falafel success + a creamy tahini sauce recipe

I didn’t taste my first falafel until my mid-twenties. It seems unthinkable, especially living in New York City. My family wasn’t very adventurous in the food department, though, the most exotic cuisine being Chinese food (and mostly not very good, either). Any parent will tell you that eating habits, and palates, are created from an early age, as well as food phobias.

I often wonder what my relationship to food would be had I never met Michael. He gave my appetite, the same gift he gave my heart. Michael opened my eyes to trusting it was okay to try something I’d never experienced. The fear of the unknown is often more difficult to overcome than the unknown itself.

Long before I secured my first passport, he took me on international adventures, one bite at a time. So, yes, it was with him that I ate my first falafel. It’s street food at its finest, when prepared lovingly. One of our favorite places to go was Fatoosh in Brooklyn Heights. They had two locations back then, a small outpost on Henry Street, and the other on Hicks Street, both off Atlantic Avenue, essentially around the block from each other. I always thought that odd, and wasn’t surprised when the Henry Street location closed a few years later.

The setting was far from fancy, but the hummus was so smooth and creamy. The pita bread always warm, fluffy, and fresh from the oven. It often served as an edible teething toy for Isabella. It’s been years since I’ve been there, but from what I’ve read of their reviews online, it seems their reputation still stands true. I’ve had a wicked craving for falafel lately, but past failures left me feeling shy about attempting it again at home. Just a few weeks ago I tried a supposedly foolproof recipe, but in the end, the savory little orbs fell apart as soon as they came in contact with the hot cooking oil.

I wanted to cry, feeling the pressure of not having a back up dinner plan. Instead, I took a deep breath, slapped on a smile, put the mixture in a bowl, and told the girls it was falafel taco night since the mixture resembled a mock meat filling. Now, I should preface that falafel was going to be a hard sell to begin with. As with my own upbringing, I tend to cook the same old standards at home, especially since Michael died. It’s stressful enough being a single parent; I just want need dinner to be a relatively peaceful event. The girls may be used to eating a varied diet outside of the house, and my table may always be set beautifully, but the cast of characters served up are usually the old guard, sure to get a standing ovation with every performance.

Just because I’d been craving falafel didn’t mean they would embrace it with open mouths. A surprising thing happened with that dinner failure. The wrinkled their eyebrows, sniffed a spoonful before piling it into the pita bread, and then declared they loved it. For a moment, I thought they were trying to be nice. I’d told them about the mishap, and they could see I was crestfallen. When they went for seconds, though, I knew they were being honest. My falafel may have been a crumbly mess, but the seasonings and spices that I thought would cause mutiny turned out to be a hit.

Over the next few days, my mind was still occupied with what went wrong. In researching a few more recipes, it started becoming clear that using cooked chickpeas is a no-no. There are many recipe out there that call for them, but the fact is that they’re too delicate, and make for too-moist a mixture to stay intact when fried. The secret is incredibly easy, provided you plan accordingly—you need to start with dried chickpeas, and soak them overnight.

This one recipe stuck in my mind, from a recipe developer I trust, yet I put my falafel making whim on the back burner. My cravings always hit at night, when it was inevitably too late to start soaking chickpeas. The simple answer would be to just set them up the night before, but I get scattered in the chaos of cleaning up dinner, and getting bedtime going. By time the last goodnight kisses have been placed on the girls’ foreheads, chickpeas and falafel are the furthest thing from my mind.

A few weeks later, the girls and I loaded up the car for a road trip to visit one of my best friends in North Carolina. I made sure to pick up cannoli from Court Pastry, fresh mozzarella from Caputo’s, prosciutto di Parma, cacciatorini, and jars of my favorite pureed tomatoes to make some marinara sauce. She’s recovering from surgery on her right arm, limiting her ability to cook for a while. No worries, I arrived seven and a half hours, and 500 miles later, armed with an Italian specialty store in my trunk.

When I walked into her kitchen she told me she had some chickpeas soaking that she’d brought back from their trip to Spain last summer. My head whipped around, a bewildered look on my face. “Are you kidding me?”, I asked her. I told her about my falafel follies, and said it’s been on my mind for weeks. There’s obviously a reason she’s part of my Core.

That first night we enjoyed a spread of charcuterie, cheeses, and spaghetti with a creamy lemon sauce. The next night, I set forth armed with a recipe I felt was sure to work, finally. Dinner was a success, even though making the tahini sauce caused Todd to break out in a sweat. I’ve since worked out my own creamy tahini sauce recipe, and have now moved on to making warm, fluffy pita right in my own kitchen. My advice as soon as you finish reading? Go soak some chickpeas. I’m heading downstairs now to do the same, and plan for my next craving.

creamy tahini sauce recipe | www.injennieskitchen.com

Creamy Tahini Sauce

Makes 3/4 cup

It sounds a bit crazy, but I’ve found that tahini varies wildly in flavor depending on the brand. I’m perplexed by this because it’s just ground sesame seeds, so my guess is it matters where the paste is made, and where the sesame seeds are from, maybe? Some brands are too harsh, and have a bitter after taste. The ones I prefer are creamier, and more nuanced in their flavor. In recipes like this one, where the tahini is the main ingredient, it will definitely affect the final taste. This recipe was tested using Al Wadi tahini. I also like the Sahadi’s brand sold at their store on Atlantic Avenue here in Brooklyn.

