Baked Sweet Potato & Za’atar Falafels (a gluten-free & vegan recipe)

sweet-potato-falafels1aEnjoyed with salad and a drizzle of tahini dressing, or stuffed in a wrap with pickles, spicy sauce, pickled cabbage plus a side of hot chips, falafels are the world’s second favourite way to eat chickpeas – after hummus, of course.

Those of us who love falafels probably have a distinct memory of our most favourite one. Or maybe that is just me.

The best one I can remember was early last summer. Our niece Madison was over from Florida and, capitalising on some fair weather, we were doing a bit of sightseeing and errand running in the studenty Southside district of Edinburgh.

Anyone who knows Edinburgh will know that this university area is dotted with cheap and cheerful cafes, restaurants, bars, walk-up windows, and even the odd converted police boxes selling crepes and coffee. Suddenly, absolutely starving, we were fairly desperate to get some food – and fast.

It was a bit windy and cool so hot food, hot fast-ish food, was what we craved. We walked into the tiny takeaway space on the side of a quiet Lebanese restaurant and were immediately assailed by wonderful spicy aromas, the smell of frying oil and the sight of a young man tending a revolving spit of lamb. We definitely weren’t up for a kebab but we spotted a grandfatherly gentleman hunched on an old wooden stool, digging gloved hands into a big plastic bowl of what I can only describe as “stuff”. He rolled large pinches of it in his hands then dropped the cricket ball-sized hunks into a deep fat fryer, where the beige, nondescript balls spun in the heat, turning deep golden and delectably crunchy. 

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sweet-potato-falafelsWhat better fast food fix is there than a freshly made falafel wrap? 

The old chap was delightful, happy to find four starving customers in his otherwise empty shop. He wouldn’t take our simple toppings request of tahini sauce and salad as our true wish, instead piling the oversized bread wheels with chilli sauce, salty white cheese, homemade pickles and vinegar-soaked pink onions. He slapped each one in a hot press, from where it emerged minutes later, a golden pillowy bundle, ready for hungry bellies.

We ate these sitting on plastic bags, watching groups of white-clad men playing Saturday cricket, the glowering clouds daring us to stay longer. As we stretched out on the long grass, hearing the thwack of leather on willow and talking about everything and nothing, those crispy, earthy falafels could have been a skimpy sandwich or the finest morsel from a Fortnum & Mason hamper. What mattered was not what filled and sated our growling bellies but what brought us together under that leaden sky watching a game three out of four of us didn’t understand. I won’t get all soppy and sentimental (oops, too late), but you know what I mean.

These falafels are in no way like the perfect ones from an obvious expert, but they are good and – suitably for food to glow – baked. Fry them if you wish, but with the sesame seed coating you will get a mouthful of crunch before you hit the soft and flavour-packed innards. The two sauces are a must, too. And fries, if you got ’em.

What strong food memories do you hold? Is it about the food, or more about the situation? 


Baked Sweet Potato and Za'atar Falafels

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Traditionally raw, soaked chickpeas would be used – and really this is the best way – but I can’t properly digest them (even these ones and the ones referred to above were “tricky” for me, although delicious) so tend to stick with the cooked pulses – it’s quicker too. Using tinned does make them a bit softer, as does baking over frying, but I dry the chickpeas in the oven; and of course the crunchy coating of sesame seeds makes all the difference. If you are wishing to do a version with raw, overnight soaked peas, here is a lovely falafel recipe by Bintu, from Recipes From A Pantry

250g sweet potato, diced (these you will steam and mash, so just even size is fine)

400g cooked chickpeas, rinsed and patted dry with a tea towel

1 & 1/2 tbsp best quality olive oil or rapeseed oil, divided use

1 small red onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp za’atar (bought or here’s my za’atar recipe – at the bottom of this old post) – optional OR 1/2 tsp each of ground cumin and coriander, for a more traditional spicing

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Large handful of parsley, finely chopped

3/4 tsp salt

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tbsp gram (chickpea) flour or ground almonds

3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

30g white sesame seeds


Drying the cooked chickpeas in the oven.


1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/400F.

2. Steam the sweet potatoes for 10 minutes (do not boil) or until soft; allow to steam dry and cool separately to the hot pan. Mash roughly and set aside. You could instead roast the sweet potatoes in a little oil for 15 minutes or so, then mash.

3. While the potatoes are steaming, pour the chickpeas onto a baking tray and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes. This is to drive out some of the moisture. You can skip this step, but I think it helps with the texture. Remove from the oven and set aside.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan, then add the onion and garlic. Saute for about five minutes then add the oregano, turmeric, pepper, za’atar and heat for one minute. Remove from the hob.

5. Add the chickpeas, mashed sweet potato and everything in the frying pan to a food processor, along with the parsley, salt, lemon juice, gram flour and baking soda. Pulse until all is mixed but not a paste. Scrape the mixture out into a bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour. While the mix is resting, pour the sesame seeds onto a plate. DSC_0321

6. When you are ready, preheat the oven to 180C fan/ 200C/400F. Make up the falafels by rolling into small, walnut-sized balls. Coat the balls in the sesame seeds and flatten; place onto a baking paper-lined tray that you have slicked with half of the remaining oil; brush on the remaining oil, using more oil if needed. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, carefully flipping halfway through the time. sweet-potato-falafels4

Serve with my chimichurri sauce (minus the beans) and the following green tahini sauce.

Green Tahini Sauce

Large handful of parsley, coriander, or a mixture of the two

2 tbsp light tahini

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt to taste

200ml Greek yogurt or non-dairy equivalent

1. Finely mince the herbs or chop in a small food processor/mini chopper.

2. In a small bowl, mix the tahini with the lemon juice and the salt. Gradually stir in the yogurt, adding a little bit at a time or it will slop everywhere as the tahini is a bit like quicksand.Stir in the herbs and season to taste.

Serving: These are brilliant with salad bits and pieces, pickled vegetables, freshly vinegared slices of red onion, as well as in a flatbread wrap. Any leftovers are good warmed or cold with roasted vegetables or chopped crunch vegetables. I’ve even crumbled some into an omelette.

A selection of chickpea recipes from Food To Glow

Greens, Chickpeas and Ricotta-Feta Borek

Falafel Waffles with Honey-Harissa Chickpeas

Cookie Dough Brownie Bites (this isn’t a mistake!)

Korean Bibimbap with Gochujang Chickpeas

Loaded Cauliflower “Couscous” Salad with Roasted Turmeric Chickpeas

One-Pot Sweet Potato, Cauliflower and Chickpea Shawarma

Farinata Lasagne (farinata are chickpea pancakes – gluten-free)

And some chickpea recipes from others

Harissa Roasted Chickpeas and Aubergine with Sweet Potato Mash

Vegan Chickpea Calzone

Chickpea Flatbreads

Vegan Aubergine and Chickpea Penne

Barley Bowl with Spiced Aubergines, Chickpeas and Tomatoes

Chickpea Salad 

Avocado Hummus

** If you are reading this from the website Easy Low Cal Recipes, this is published without my permission – as are all other posts of mine on this site. **DSC_0372.jpg