I made pakoras the other day. Not because I was doing a tasting for a client. Not because I was trying out a new recipe. No, I made pakoras simply because I really like them! They’re not something I make often. I don’t have a fryer at home, and I find the whole process of deep fat frying to be a bit daunting, especially if there are kids around. And then there are the health aspects of deep fried food. But we do have a few fryers at work, and every so often I like to experiment… risotto balls were a success and a great way to use leftover risotto. And I love frying my own prawn crackers to have with Oriental meals. We buy them uncooked in Oriental supermarkets. Hard little discs – pinkish brown ones from Thailand and white ones from Vietnam. It’s quite cool to watch them cook – first you see just tiny little bubbles rising to the surface of the oil, then poof! They puff up and rise to the surface. It’s all over in 10-15 seconds. I almost feel like clapping or doing a tiny little dance of excitement every time I watch them. Yes, I’m a bit of a big kid at times.
Pakoras. I can’t remember the first time I actually tried them. It may have been at an Indian restaurant in Tokyo (of all places). Or it may have been at our first flat in London, hand made by the man. I do remember the cookbook where I first came across them – Madhur Jaffrey’s A Taste of India, purchased (again) in Tokyo in the early 90s. But of course? Where else logically would one purchase an Indian cookbook?!
What is this connection I have with Japan and Indian cookery? I think it’s because when we lived in Japan we lived in the countryside, overlooking rice paddies, and the only food/ingredients readily available were of the Japanese variety. Not that I have anything against Japanese food – no, not at all. I get very excited about steaming bowls of ramen on a cold winter day, gyoza, delicate tempura with tentsuyu dipping sauce, or tonkatsu (crispy pork cutlets) with all the accompaniments. However, the man and I have palates that seek diversity in our food, so while living in Japan, whenever we managed to get ourselves out of the country town and into the big city we always went for a non-Japanese meal and stocked up on “foreign” ingredients (like cheddar cheese and peanut butter) at the international grocers. Indian food was always readily available and just a nice change. Actually I think my first real exposure to Indian food was in Japan. Anyway, to make a long story short I remember buying the Madhur Jaffrey cookbook on one of our trips to Tokyo and reading about pakoras, which the author called “tasty little morsels”. The description says it all, doesn’t it?
Pakoras are indeed tasty – in my mind at least (which is why I’m writing about them!). They’re also wheat free, gluten free, vegetarian and vegan. They are definitely NOT taste free. Flour (I use a combination of gram & rice flours), spices, vegetables, with a nice dipping sauce. Yogurt & mint makes a nice cool sauce, but I like a mango, lime & coriander combo as well. I have a thing for mangoes… So the other morning at work I just had this hankering for pakoras and decided to give in to it. I told myself it was a Friday treat for me and the staff. Did I need to justify it any further? First, the batter. Mix up the dry ingredients, add water, and leave for ½ an hour. Time for a cup of tea, and to start writing this post! I looked for some useable vegetables and found some peppers, carrot, red onion and sweet potato. I like the veg in my pakoras either grated or sliced thinly so I got out the grater. Heat up the oil, and mix the veg in with the batter at the last minute. With pakoras I always have this slight nervousness that the batter is going to completely fall apart when it hits the oil and I’ll end up with little bits of shredded carrot or onion floating around. It has happened to me – more than once. But current recipe I use (a compilation from a number of sources so I think that makes it my own) seems to work. The batter held together so the kitchen gods were obviously smiling down on me. I cooked them until they were a lovely light caramel colour, drained, then taste tested as soon as they had cooled to the point where they would not strip a layer of skin from the roof of my mouth. They were indeed tasty little morsels. Perfectly crispy on the outside, soft and light on the inside, and nice and spicy on the tastebuds.
I served pakoras at a wedding last month and literally they were snapped up the minute I put them out. I think 5 dozen of them got eaten in less than 5 mintues. Yesterday’s 2 dozen disappeared equally as quickly! Why don’t you try making them yourself?
- ¾ cup/60 grams chick pea (gram) flour
- ¾ cup/110 grams rice flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
- 1 clove garlic, either finely grated or finely chopped
- Scant 250ml water
- A total of 4 cups finely sliced/diced veg (carrots, sweet potatoes, red onions, peppers, green beans, spinach, courgette/zucchini, aubergine/eggplant all work well) – you don’t want any piece longer than about 2cm
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
Mix dry ingredients and garlic together in a bowl. Add water, starting with about 180ml. Mix to a smooth paste, then add small amounts of water until you have a batter like a thick pancake batter. You don’t want it too thin because once the vegetables are added it will thin the batter down.
Let batter rest for ½ hour.
In the meantime heat oil in a fryer or deep saucepan. You need the oil to be 10-15cm deep. Heat oil to 180 degrees Celsius or 375 degrees Farenheit.
Now prepare your vegetables. The idea is to prepare them so that they all cook through in a short time. Big chunks won’t work unless they’re precooked. I like to either grate or finely sliver mine. However you decide to do it, prep your vegetables, put them into a bowl, and mix them together.
Once the oil is ready, mix the batter together with the vegetables. It may seem like there isn’t enough batter but just keep mixing and eventually the batter will coat all of the vegetables. Gently drop tablespoonfuls of batter into the oil. They will rise to the surface as they cook. Cook until a golden caramel colour, then remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
Enjoy with a dip of your choice. A nice easy one is a combination of chopped mint and yogurt.
Makes about 2 dozen.