The vibrant streets of Tel Aviv are flooded with falafel stands. They usually open around noon for the on-the-go lunch crowd and stay open late, catering to energetic night owls looking for cheap grub.
My father was born and raised in Tel Aviv and remembers going to the neighborhood cart and ordering the only thing they had: basic fried chickpea fritters, served in a white flour pita and topped with tahini, and maybe some chopped salad – if you were lucky.
Today’s falafel options are endless. Storefronts offer organic varieties, whole-wheat pita options, different flavors, colors and extensive all-you-can-eat salad bars. You name it, they’ve got it. This version with spiced red lentils and fresh herbs makes a fantastic weeknight meal.
This prized Middle Eastern street fare was originally made of fava beans and later with chickpeas, and it has gained international recognition for its wholesome, vegan ingredients. By baking it instead of deep frying, you create a healthy, balanced meal, packed with hearty legumes and zesty, fresh ingredients.
I’ve experimented countless times with homemade falafel recipes, and I prefer the red lentil version. There’s no need to precook the lentils. Soaked overnight, they blend up nicely in the food processor and maintain moisture.
Lentils keep falafel creamy on the inside and not too grainy, as chickpeas tend to be. Blended with plenty of herbs, garlic, spicy peppers, warm spices and a touch of olive oil, these are bursting with flavor and have great texture. The baked version will never be as crispy as the fried ones, but olive oil spray gives these a nice crust.
For a light and satisfying dinner meal, I eliminated the pita pocket and served the falafels on a simple, crisp salad of kale, sweet carrot ribbons and thinly sliced onion, topped with a tangy tahini dressing.
With minimal planning – just soak the lentils before you go to bed – and a few simple steps, these come together quickly. In under an hour you can prepare a batch of 20 falafels that will last all week, and leftovers are perfect for weekday lunches.
Karen Biton-Cohen is a writer for TheKitchn.com, a website for home cooking.