Easy Baked Falafel: A Healthy Twist on a Middle Eastern Classic

My love of falafel started in Key West. My parents would take our family there every summer growing up and we’d walk along Duval Street to explore and eat. We’d rent jet skis and my brother would take pleasure in throwing me off by going really fast then taking a sharp turn. My dad would usually charter a fishing boat and we would fish, snorkel, and enjoy our time in the sun. He always reminds us of the time when my sister and I had our feet hanging off the back of the boat and he casually tells us to bring them in. It wasn’t until years later my dad informed us that he saw an 8-foot hammerhead shark swimming in our direction. I’m glad he didn’t tell us at the time, since I had seen the movie Jaws one too many times at that point and probably would’ve had a heart attack.

My mom was the one who always insisted we get falafel while in Key West. If I remember correctly, that was the only time we ate it. Maybe they didn’t have good falafel in Jupiter. Maybe it became more of a tradition while we were there. I know my mom looked forward to it all year. Needless to say, we’d always make sure to stop at the little stand and get our falafel, wrapped in a fresh pita bread with lettuce, tomato, and Tzatziki sauce. Yum.

Sprouted whole grain pita stuffed with falafel, cucumber slices, tomato, and Tzatziki sauce, garnished with cilantro.
Sprouted whole grain pita stuffed with falafel, cucumber slices, tomato, and Tzatziki sauce, garnished with cilantro.

I found a place in Manitou Springs, CO that served authentic Middle Eastern food. You better believe every single time I went there I ordered falafel because it was so dang good. The place was called The Sahara Cafe and I think I probably ate there 20 times while we lived in Colorado. We took all of our visitors there, because it was delicious but also because Manitou Springs was a really cool town to explore. I went to Sahara a couple times after hiking The Incline, an intense hike that starts at 6,600 feet and goes up 2,000 feet in less than a mile. I had heard about this hike before we even moved there so of course I had to conquer it.

Falafel is a Middle Eastern food and traditionally deep fried. As we all know, deep fried anything is delicious but probably not something you want to eat regularly. Fried foods are not only a lot higher in calories (versus the same food baked or grilled), but also likely contain trans fats, which are the bad fats that you want to avoid. Trans fats contribute to everything from heart disease to diabetes to infertility.

Before you think that you can never enjoy some of your favorite foods again, the good news is that most foods that are traditionally fried can also we baked or grilled– like falafel! This recipe uses the same ingredients as traditional falafel, but is baked in the oven. This allows you to enjoy falafel regularly, as it’s actually a healthy option for the entire family, kids included! So what’s in it?

Garbanzo beans. Fear not carnivores, in 1/2 cup of garbanzo beans, also called chickpeas, you get a whopping 20 grams of protein. The beauty of plant-based protein is that you typically get a healthy dose of fiber too, about 15 grams to be exact. They’re loaded with vitamins and minerals as well. Chickpeas are a great addition to your salad or bean chili but are the star of the dish in falafel.

Fresh herbs. Speckled with green, falafel is not only healthy, but it’s pretty, thanks to the fresh herbs in this recipe. Cilantro and parsley add flavor that make your taste buds sing. Herbs are the best way to add flavor to a dish without adding a bunch of salt. They contain an array of healthy stuff as well, including anti-inflammatory properties and several essential vitamins.

Garlic. Just do a quick online search for the health benefits of garlic and you might be surprised at the millions, yes millions, of articles you find. Garlic has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties and it’s widely used for the tremendous amount of flavor it provides. To put it simply, garlic is good for you: your heart, your blood, and your GI tract too.

The ingredients of falafel minced in the food processor.
The ingredients of falafel minced in the food processor. Almost done!

When I was making my falafel, I probably said 10 times “Mmm it smells so good.” When herbs, garlic, lemon, and onion are minced together in the food processor, the aroma is intoxicating. I wonder if they sell a falafel scented candle… 

Forming the falafel is easy by hand, although I’ve heard they sell fancy falafel-making scoops. I emptied the minced falafel ingredients into a bigger bowl which made scooping by hand easier for me. Bonus: Your hands will smell delicious during this process.

falafel patties ready to be cooked
The patties have been formed, now to be brushed with olive oil and put into the oven.

After I made these for the first time, I broke open a steaming hot falafel and dunked it into a bowl of hummus. Falafel + hummus = a match made in heaven. Ryan is always amazed at my ability to eat food straight out of the oven, when in reality, I just don’t have the patience to wait for it to cool. Most of the time, I can’t even taste whatever I’m eating because I’ve burned the inside of my mouth. Why is it that I continue this habit? I’ll never know.

falafel with hummus
Falafel atop a bed of creamy homemade hummus, garnished with cilantro.

 

Easy Baked Falafel

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roasted
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped and roasted
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for greasing pan and brushing falafel

Suggested sides/toppings: Homemade Tzatziki sauce, hummus, cucumber slices, whole grain pita (warmed), sriracha, minced onion, diced tomato, shredded lettuce

Directions: 

  1. Put garbanzo beans in a large bowl and cover with 3-4 inches of water, (the beans will expand as they absorb the water). Let sit for 18-24 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and drizzle some olive oil on a baking sheet.
  3. Place the onion and garlic cloves on your baking sheet, roll the onion and garlic with your fingers to coat with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes. The onion will be slightly translucent and the garlic with be slightly charred.
  4. After they have soaked, drain the garbanzo beans and add to your food processor. Pulse the beans alone for 5 pulses to break apart.
  5. Add all other ingredients to food processor and blend until minced (not pureed), scraping down the sides as necessary.
  6. Scoop falafel mixture with your hand and form “patties.” The mixture is very delicate so handle gently. Gently brush the tops of your falafel with olive oil.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, flip, then bake for 10 more minutes.
  8. Enjoy your falafel warm from the oven, dipped in hummus or cool in a pita with cucumber and Tzatziki sauce. Falafel can be frozen, but try to consume within 2-3 weeks.

