Almost anything can be dipped in the batter to make these tasty fritters.
PAKORAS ARE savory fritters that hail from India. The batter is aromatic and toothsome, and can be filled with almost anything. Pakoras can be served as an appetizer or snack, or as part of a main meal.
My friend Mamta’s mother, Mithilesh, who comes from Lucknow in Northern India, is a fantastic cook who says tea was the only thing she could make when she got married. Fortunately, I didn’t have to teach myself to make pakoras the way she did; I just watched her very closely. Mithilesh doesn’t measure anything, and she uses her hands to mix the batter, swirling and squeezing the ingredients so efficiently; it takes me longer to use a whisk.
You can dip almost anything in this batter. Waxy potato is always a crowd favorite, and so are zucchini and Chinese or Japanese eggplant. To prepare them, simply wash well and cut into quarter-inch slices. Blanched cauliflower is traditional, and blanched broccoli does well, too. You also can dip pieces of chicken or white fish, or peeled, cleaned prawns (marinate them with minced garlic and salt for an hour), slices of paneer, strips of pepper such as Korean or Poblano, or even individual spinach leaves. Just make sure that whatever you are dipping is dry, so the batter sticks.
To serve as an appetizer, dust the hot pakoras with chaat masala (a spice mix most often associated with street snacks in India), and serve as is or with mint chutney for dipping. They are best served piping hot and crispy, so encourage your guests to hover and eat as soon as the pakoras have cooled enough to handle.
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As part of a main course, pakoras are served with rice and daal, with raita and salad on the side. To eat, chop your pakora into pieces to scoop up with the other ingredients on your plate. The crispy bits add a wonderful textural element.
3 cups chickpea flour (also called gram flour, chickpea lentil flour or garbanzo flour)
½ cup white rice flour
2½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons chile powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon minced garlic
About 2½ cups cold water
Canola oil, for frying
Prepared vegetables, protein or paneer
Chaat masala, for serving
Mint chutney, for serving
1. In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients.
2. Add the garlic and about 1 cup of the cold water, and use a fork (or use clean hands, the way Mithilesh does) to start blending the mixture. Gradually add enough of the remaining water to make a smooth batter, about the consistency of thin pancake batter. You want to be able to coat what you dip, but you want the coating thin, so you can really taste the filling.
3. Heat a couple of inches of oil in a deep, wide pot to 375 degrees. Dip your prepared vegetables or protein in the batter, letting some of the excess drip back into the bowl of batter. The thinner your batter, the faster you’ll need to move. Place the dipped pieces into the hot oil, being very careful not to splash yourself. Don’t crowd the oil, but you can add as many pieces as will fit and still give you room to turn them.
4. Cook the pakoras until golden on one side, 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully turn them and continue to cook the other side until golden. If you’re using potatoes, you’ll want to check your first slice to be sure it’s cooked through.
5. Use a mesh strainer or slotted spoon to remove the cooked pakoras from the hot oil and place them on paper towels to drain.