India’s deep-fried delicacy has many different names and many different variations, all of which hit the spot if you’re craving something, hot, spicy, crispy and carby. Perzen Patel shares some tips for making them at home.
I joke to my friends that I’m like Pavlov’s dog. There’s something coded into my brain where the minute it rains, I start craving deep-fried food. Not fried chicken. Or fish and chips. But Indian deep-fried goodies. The ones I grew up indulging in, pakora.
Given how much it rains in Auckland, I’ll leave you to guess what this hard coding has done to my waistline.
I get it. Fried goodies are not for everyone (luckily, those people are not my friends). But if recent bouts of non-stop rain have got you craving some hot, spicy, crispy, carby snacks, then let me introduce you to the world of pakora.
In India there are many names for pakora – pakoda, bhajji, bhajiya, bhaja, chop and kebab are just some of the names India’s many communities use for them. So much more exciting than “fritter”, no? There are so many pakora varieties that I’ve come to believe you can pakora just about anything. And why wouldn’t you? It’s a quick and easy way to add something hot and yummy to your meal – especially if said meal is a bowl of soup or salad. The best way to eat vegetables in my book.
Most commonly, pakora is made using a batter of chickpea flour (besan), fresh ginger, turmeric, coriander powder, chilli powder, dried fenugreek, a touch of fresh coriander and salt. You then add water to create a thick batter and you’re on your way to pakora goodness.
You’ve likely already heard of onion and potato bhajji. So delicious as they are, I want to introduce you to five of my other favourite pakora goodies.
Corn, spinach and paneer pakora
For the impulsive cook
If you want your pakoras to come together in a jiffy, this is the version to start with because it all comes together in one bowl. Mix frozen corn, a few handfuls of baby spinach and grate in paneer to add creaminess. Now add in your flour, spices and water to create a thick batter. Simply plop big spoonfuls into a saucepan of hot oil and your Pakora will be ready in a few minutes. I love making these when I have small amounts of produce I need to finish up from the fridge. The spinach, corn and cheese combo is a classic but you can follow the same method for a combo of your choice too.
Moong dal pakora
For the protein lover
If you drink protein smoothies on the regular, add some protein to your pakoras by making them with lentils. To make your batter, soak and rinse yellow mung lentils. Drain them completely in a colander before grinding them with a couple dried red chillies and very little water to get a coarse mixture. Spice up the mixture with finely sliced onion, ginger and garlic paste, garam masala, fresh coriander and salt. Fry bite-sized balls of the mixture in hot oil until they are crispy golden. Enjoy with a curry of your choice or use them as fillings for wraps or as a school lunchbox filler.
For those recovering from a hangover (or for when it’s rained non-stop)
What is not to love about a potato and cheese sandwich coated in batter and fried. My favourite memory of bread pakora is picking some up as a parcel at Churchgate Station (where the Western Railway line for Mumbai begins) when Mum and I did weekend trips to Nallasopara, a far-flung suburb of Mumbai where we owned a weekend home. The train journey was over an hour long, and the pakora wrapped in a day-old newspaper kept me occupied for several stations. Even though bread pakora is super easy to make at home, deep-frying a whole sandwich can get messy. But when it’s raining non-stop and we’re trapped at home, bread pakora keeps our family happy.
For the meat lovers
While I don’t discriminate between my vegetable pakoras, I am partial to more meaty options. Essentially, these are deep-fried meatballs. You might have had Swedish lamb meatballs or Turkish kebabs, but these kebabs are different. Like the exotic cousin who comes to visit you every summer. My grandpa’s recipe uses lamb, potatoes and a bunch of spices, though you can also make these with beef, chicken or pork mince and they all taste good. Because I love eating them so much, I’ve moved to cooking these in the air fryer and they come out just as crispy and tasty.
For those who dislike a thick batter
It was my Bengali business partner in India who introduced me to the joys of bhaja – small morsels of fried goodness you serve alongside a dahl or an afternoon meal. My favourite is the begun bhaja made with eggplant, which come together in minutes. Simply sprinkle thin slices of eggplant with turmeric powder, chilli powder, salt and a pinch of sugar. Allow the eggplant to marinate for a few minutes before coating each slice in some rice flour and shallow frying them until tender. Enjoy them with a bowl of dahl and a spoon of spicy mango pickle.