scorecardresearch Skip to main content
innovation economy

A new kind of falafel is being developed in Boston. Is it any good?

Yellow pea field fritters being prepared at CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester, Mass., on Aug. 16. The nonprofit aims to produce more sustainable, locally-grown, and plant-based menu options.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

I have munched falafel in the Old City of Jerusalem and in Watertown, in South Beach, Somerville, and the Upper West Side. I have a go-to order at Rami’s in Coolidge Corner, but still lament the disappearance of its neighbor, Jerusalem Pita and Grill.

So if there is a new kind of falafel being developed in Boston, I suppose I am your man on the falafel beat. I set up my reporting visit for a Thursday at 11, to segue smoothly into lunchtime.

It turns out that I am so well-sourced when it comes to the business of crispy fried legume spheres, I had previously met the chef perfecting this new falafel recipe, Kevin Doherty. When I arrived at CommonWealth Kitchen, a Dorchester nonprofit that serves as home base for food entrepreneurs, Doherty was overseeing the production of little round falafel “pucks” ready for cooking, using a stainless steel machine called the Vemag Robot 500.

The falafel, Doherty explained, doesn’t use chickpeas. It’s made of yellow field peas, cilantro, parsley, lemon, olive oil, pea flour, and oat flour.


Raw yellow field peas wait to be cooked at CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester on Aug. 16.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

“These eat creamier than chickpea falafel,” Doherty said. “They have a better mouth feel.” I raised an eyebrow: “We’ll see about that.”

These falafel balls have a complex backstory: a nonprofit called Healthcare Without Harm was looking for ways to introduce more sustainable, locally-grown, and plant-based menu options into hospital cafeterias, and it worked both with Johnson & Wales University in Providence and CommonWealth Kitchen, to develop the falafel product. They focused on yellow field peas as a key ingredient.

As Jen Faigel, executive director of CommonWealth Kitchen, explained, “They’re high in protein, but they have very little market value for farmers. It’s mostly used as a cover crop, which they grow to restore nutrients and nitrogen into the soil.” While the yellow field peas are occasionally used for animal feed, the goal of the project was to take something that is grown to replenish the soil, and turn it into a true cash crop, she said.


The peas that CommonWealth is using for production this summer are grown in Aroostook County, Maine. “They’re roughly the same cost as chickpeas,” Doherty said. But Faigel added that extra labor in preparing and cooking the yellow peas means the finished product is about 8 to 10 percent more expensive than chickpea falafel; she hopes that higher volume production of the falafel will reduce that cost differential.

Much of CommonWealth’s mission is to support food entrepreneurs, providing them with business advice and shared commercial kitchen space. But it has occasionally made its own products — such as a vegetarian meatball made from eggplant — to help generate revenue and jobs. But much of those revenues disappeared when COVID abruptly shut down company and college cafeterias, Commonwealth’s main customers. The falafel project is an attempt to resuscitate that business.

Kevin Doherty (center) dumps a completed mix of yellow field peas handed to him by Edward Peña into an extruding machine at CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester on Aug. 16.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Part of the strategy involves positioning the product as something other than “falafel.” Why? Doherty says that falafel suggests a particular set of sauces and accompaniments — like tahini, hummus, pita, or tabbouleh salad. They want these “field fritters,” as they’re calling them, to be paired with anything from tomatillo salsa to jerk marinade to Thai chili pepper sauce — Doherty’s personal favorite. (The name “yellow pea-lafel” did not make the cut.)

CommonWealth produces the uncooked pucks in its kitchen, freezes them, and then packages them into cases of 240; when they arrive at a cafeteria, they can be baked or fried. Earlier this year, about 21,000 field fritters were served at MIT commencement “as a beta run,” Faigel said. Later in September, they’ll start appearing on the menus at all six of the university’s dormitory dining halls.


Brigham & Women’s Hospital helped to provide feedback on the recipe, and is now serving the falafel in baked form at its cafeterias. “We’re always looking for products that support the local supply chain, and products that have that story about helping farmers,” said Susan Langill, district manager for the food services company Sodexo who has responsibility for Brigham & Women’s. “The response we’ve had has been favorable.”

Certain people are strict traditionalists when it comes to chickpeas as the main ingredient in falafel. At Rami’s, which has been serving “perfectly sized golden chickpea balls” in Brookline since 1990, according to their website, there doesn’t seem to be an open door for yellow field peas. “This falafel recipe has been handed down for a couple generations, so there is no interest in changing it,” said Dana Cohen, a Rami’s manager, via email.

Chefs organize pucks of extruded yellow field peas at CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester on Aug. 16.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

As we sat down for an all-falafel lunch in a small conference room at CommonWealth Kitchen, I tried to prepare my palate to maintain neutrality. Faigel pointed out that chickpeas are not exactly a global standard: in North Africa, she said, it is typically made with fava beans. We tried four kinds of falafel paired with an array of sauces made by CommonWealth Kitchen residents: baked chickpea, fried chickpea, baked yellow pea, and fried yellow pea. (Unfortunately, it wasn’t a blind taste test — someone let slip which was which.)


The traditional falafel had a greener hue and taste. The version made with yellow field peas had a creamier texture inside and a more neutral flavor, though Doherty had added some cayenne to give it a subtly spicy finish. The fried version of the yellow pea falafel — sorry, field fritter — was the standout.

It had a crunchy exterior that made it seem like it had been panko-breaded, while the fried chickpea falafel had a smooth surface that was just dull. Because of its neutral flavor, the field fritter also seemed to pair better with the five sauces that Doherty set out, none of which were traditional hummus.

If I were served a field fritter without chickpea falafel next to it for comparison, I’d probably just think it was a slightly different — but not radical — take on one of my favorite lunch foods. To paraphrase John Lennon, all I am saying is…give yellow peas a chance.

Yellow pea field fritters plated at CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester, Mass. on Aug. 16.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Scott Kirsner can be reached at Follow him @ScottKirsner.