Adapted from: Just a Taste

Secret Ingredient Smoothie Bowl

I have to admit, I’m not a huge smoothie person. I read an article years ago that argued we don’t feel as satisfied when we drink our calories versus when we eat them. It suggested that the actual sitting down for a meal, tasting our food, and being mindful of what we’re eating helps us to stay full longer. I get it. It’s so easy to drink our calories that people often wonder why they’re slowly gaining weight when they drink over 400 calories per day in <insert sugary beverage here>. Dr. Cheung a lecturer at Harvard School of Public Health, suggests that mindless eating is contributing to the national obesity epidemic we see today. Why is this smoothie different? Why does this smoothie allow us to eat mindfully? Because you eat it out of a bowl

A smoothie contains ingredients you likely already have at home. You can even put your smoothie ingredients together the night before, so in the morning it literally takes you 5 minutes to blend. A smoothie is a great option when you’d otherwise skip your meal because you’re in a hurry or you don’t feel hungry. Smoothies are also kid-friendly! They’re a great way to sneak fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet.

I always talk about blood sugar regulation and how it affects everything from our mood to our energy. Smoothies can be “dangerous” in the sense that it’s easy to add a lot of sugar into one. Most of the ingredients that go into a typical smoothie have carbohydrates aka sugar, including the fruit, milk, juice, and yogurt. The problem with this is that people don’t balance those carbohydrates with protein. Protein is the secret weapon in a smoothie. Protein helps those liquid calories keep us full longer, but most importantly, it helps to mitigate the blood sugar spike we get from drinking a fruit smoothie. I add a scoop of grass-fed whey protein to my smoothie. It’s flavorless so I can’t even tell its in there. The protein is crucial, as I’ve mentioned, and ultimately transforms your smoothie from a snack into a balanced meal.

cauliflower berry smoothie with coconut
Smoothies are versatile and can be sipped from a cup or eaten with a spoon from a bowl!

The smoothie I’m about to share with you checks all of the boxes I look for when building the perfect smoothie:

  • taste
  • carbohydrate-to-protein balance
  • includes vegetables
  • color
  • texture

The best part about this smoothie is that it contains a secret ingredient that you can’t even tell is in there: cauliflower. Although cauliflower may seem boring, its actually a nutritional powerhouse. Cauliflower contains anthoxanthins, which give this vegetable its creamy white color, as well as its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants fight damage within the cells of our bodies, helping to prevent cancer and degeneration of our eyes and brain cells. Although “green smoothies” are often praised for their health benefits and antioxidant capabilities, other colors including white, offer just as many benefits. Cauliflower also contains Vitamin C (which also acts as an antioxidant), potassium, folic acid, and fiber. Needless to say this often underrated vegetable is the nutritional star of this smoothie.

Cinnamon. The cinnamon flavor is subtle but gives this smoothie a special hint that makes you say, “Mmmm, what is that?” Cinnamon is sweet and spicy at the same time, teasing your taste buds but allowing the other flavors in the smoothie to shine through. Cinnamon might also help to keep blood sugar down for people with diabetes, high five!

Almond butter. Creaminess, protein, healthy fats, and flavor. I can’t think of a better combination than almond butter and banana. To me, the nutty, earthy flavor of almond pairs so perfectly with a sweet banana. This smoothie has both. Throw the cinnamon on top and oh. my. gosh. Enough said.

Avocado. Who would have guessed that this beautifully purple smoothie had avocado in it? Avocado adds creaminess which makes this smoothie spoon-worthy. It also adds monounsaturated fats, potassium, and fiber. Yes please.

I love the idea of eating a smoothie out of a bowl. It’s almost like eating ice cream, but healthier. I love that this smoothie is thick which allows you to scoop a heaping spoonful into your mouth. Feel free to top it with whatever you like- I chose hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and coconut flakes. Because I eat mine out of a bowl with a spoon, I don’t have to worry about my toppings getting stuck in a straw.

smoothie bowl with coconut, pumpkin, and hemp seeds
I topped my smoothie bowl with hemp & pumpkin seeds for crunch and coconut flakes for flavor, yum!

Secret Ingredient Smoothie Bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cauliflower, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 banana, frozen
  • 1/2 cup berries, frozen
  • 1 cup liquid (I did 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup water)
  • 1 scoop of protein, plain or vanilla
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 2 Tbsp almond butter
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Optional toppings: pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, coconut flakes, cocao nibs, berries, banana slices.

Directions:

  1. If using frozen cauliflower, add that to the blender or food processor first, by itself, to start the blending process. Blend until small (bite-sized) chunks before adding other ingredients.
  2. Add the banana and blend.
  3. Add all of the other ingredients and blend until thick and creamy.
  4. Pour into bowl or cup and top with your favorite toppings.

Makes 1 serving.

Estimated nutrition facts via MyFitnessPal per serving: calories 375. protein 21 grams. carbohydrates 40 grams. Results will vary based on specific ingredients used.