Hey, look! No meat this week.
This week I fried up balls of falafel and baked pita bread and turned both into pocket sandwiches with some chopped veggies and a couple of sauces. Keep reading and you’ll find recipes, strategies, and photos for how we make these falafel pitas.
These are vegetarian sandwiches, but not vegan. You could swap out the dairy in one of the sauces though if you wanted to move this to a vegan sandwich.
First, you need some pita bread that has formed pockets. This is both easier and trickier than you might think.
Let’s make some pockets
This pita recipe SHOULD leave you with a pocketable pita, but much like real life, sometimes that doesn’t work out. Unlike a lot of flat breads, this pita recipe is not cooked in a pan or griddle, it’s baked.
Get one of these oven thermometers if you’re not sure how consistent your oven is. They are cheap.
I’ve made several batches of pita at this point and my pocket success rate is probably around 80% pockets with this technique and recipe. Sometimes you get a half pocket which is sort of disappointing, but more often than not the pocket fully inflates.
If your pita doesn’t balloon into a pocket, it’s not the end of the world, it should still be soft and tasty bread that can be treated more like a falafel taco in a big fat, fluffy tortilla. My wife prefers to eat them this way.
A tip for the pita pocket
A few months back, my friend JP shared this pita pocket knowledge bomb on Twitter.
So, basically, the strategy is just don’t cut the pita exactly in half. Cut off the top third or top quarter and then you can stuff the top pocket inside the bigger pocket for support and durability. This technique of cutting the pita and using the bottom 3/4ths also gives you a lot more pocket for stuffing with sandwich stuff.
Below is the final pita recipe. It works great when you get it to puff up and pocket, but this is also a good dough recipe to roll out and slap on the grill for a reliable flatbread to serve with kebab skewers or even just grilled meat and veggies.
Fried chickpea balls
Falafel is ground chickpeas that have been seasoned and fried into ball shapes. Falafel is easiest prepared with a food processor, but you can finely chop and mash all the ingredients together if you don’t have a food processor available.
You must drain and dry the chickpeas. We drain in a colander and then give the chickpeas a little dry on a couple of paper towels. You want things relatively dry in the falafel mixture for a few reasons. One, the falafel texture needs to be a bit dry so that everything holds together in a ball shape and the second reason is that dry things fry easier.
If you have a food processor, this is a super quick and easy process. Add all your ingredients and then after 10 or 12 blitzes of the pulse button you’re on your way to falafel town.
Most of the time when frying you want to have your oil at a specific temperature and in this case, I still do try to shoot for around 350 degrees F (176 C). But since this is not meat, you really are just frying these falafels to an appropriate brown color. If you don’t have a thermometer for frying, you can add a drop of water or tiny pinch of flour to the hot oil and if the water starts snapping and popping, the oil is likely hot enough. But go buy a thermometer for next time.
The two sauces
Tahini is made from sesame seeds that have been ground into a paste and it is typically used as an ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes. I find it to be a little bit bitter with a nutty flavor and a texture that will remind you of peanut butter.
The tahini sauce we make for these falafel pitas is mostly just tahini with some lemon juice, a garlic clove and some salt. You do add water, a tablespoon at a time, after combining all these ingredients to thin it out into a saucy consistency. I’ve added all the measurements for the tahini sauce in the full falafel pita recipe down below.
We made this cucumber-y yogurt sauce two different ways during the making of this blog post. The first time we made it we added a tablespoon or so of harissa and made it the way the recipe below states. The second time we made it exactly as the recipe below. What we (my wife and I) learned is that it’s almost better to have the yogurt sauce without harissa and then add harissa as needed to the pita sandwich.
There’s not much to say about these vegetables. I use a large dice of cucumber and tomato and then you sprinkle those into the pocket. You could toss the veggies in and dress them with the yogurt sauce if you wanted and you should probably season both the tomatoes and the cucumber with a pinch of salt.
Warming up pita bread
Pita is like a tortilla in that you should warm it up before filling it with ingredients because warming will make the flatbread a bit more pliable. I typically will use a microwave for 20 to 30 seconds with the flatbread wrapped in a damp paper towel.
This technique will soften the flatbread so that it’s pliable enough to be opened into a pocket or folded like a puffy taco shell. If you skip the warming step, your pita might be brittle, and the pocket might become compromised.
Falafel pita recipe
Here’s my full falafel pita recipe. It should be easy to follow and if you make your pita in advance (or just buy some) then it is fairly easy to get falafel fried up pretty quickly. The sauces do take a few minutes, but they can both be made up to a few days in advance if you want.
Everyone needs a pocket full of fried crunchy and tender falafel, veggies and sauce.
- 1⁄2 cup tahini
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
- 3 to 5 tablespoons warm water
- kosher salt
- 1 can of chickpeas, drained (15 ounces)
- 1 whole shallot, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- kosher salt and black pepper
- vegetable oil for frying (at least 2 inches deep in your pot/pan)
Tahini sauce: in a medium bowl, mix the tahini, lemon juice and garlic until fully combined. Add water, one tablespoon at a time while whisking until you get a creamy sauce consistency. If the sauce is too thick, add more water. Season with salt until it tastes good to you.
Make the falafel: drain the chickpeas in a colander and transfer them to two paper towels laying on your counter. Roll the chickpeas with your hands on the paper towels to fully dry them.
Add the chickpeas to your food process along with the roughly chopped shallot, garlic, all-purpose flour, and parsley. Pulse the food processor a few times until everything is coming together. Add the cumin and coriander along with a good pinch of salt and some black pepper. Pulse the processor until everything is roughly blended. Do not process until smooth, the mixture needs to be a little course.
Using your hands, form small balls around 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter from the chickpea mixture and place each ball on a plate or sheet pan. Once all the mixture is turned into balls, place them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so to cool off.
In a large pan over medium high heat, add one inch of vegetable oil and allow the oil to heat up for 3 to 5 minutes. You can tell the oil is hot enough by adding a drop of water or a tiny pinch of the falafel and if the oil snaps and pops then it's ready to fry.
Fry the falafels until they are golden brown. These will cook quickly so just keep an eye on them and make sure they move around in the oil a little while cooking to get crisp on all sides.
Assemble falafel pita: cut your pita to form a pocket. Add cucumber, tomato, sauces and falafel to the pita pocket. Add dashes of harissa for a pop of heat if desired. Serve and enjoy.
Go out in the world and fry some falafels and stuff them into pita pockets.
Thanks for reading! Check back next week when I’ll be sharing a sandwich that isn’t really a sandwich. But that’s not that different from some previous weeks.