If all that comes to mind when you think of chickpeas is their adorable name and mini heart-shaped figure, you’re not giving them enough credit. This ancient legume was first cultivated over 7,500 years ago along the Eastern border of the Mediterranean. From the Middle East, the crop spread in to India and Africa, solidifying itself as a staple of these cuisines. Not only do chickpeas deserve our gratitude for making hummus possible, they’re also the reason we have falafel. I’d say they’re kind of a big deal, and we haven’t even touched on their nutritional power.
While the history of chickpeas is clear cut, that’s hardly the case for falafel. Although controversial, it’s most widely believed to have originated in Egypt as a replacement for meat during Lent. From there the dish—made of ground chickpeas mashed with herbs and spices—was exported to other Middle Eastern countries and quickly became the iconic food of Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, as well as Egypt. Many consider falafel the national dish of Israel, but claim over its sole ownership is a source of hot dispute, as with other charged political issues in the region.
Despite fiery debate over its country of origin, these warring cultures have one thing in common: falafel making is serious business. McDonald’s attempted to capitalize on its popularity in Egypt with the McFalafel, which was completely rejected. It may be traditionally eaten as street food and considered the fast food burger of the Middle East, but its preparation must be fresh, never frozen. Not to mention, most visitors to McDonald’s aren’t looking for vegetarian food.
Deep frying falafel, while delicious, negates the health benefits from its nutritious ingredients. Baking it is just as good, and avoids artery-clogging grease. Chickpeas are extremely nutrient-dense, with 20% of the daily value for protein, fiber, folate and iron. They are also rich in B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc, and contain a higher protein quality than many other legumes.
This recipe makes a large batch which can be saved for easy week-night meals or snacks on the run. Their high protein and fiber content make them filling for lasting energy. Two or three patties can be a hearty meal, especially if eaten with whole-grain pita, veggies, and hummus. Falafel batter can be refrigerated for up to five days for quick meal-prep later. But in keeping with tradition, I recommend serving them hot from the oven to maximize their amazing flavor.
-1 ½ cups dried chickpeas
-½ cup chopped red onion
-¼ cup water
-¼ cup fresh parsley
-¼ cup fresh cilantro
-6-8 garlic cloves, peeled
-2 Tb olive oil
-1 tsp cumin
-1 tsp coriander
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp cayenne pepper
-1 ½ tsp baking powder
-½ cup all-purpose flour, optional but helps with binding
-Cover dried chickpeas with water and soak in fridge overnight, 12-24 hrs (will double in size).
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
-Add all of the ingredients to a food processor or Vitamix, except for the baking soda and flour.
-Pulse until ingredients are mixed but not pureed, leave some texture. Taste test and add more spices or lemon if wanted. Mixture can be refrigerated in air-tight container for up to 5 days. Refrigerating before baking helps patties hold together.
-Sprinkle in baking soda and flour, pulse again until mixed.
-Use a tablespoon to scoop out balls and arrange on baking sheet, press lightly into patties to make them crispier. Brush olive oil over tops for browning.
-Bake for 25 minutes, flip half-way through.
-Best served right from the oven with pita, salad, tzatziki sauce or hummus.
Ashley Sigmund is Paste’s Recipe for Fitness columnist. She is a Denver-based dietitian promoting wellness through whole foods and plant-based nutrition.