1/4 cup (60 grams) tahini paste

1/2 cup (150 grams) plain Greek yogurt

Small garlic clove

Generous pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (a medium, juicy lemon worked for me)

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Add everything, except for the fresh chopped cilantro, to the bowl of a blender. Blend until smooth, and well mixed. Pour the dressing into a serving bowl, or container if not using immediately. Stir in the cilantro. Let the dressing sit for a few minutes so the flavors can meld, or store in the fridge for up to four days.

A big thanks to Tori Avey for a falafel recipe that finally worked! Get the recipe here.


  • Dottie

    For those of us who don’t live in an ethnically diverse area, what’s a falafel, exactly? I know it’s a little ball (fritter?) of chickpeas but my imagination doesn’t connect the chickpeas I know from a salad bar (which I assume are canned and drained, and I think add a nice beanie-ness to my salad) with a fritter. Seems even more unusual to pop a fritter on a pita! Thanks, Jennie

    JP’s Note: Hi Dottie. A falafel is a kind of Middle Eastern fritter, but with a little more heft. They’re made mostly of ground chickpeas, some spices, and just a touch of flour to hold them together (if you read the recipe I linked to, you make the mixture in a food processor, which grinds them up). They’re also a great, inexpensive source of vegetarian protein. You can make them healthier by baking them, but I’ve only fried them. Hope that helps!

  • Radhika

    Such a well written piece! Makes me want to make it NOW. I will though, on Saturday! I will let you know how it goes. Thanks for sharing your food and journey with us.

  • Maria in NJ ~Dolcelicious Bake Shoppe

    Hi Jenny, so glad that I get your RSS again, i don’t know how I wasn’t getting it for awhile…but anyway, I LOVE chickpeas~garbanzo! can’t wait to try this recipe, never had falafel, so this will be a first…did you add the baking soda?…m

    JP’s Note: Hi Maria. I didn’t add the baking soda, and mine were great!

  • Nancy Shampo

    Hi Jennie, My home town (Takoma Park, MD) was and is an extremely diverse. I always loved the Falafel I received at the one restaurant. I had just about given up on ever being able to duplicate it, but these recipes sound like they may well be the answer.

  • Liz

    Oh, my!!! I snuck away and bought garbanzos…they will be soaking tonight! 20 years ago, I lived in Los Angeles where falafel was available. I’ve not tried making it but your post made me crave it.

    I have tahini and I make Pita often so I AM READY! I’m an occasional visit to Tori’s site and looked at the link…will also make the Turmeric version.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Jennie!

  • nathalie

    Not sure if you’re upstate house is near Rhinebeck but Aba’s falafel is pretty extraordinary (and this coming from a NYC expat). They have a stand at the Rhinebeck farmer’s market on Sundays in the summer and I’ve also seen them over in Kingston. If you’re in the ‘hood, it’s definitely worth a stop!

    JP’s Note: thank you for that tip! Rhinebeck is about an hour away from me.

  • Liz

    I made your Tahini sauce, Tori’s falafel and my own pita this morning – all came together beautifully. It has been a long time since I’ve had falafel from a Los Angeles falafel stand so can’t really compare except to say that both the sauce and the falafel were outstanding! Fortunately, since it is just me, I made 1/4 of the recipes.

    One thing Tori pointed out that I think I’ve done wrong with frying things…is making sure the oil is hot enough to cook whatever through but not so hot that the outside burns before the inside cooks. I did her prescribed tests and got perfectly cooked and browned falafel.

    Thanks, again!

  • Tori Avey

    Jennie, yay! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the falafel recipe. Falafel can REALLY be a tricky thing, and it took me more than a few tries to nail it. It makes me happy knowing my recipe found its way to your kitchen. Hope we get to meet in person one day! xo Tori

  • angelitakarmalita

    Lol, now I’VE GOT a craving for falafels! gonna try out Tori’s recipe, and your’s for the tahini sauce that goes with. Thank you both ladies! and I think your right about the baking soda, I always use this method and it just seems to be creamier than without using it. I guess it all depends on your mood, the moon, or just personal preference!

  • Dina

    Thanks to Tori for the Falafel recipe, they came out great. The pita weren’t perfect but delicious and puffed enough to separate and stuff with hummus and falafel. The tahini sauce was tasty- It all hit the spot!

  • Kenda

    What kind of oil did you use to fry your falafel? Peanut sounds good. Thanks.
    JP’s Note: I used grapeseed oil, but I’m sure peanut oil is fine, too.