Meatless Monday: Veggie Pakoras to the Holiday Party Rescue
It’s party time, y’all. Put down that cheese ball and perk up your ears for somethin’ a little bit different on the holiday vittles theme.
Instead, let’s tear a page from the book of chaat, the finger-licking savory snacks of India and south Asia. At the top of my list are pakoras, delectable hand-held morsels fried in a chickpea flour batter. Tempura’s got nothing on these babies; they’re spiced and spicy, crackly thin and light and get dipped with a cooling herbal chutney.
The caveat: Pakoras should be eaten hot and on the spot, which means you gotta fry on the fly. My suggestion: Fry early, as guests begin to arrive. Park yourself at the stove for 30 minutes and crank out a couple batches of pakoras, with a helper on hand to serve while they’re still hot. At minute 30, turn off the heat, take off your apron, and take a bow. Your guests will give you a standing ovation for your best-ever fried performance.
Adapted from “Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking,” by Yamuna Devi
2 cups chickpea flour (also known as besan or gram flour; available at Asian groceries; Bob’s Red Mill also sells in many supermarkets)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional: use if you like a puffier result)
1 teaspoon coriander
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon asafetida (a peculiar and odiferous plant resin available at Southeast Asian groceries; if you can’t find it, don’t sweat it)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (optional but nice)
Approximately 1 1/2 cups cold water
1 quart vegetable oil
Veggie options: Bell pepper rectangles, eggplant rounds (about ½-inch thick, using thinner Asian eggplants), onion rings, sweet potato round (1/4-1/2-inch thick) cauliflower or broccoli florets, spinach or kale leaves
With a rubber spatula, mix all batter ingredients, except for the water, to combine. Add water gradually, mixing well after each addition, and continue until batter is the consistency of pancake batter. Let rest for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prep vegetables and make green chutney (which can be made in advance). Make sure veggies are completely dry before dipping into batter.
Eggplant and bell pepper require a medium-consistency batter for maximum adherence. More delicate items such as spinach leaves require a thinner batter. For a mixed order, prepare the heavy-batter items first, then water down batter as needed for more delicate pieces.
Heat oil in a heavy, deep pot or a wok until temperature reaches 335 degrees. Alternatively, test oil with a spoonful of batter, which bubbles in response when ready.
Dip veggies into batter, completely coating surface. With a pair of tongs, transfer veggies into hot oil and let cook until medium golden brown. Do not overcrowd oil bath; fry in small batches. Turn with tongs to brown on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels.
With slotted spoon, skim burnt bits and allow oil to return to 335 degrees before adding next batch of battered veggies.
Eat while pakoras are still warm and serve with chutney.
Note: I highly recommend that you double amounts and make a big batch of this stuff, as it’s addictive and your guests will plow through it.
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 small handful stemmed mint leaves, chopped (1/4 cup)
½-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves chopped garlic
1 plum tomato
1 small green chili, seeded and diced
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth and well combined. Add salt to taste. Serve at room temperature.