I really like falafel, but sometimes it feels like a bit of a summer dish. Last winter, I got a sweet potato falafel bowl at a Protein Bar and it was aight. So this year, I decided to try to make it myself. I found a couple of recipes online to start from (here and here), and heavily referenced my favorite standard falafel recipe for a baseline. Here’s where I landed.
How to make sweet potato falafel
- 1 lg sweet potato
- 1 can chickpeas
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2-3 T chickpea flour (use AP/wheat flour if that’s what you have; it’ll be fine unless you’re trying to make this gluten free)
- Lemon zest*
- Chopped parsley & cilantro*
- Aleppo pepper (or chile flakes, whatev, maybe me a little more gentle with them if so)*
- Sesame seeds (optional)
Prick the sweet potato a few times with a fork, rub it with olive oil or butter, and roast in a 425 degree oven until it’s properly baked – about an hour. You can do this the day before if you’d like. If you do this day of, wait for it to cool before peeling it and breaking it into small-medium chunks.
When you’re ready to make the falafel, get a large bowl and pour the drained chickpeas into it. You might want to dry them off a little with a towel so your falafel mixture doesn’t get too watery. Mash them with a fork or potato masher until they are in chunks. Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT sesame seeds and mash away until the sweet potato is incorporated, everything is all friendly, and there are no large chunks of chickpea hanging out.
[Side note: When I first made this, I thought I’d be smart and save some time and just mix these in a food processor. I realized about halfway through that THAT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. DON’T DO IT. Everything will get way too mushy and you’ll want to keep adding flour until your falafels hold their shape but then you realize they’re going to be bad. And then if you’re like me you might also realize that in trying to mash that thick-but-unevenly-thick paste down into the food processor bowl that you took a tiny chunk out of one of your favorite mini spatula/scraper/spoonulas. So there also might be plastic in that sad pasty falafel mixture that probably wouldn’t have turned out. So now you definitely have to throw it away and start all over again. So just don’t do it. And also, watch the processor blades with those precious spoonulas, friends!]
Put your properly textured sweet potato falafel mixture in the fridge for a bit so that it firms up. You don’t have to wait forever but give it at least like 20 minutes. Maybe more if your sweet potato was still a bit warm.
Now it’s time to shape the falafel. Some recipes call for a melon baller. I just use my hands. Roll and shape the sweet potato falafel mixture into balls about the size of golf balls. Maybe a little larger. I don’t golf much. This is where those sesame seeds come in. If you want, sprinkle some on top. Pretty sure this is more for eye appeal than flavor.
Stop after shaping one falafel and skip down to “FRYING” below. This will ensure all your falafel balls are as tasty as you want them to be.
Cooking debate/method of choice:
Here, other recipes you find on the internet might tell you to bake the sweet potato falafel at 375-400 degrees or so for like 10-15 minutes. They’ll also say that the falafel won’t be as crispy as your standard falafel, and that’s ok, because you’re making sweet potato falafel. CURSE THEM AND DON’T LISTEN. I tried this, friends, and you know what happened? The “done” sweet potato falafel still tasted raw and was kind of like chewing on Play-Doh. If you want to pretend like you’re being healthy by adding vegetables more starch to your falafel, cool. But you’re still gonna want to fry it.
Put about 2 inches of vegetable oil in a cast iron dutch oven or other high-sided cooking vessel. Bring it up to 325 degrees. This is important. I accidentally let the temp get too high and burnt my first few falafel. So be patient and watch your temp. I suggest dropping one falafel in first to make sure you’re happy with them. For me, these took 3-4 minutes at 325-ish degrees, turning 1-3 times depending on how patient I wanted to be.
BE GENTLE. As aforementioned, these babies are soft and might want to fall apart on you. Another reason a tester is a Good Idea: If it totally falls apart on you, you can add a bit more chickpea flour to your mix, and test again until you land where you want to be.
I wouldn’t fry more than 4 of these at a time so that your oil temp stays where you want it, and also so you don’t keep bumping them into each other or hitting them with your flipping tool (I used tongs) and risking breakage.
When you take the falafel out of the oil, put it on a plate with paper towel on it to soak up the excess oil and sprinkle immediately with salt. Note: Even after frying these are still much softer than a typical falafel – but at least now you have a crispy exterior! Also, they do come out pretty tasty.
You can do lots of things with these. Make little pita pockets. Put them on a salad or grain bowl. My favorite is to serve them in a bowl with tahini-sriracha sauce (mix tahini, sriracha, some lemon juice and salt), olives, peppadews, pickled beets & onions, feta, and extra herbs. Maybe some romaine underneath. Which I guess makes it a salad. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
*I always eyeball things like herbs, spices, and other seasonings when I cook. Seasoning – especially salt – is personal. You know your taste buds and those of who you’re cooking for. Season for you. If I had to guess, I’d say I used the zest of 1 lemon, a few T each of chapped parsley & cilantro, 1-1.5 t cumin, .5 t Aleppo, and 1t salt.