Butternut Squash Falafel with Green Cabbage Salad and Cilantro Garlic Sauce / by Chelsea Zwieg

The first time I ever had falafel was at a place called Cafe Manna when I was in high school. It was the first vegetarian restaurant to open in our very brat/burger/anykindofmeat-focused area of Wisconsin and was therefore a very big deal. I'm not sure why it was a big deal to me personally, since I have never been a vegetarian (and as long as buffalo chicken of any kind exists, I will never be one), but I was very excited by the prospect of a new kind of restaurant so I jumped right on board. Apparently my aspirations of being a classy vegetarian broad, munching on edamame and tofu while I stare down my nose at all those burger-eaters were a little too lofty because, after one bite of falafel, I tapped out. I don't know if it was the texture, the spices or what but I was done with that shenanigans. I probably stopped at Culver's on my way home. 

And so, falafel and I parted ways for years. Somehow I survived all the way until college when I looked around and, all of the sudden, falafel was cool. When did this happen? Was my face buried so deep in chicken tenders that I missed it? (yes. yes, it was). Was it possible that the horrendous falafel of my youth was really not all that bad? Loathe to be missing out on any sort of food trend, I went against my better judgement and gave it another shot. Better judgement, you can go home. I was hooked.

Falafel is essentially crispy mounds of chickpeas ground together with a bunch of herbs and spices. They are usually fried, but, as I have previously mentioned, I would like to keep my face intact while also avoiding greasy messes and so I typically opt for the oven baked route in my own kitchen. The very best part is that making them at home consists of throwing everything in food processor, scooping it onto a baking sheet and then doing an I'm-excited-for-falafel dance for 30 minutes. It could not be easier. My favorite way to eat them is on a warm pita but they could also be put on a salad, a sandwich or a wrap. They would even make a great side dish if you are dining with someone who is about as vegetarian-food-diverse as I was in high school. 

In honor of all the beautiful squash popping up everywhere, I added some butternut squash to these falafel along with kale, shallots and a ton of spices. They are spicy, warming and exactly what I want to eat for lunch pretty much every day lately. In my opinion, they are best tucked into a warm pita with lots of crunchy veggies and a sauce to cool things down. For these I made a green cabbage salad with pomegranate seeds and a cilantro garlic sauce. The sauce is yogurt based with a little bit of lemon juice and it provides the perfect compliment to the spice in the falafel. 

So I would like to offer these up as my apology to falafel, for ignoring you all those years. Let's never do that again. 

Butternut Squash Falafel 

Recipe adapted from Molly Yeh

Makes 12 falafel

| Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 cup packed kale
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 16oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. black peper
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne (you can leave this out, or tone it down, if you prefer things less spicy)
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon


  • Preheat oven to 425. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and place halves, flesh side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast squash 20-25 minutes, until tender. Once the squash has cooled, scoop out two cups worth.
  • Meanwhile, add kale, olive oil and lemon juice to a food processor. Pulse until kale is in tiny flecks. Add 2 cups squash and remaining falafel ingredients to the food processor. Pulse until combined but still granular, about 1 minute. 
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Scoop falafel into 12 balls and place on baking sheet. Brush each falafel lightly with olive oil. Bake 30-35 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. 
  • Serve with Pitas, Green Cabbage Salad and Cilantro Garlic Sauce. See below. 

Green Cabbage Salad

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 6 cups shredded green cabbage, loosely packed
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds 

| Instructions

  • Combine cabbage, shallots and cilantro in a large bowl. Toss to combine.
  • Add sugar, salt and black pepper. Stir well.
  • Add lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar. Stir to combine.
  • Add pomegranate seeds and serve. 

Cilantro Garlic Sauce 

| Ingredients

  • 10 oz. plain greek yogurt (a little more than a cup) 
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • pinch of salt

| Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pulse until smooth. Add more salt to taste.