One of my absolute favorite Indian appetizers is pakora.
Vegetable pakora are simple little fritters that are mildly spiced and fried to perfection. They are usually served with a dipping sauce made of tamarind.
You can find tamarind sauce in Indian and Asian specialty shops or the Indian/Asian condiment section of your grocery store.
- 1 onion, large, cut into thin strips
- 3 potatoes, finely cubed
- 1 1/2 cups spinach, finely chopped
- 2 1/2 cups gram flour, or besan
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, slightly crushed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, to taste
- 2 green chilies, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, to taste
- 1 cup water
- 5 cups oil, approximately for frying
- In a wok or a deep fryer heat the 5 cups of oil for over medium-high heat.
- In a large bowl mix together the flour, 1 tablespoon oil, spices and water a little bit at a time to make a thick batter. The batter should be about the same consistency as tempura or fish batter.
- Add the chopped potatoes, spinach and onion strips and mix well. Make sure all of the vegetables are well coated with the batter.
- Drop the battered vegetables by the spoonful into the oil. The will sink to the bottom of the pot, sizzling all the way, then rise. (See the tips below about the frying oil.) When the pakoras rise to the surface, flip over and cook until they are golden brown - approximately 10 minutes. Repeat until all the batter has been fried.
- You can also add chopped cauliflower to the vegetable mix. I love cauliflower in pakoras.
- An optional additional seasoning is 1 tablespoon dry mango powder, or amchoor. It rounds out the flavor nicely but is not required.
This recipe will make approximately 30 to 35 pakoras depending on the size and serves about 16 people.
A Note About the Frying Oil:
The temperature of the frying oil is very important. Too cool and the pakoras will absorb too much oil and be very greasy when they are finally cooked. Too hot and the outside will cook before the inside and vegetables are done. About 375ºF should do it.
If you don’t have a frying thermometer, test the heat of the oil by just putting a battered piece of onion into the oil. It should sizzle right away. If it turns brown too quickly, just lower the heat and wait for a couple of minutes before trying again. If it doesn’t sizzle as it enters the hot oil, the oil isn’t hot enough. Turn it up a bit and wait a few minutes before continuing.
I have a friend who insists pakoras can be baked. She’s right of course, but the traditional way of cooking pakoras is to fry them. If you choose to try to bake them make sure you cook the vegetables almost all of the way first, otherwise they won’t have long enough in the oven to cook through. Also, make the balls of dough a bit flatter to allow them to cook through. I am not sure how long to leave them in the oven, but I would bake them at about 375ºF and start checking them after about 15 minutes. Flip them over to cook on the other side for another 10 minutes or so. Keep in mind, I haven’t every tried that, so you are pretty much on your own on this one, but if you want a “no fry” appetizer, give it a try. (And let me know how it turns out!)
Gram flour or besan is made of ground chickpeas so it is gluten free. Find it in the specialty area of your grocery store or in an Indian specialty store. It has a distinctive flavor that suits pakoras perfectly. Please don’t use all purpose flour in this recipe. You will be quite disappointed.
Did you Know?
Did you know that chickpeas and what the Indians call dal are basically the same thing? I didn’t until quite recently. Dal refers to a split version of a number of pulses. If a pulse is cut in half, it could be a chick pea, mung bean or lentil, it is now referred to as a dal. So chana dal simply refers to chickpeas (chana) that have been skinned and cut in half.