Sometimes the toughest part about planning a party or great family dinner is figuring out what to serve with your main dish. We want every side to be a rock star, but each has to play their part, right? The salty, the savory, the sweet, the sour.
Like a symphony - or the 1996 Chicago Bulls - every memorable meal has an all-star at every position.
So today, we are introducing the first article in a series where we will explore the best sides to serve with specific vegetarian and pescatarian main dishes. Our lucky first contestant is the popular street food turned trendy vegan specialty - falafels.
What is falafel?
I'm so glad you asked. Falafel is a Middle Eastern dish. The falafel mixture is made of highly spiced, ground chickpeas or fava beans, shaped into a small ball or patty and fried until crispy. Some of these new fangled recipes might even ask you to air fry them. The outside of falafel should be golden brown and crunchy and the inside tender and speckled with those fresh green herbs. These tasty treats are usually served with or in homemade pita bread, along with a variety of fresh veggies, sides and tasty condiments.
Pre-made falafel patties can be found in your local grocery store, usually in the vegetarian / vegan section. If you're looking to make your own homemade falafel, try out this falafel recipe and thank me later.
How can I serve falafel?
Before you ask what to serve WITH falafel pita, first we have to ask how we will serve the falafel. The possibilities are nearly endless. Here are some of the most popular options for serving up falafel:
- Falafel balls as a main course on the dinner plate with a variety of sides.
- Falafel pita sandwiches in warm pita bread with creamy tahini sauce.
- In a falafel bowl with tabouli and Israeli salad.
- Over the top of a salad with shawarma sauce or a feta cheese spiked Mexican Caesar dressing.
- As a falafel burger with tzatziki sauce and pickled red onion.
- If you're looking for a nutritious veggie wrap, romaine lettuce leaves would make a sturdy lettuce cup for a falafel wrap.
- Cuddle your falafels in a warm flat bread with a variety of dipping sauce drizzles.
Do you have your game plan for the falafels set? Good. Let's move on to the main event!
What to serve with falafel pita - the best side dishes and sauces:
Homemade hummus is a simple way to remind yourself that all is not lost in the universe. If something this delicious exists, there is hope for the human race. If you really want to fill your heart with joy, save some of the garbanzo beans from your falafel fixings. Whip up a batch of Spicy Garlic Hummus and shmear a few tablespoons on your falafel pita. Then pile it high with crispy chickpea patties and spicy red peppers. Grab a bag of pita chips to serve with the leftovers!
It's a classic Greek yogurt sauce with fresh cucumbers and dill. My go-to version is a take on Alton Brown's recipe, and you just can't go wrong with his original.
When it comes to building a a topping platter, I like to include feta cheese as an option for my guests. The tangy flavor and creamy richness of the cheese balances the crispy savory falafels and is reminiscent of the classic gyro.
Creamy, garlicky and lemony, this rich and flavorful sauce is perfect as a topping for a falafel pita, sandwich, falafel salad or grain bowl. Or if you're feeling especially low maintenance, just throw the bowl in the middle of a tray of crispy falafels and use it as a dip.
Combining bright flavors of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and lime juice with a handful of fresh chopped herbs creates just the balance needed for the rich, savory falafel pitas. Jerusalem salad can be made ahead and served on top of the pita or as a side dish. And no falafel bowls are complete without the fresh acidity of this salad.
Falafels, with their rich bean texture, sharp garlic notes and high herb level are just begging for acidic condiments to balance out all the salty richness. These pickled onions do the trick. I like to serve them in a small bowl so the pickling vinegar doesn't infiltrate the other toppings.
Simple, oven roasted eggplant slices are a great side dish to add rich, earthy tones to a falafel dinner. Dressed simply with olive oil, salt and pepper, roasted eggplant is an easy way to accent the crispy herbaciousness of the crispy falafel. If you're looking for a vegetarian meal complete with a meat-free appetizer, try Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta.
Middle Eastern Yellow Rice
If falafels are on the menu, I can't serve them without this flavor bomb of a simple side dish. The cumin and coriander mix with turmeric and fresh garlic to make a deeply flavorful rice recipe that is ideal with any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean dish. If you are looking for a traditional lemon rice, just stir in the zest of a lemon once the rice finishes steaming.
Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms
The sticky sweetness of caramelized onions mix with the earthy flavor of mushrooms to add delicious richness to this side dish. I'm particularly fond of adding these caramelized onions and mushrooms and roasted eggplant directly onto my falafel pita with shawarma sauce. Be still my heart.
These grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbs and sometimes meat are a Turkish or Mediterranean dish, but served in different iterations around the world. Often drizzled with a delicious lemon sauce, dolmas are a tasty and little bit rustic addition to a falafel spread.
You can make your own pita bread - I love this recipe - Molly Yeh's yogurt pita - or pick something up at your local market. If reheating store-bought pitas, I like adding a teaspoon of olive oil to a cast iron skillet and griddling the pitas lightly over medium heat to warm through and make them soft and pliable before making into pita pockets.
Mediterranean Tossed Salad
Any simple green salad will add balanced freshness to the rich flavor of a falafel meal. But this Tossed Salad adds a little something extra. It's a great choice if you're looking for an all-in-one veggie side with lettuce, tomato, pickled veggies, garbanzo beans, parmesan and pumpkin seeds. It's my every-day salad full of all my favorite fresh vegetables and it is endlessly flexible.
I consider baba ghanoush to be the eggplant cousin of hummus. Silky and rich, the main ingredients are roasted eggplant and tahini - that creamy paste made of sesame seeds. Topped with smoked paprika to mimic that wood oven roasted eggplant taste you get in restaurants, baba ghanoush is a perfect addition to a mezze spread.
Sweet Potato Fries
I like to think sweet potatoes make healthier fries. If you're a subject matter expert and can prove me wrong...please keep it to yourself. This recipe from Ina Garten is quick and delicious and a great option when you want a healthy fry side for your falafel meal.
If you're not pickling your own Lebanese peppers or radishes from scratch, grab a jar of the pickled cauliflower, carrots and onions in your condiment aisle, chop them into bite-sized pieces and add a dish to your buffet table. They provide an ideal balance to the falafel, whether serving them on pitas or in grain bowls.
It's a little peppery and fresh and available in almost every grocery store's lettuce aisle. Grab a bag for your condiment tray and you'll have some happy party-goers.
Falafel patties are super flavorful, and often include ground fresh jalapenos, but they are not spicy. So if you're looking to add a kick to your falafel bowl or sandwich, serve some hot sauce. Any bottled variety would do, but bonus points If it is Mediterranean or harissa based, bringing that spicy red pepper heat to your falafel party.
Crispy Potato Wedges
Fresh, hot and crispy potato wedges dipped in shawarma sauce and served with Jerusalem Salad. You won't regret this one. I promise.
Sour Cream Sauce with Dill
If shawarma sauce and tzatziki don't quite hit the spot for you, sour cream sauce with dill may add the creamy freshness you need on your falafel sandwich or pitas. Herby and garlicky with a touch of lemon juice, this sour cream based sauce helps the crispy falafel sing.
Garlic Seasoned Green Beans with Lemon and Parsley
These garlic seasoned green beans with lemon and parsley offer a more sophisticated option for your falafel spread. They are buttery and herbaceous and all the best things you look for in a memorable vegetable dish.
Garlic Brown Rice and Quinoa
This nutrient-dense, nutty, garlicky large bowl of goodness brings crazy good flavor to the party. If you're looking for a vegan option for your falafel meal, this garlic brown rice and quinoa will be an all star in your supporting cast.
Fresh parsley, mint, cilantro, fresh basil leaves, chives or even a julienned green onion all add fresh flavor to this super flavorful legume dish. I like to tear the herbs off and add them to a condiment tray. It's the best way to let my guests build their dream falafel pita.
Savory Napa Cabbage Slaw
Looking for a coleslaw side for your falafel meal? This savory Napa slaw is a perfect way to add crunchy cabbage, tomatoes, radish and peppers to it. This savory slaw is especially complementary to the yellow rice recipe, if that's on the menu!
The Bottom Line...
Falafel's are one of the best options for a quick and delicious meatless Monday or a fun weekend potluck for neighbors. Make your falafels from scratch. Mix and match a few sides and toppings from this list and you'll have a houseful of happy faces and full bellies.