomatoes for more veggies
- Making my own “sauce” using hummus and a bit of water – it tasted so close to tahini sauce but was much lower in calories!
- Using Hungry Girl’s recipe for the patties
- Whole-wheat pitas (~130 calories and at least 4g fiber per pita)
- One 15-oz. can chickpeas, well drained
- 1 red onion, very finely chopped
- 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour (you could also try using panko breadcrumbs or whole wheat breadcrumbs. Note: to make this gluten-free, use chickpea flour)
- 3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 1/2 tbsp. chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/8 tsp. paprika, or more to taste
- black pepper, to taste
- Olive oil nonstick spray
- Baby spinach (toppings – not to be included in the falafel mixture)
- Diced tomatoes (toppings – not to be included in the falafel mixture)
The Ingredients – Sauce
- Option 1: Store bought hummus (I like Trader Joe’s Organic Hummus) mixed with a few tbsp water (directions below)
- Option 2: Low fat yogurt mixed with Tahini (you’ll have to play with the proportions to figure out what combination works for you!)
Step 1: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place all ingredients for falafel (except for the pitas, spinach, tomatoes, baking powder, and nonstick spray) in a food processor, and give them a good chop.
Step 2: Transfer into a bowl, add the baking powder and stir together. Using a potato masher, mash any big chunks that remain – Mixture should remain slightly chunky, not smooth.
Step 3: Spray a baking sheet thoroughly with olive oil nonstick spray. One at a time, take spoonfuls of mixture in your hands and form 15 balls, each about the size of a ping pong ball, and gently place them on the baking sheet. Spray the top of each ball with olive oil nonstick spray, for a total of about a 2-second spray.
Step 4: Bake in the oven for 15 minutes (note – depending on your oven, this might take longer – up to 20-25 minutes – but be sure to check on them to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn!). Meanwhile, combine 2 parts hummus to 1 part water, and stir until blended (add more water to taste depending on how watery you like your sauce). Season to taste with salt / black pepper and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Step 5: While your falafel patties are baking, chop your veggies and warm up your pita bread.
Step 6: Remove baking sheet from the oven, and carefully turn each ball over, gently reshaping if the bottoms have flattened.
Step 7: Return to the oven and bake for an additional 10 – 15 minutes (or longer, depending on your oven), until golden brown and slightly crispy. Allow to cool and set for at least 5 minutes.
When they’re done they’ll look like this:
Step 8: Cut the whole pitas into halves, fill with spinach, 3 falafel balls, diced tomato, and top with spinach and sauce. Enjoy!
This is truly a guilt-free falafel makeover.
1 pita half with 3 falafel balls and 1-3 tbsp dip has about 200 calories, 2.5g fat, 8.5g fiber, 37g carbs, 5g sugars, and 10g protein! I had two pita halves for dinner, which was hearty and filling (the husband had 4 pita halves and was very full).
The baked falafel balls were perfectly crispy, the sauce was creamy and cool, the whole wheat pita was nutty and flavorful, and the veggies added a nice texture and extra crunch.
It is so delicious, it’s hard to believe it’s good for you too.