These Falafel Smash Pitas Are Super-Easy—and Approved By My Arab Mom

No deep-frying required for this fun twist on your classic falafel pita.

Gif of tahini being drizzled on a smash falafel pita
Serious Eats / Hannah Hufham

As a Palestinian-American, falafel was a staple of my childhood, and homemade falafel was always a treat. My mom tried many pre-made boxed mixes, but none of them ever came out to her liking, so she resorted to making falafel from scratch. Her homemade falafel tasted tremendously better than the boxed stuff, but she didn't make it that often because she hated the mess of frying the falafel balls. So when I started seeing "smash falafels” aka "smash falafel tacos"—in which falafel mixture is spread evenly on a pita or tortilla, then cooked in a skillet—on social media, I was intrigued but skeptical.

After all, one of the biggest draws of falafel is the crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside texture that comes from frying the falafel mixture. Could a pan-fried smash falafel possibly compete with the real deal? I soaked some dried chickpeas and gathered up some fresh herbs, spices, and the other ingredients I needed to make homemade falafel and got to testing.  

I started by making a batch of Kenji's homemade falafel, but instead of cooking the balls in 3/4-inch of oil, I spread them flat on a pita round and cooked them in a lightly oiled skillet, falafel-side down, as I'd seen in various videos online. To my surprise, they were incredibly delicious. To further hone the recipe, I teamed up with our test kitchen colleague, Nicole Hopper, who put the recipe through the testing paces to be sure it could be replicated at home.

Smash falafel will never replace true falafel, but honestly, I think it's a star in its own right. If you’re looking for that herby falafel flavor, it’s there in full force, and you still get that iconic crispiness by cooking the falafel flat on a skillet. From there, you’re able to load up your sandwich with any toppings you like. Veggies and pickles add a fresh crunch, while tahini sauce ties everything together and keeps it moist. I like to dress mine like I would a falafel sandwich—tahini sauce, of course, but also tomatoes, lettuce, and pickled turnips—but you can go for your faves; zhug is great on this as well. Our team developed this recipe using a pita, but you can also use another soft flatbread, like lavash, or flour tortillas if you prefer. Once dressed, you have yourself a distinct version of a classic falafel that even my Arab mom enthusiastically approved!

4 Simple Tips for the Best Falafel Smash Tacos

  1. Go for thin, soft pita. This will make it easier to fold your taco with all of its fillings. If you have pita that isn’t fresh or feels on the drier side, you can steam it in the microwave to make it more pliable. Simply stack the pitas and wrap them in a damp paper towel. Microwave on high for about 10 seconds, until warmed through, steaming, and softened. 
  2. Cut each pita into two rounds. Splitting the pita in half (creating two intact rounds) so that you have thinner pita layers helps ensure that the ratio of bread to falafel is just right and that the falafel doesn’t get overshadowed by the breadiness. 
  3. Use a small palette knife to spread the falafel mixture. This will make it easy to spread the mixture and press down at the same time (your hands also work well for this if you don’t mind getting a little messy). Pressing down on the falafel will ensure that it stays attached to the pita, which will make cooking easier. 
  4. Griddle the falafel side only. This will ensure the falafel is crispy but the bread will remain soft enough for folding. If you flip the smash falafel over and also cook the bottom (the pita), then it cracks easily and becomes hard to fold.
Falafel spread across a pita on a cutting board, next to a stack of pitas and a bowl of falafel mix
Serious Eats / Hannah Hufham

Using a small serrated knife, carefully split pitas into top and bottom halves. Spread about 1/3 cup of homemade falafel into a thin layer over each pita half.

Falafel smash pita being cooked in a skillet, next to a plate with an already cooked falafel smash pita.
Serious Eats / Hannah Hufham

Heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Working with 1 pita half at a time, place pita falafel-side-down into skillet and press firmly with a flat spatula. Cook, undisturbed, until falafel is golden brown and edges are crisped, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to plate, falafel-side-up. Repeat with remaining oil and pita, adding 1 teaspoon oil to skillet in between each pita.

A smash falafel pita with toppings.
Serious Eats / Hannah Hufham

Top falafel with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumber, and pickles. Drizzle with tahini sauce and zhug, if desired. Fold pitas in half over fillings and serve warm.

Special Equipment

Serrated knife, palette knife


Pita bread that has dried out can be steamed in the microwave to make it more pliable. To do this, just stack the pitas and wrap them in a damp paper towel, then microwave on high for about 10 seconds, until warmed through, steaming, and softened. 

Make-Ahead and Storage

These pitas are best eaten immediately, but you can prepare all the components (falafel mixture, sauces, veggies) one day in advance and store them in separate airtight containers in the fridge.