Sai Ua Falafels (Northern Thai Falafels)

bowl of gluten free curry paste falafels (sai ua falafels)

we’re always looking for new ways to integrate vegetarian meals into our diets, and as much as we love tofu, we’re eager to explore some more imaginative alternate proteins. lately, that has meant pulse-patties, from black bean burgers to falafels. we love falafels for transforming relatively-boring-but-packed-with-nutrients chickpeas into crisp-on-the-outside-moist-on-the-inside flavour bombs that add substance to rice bowls and keep us full for hours after a meal. they’re traditionally spiced with cumin, coriander, mint and cilantro, but we wondered if they could be done using the same blend of aromatics as our favourite thai sausage, sai ua. the answer is a resounding yes. full of lemongrass, turmeric, chilies, kaffir lime leaves and galangal, these thai inspired falafels have a bold flavour that keeps you going back for more. for strict vegetarians, we use powdered dry mushrooms to add umami, but if you’re more lenient we recommend a healthy dose of fish sauce. serve with cooked rice, pickled veg, raw veg, or snack on them on their own! 

Serves 4-6


3 stalks lemongrass
1 bird’s eye chilli
1 green long chilli
6 kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir lime zest, from half a lime
1 clove garlic
1 small shallot
½ inch piece of galangal
1-inch piece of turmeric
1 handful cilantro roots
5 dried mushrooms (for vegetarians) or 1/2 tbsp. fish sauce (add this step in the food processor and add 1/4 tsp. salt)
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
½ tsp. salt


Rinse chickpeas in cold water and soak overnight. It is better to used dried chickpeas over canned chickpeas, as the starch is often lost in canned chickpeas. The starch is necessary to help keep the falafels intact when forming them into round, little balls. Drain the next day. 

Thinly slice ingredients from lemongrass to dried mushrooms. In a mortar and pestle, food processor, or magic bullet, pound or pulverize into a paste. 

In a food processor, pulverize chickpeas. Add salt. Combine in a bowl with the aromatic paste. Cover and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes in the fridge. 

Form falafel balls (slightly larger than a golf ball) and place them onto a plate or baking sheet. Meanwhile, heat a cast iron, non-stick pan or dutch oven with 3/4" to 1 inch of oil, as you will be shallow frying these bad boys. Heat oil to 350 F (175 C) and adjust the heat during the cooking process to maintain the same temperature. 

Fry falafels. When the bottom side is crispy and golden brown (~2 mins), flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Transfer cooked falafels to a plate or wire rack with paper towel. You could also preheat an oven or toaster oven to its lowest setting to keep the finished falafels warm while the others are still cooking.