The first time I came across pakora was at a North Indian restaurant in North Carolina. I was shocked to find out that the yummy brown fritters in front of my friends were made from besan (chickpea) flour and contained no wheat or other gluten flours whatsoever. They were accompanied by a silver chutney server, with four small bowls of various and sundry chutneys- I had no idea what they were at the time, but one was red (tomato), another green (mint), another was brown and mysterious (tamarind). It was so fun to try the various chutneys with the pakora and pick a favorite. I have to admit, after one unfortunate episode in Denver, I haven’t been brave enough to try pakora at a restaurant again, but I loved them so much I just had to figure out how to make my own. Enter the superb non-veg Indian cookbook, The Bombay Cafe. According to the author, pakora is generally served in India for a traditional 4pm teatime, along with other savory delights. Her recipe for pakora is simple, delicious, and turns out perfectly every time. (Given the proper oil temperature, of course.) And what’s best is that it is naturally gluten free, using pure besan flour as the base. These pakoras are hearty, full of protein, and achieve flavor perfection when paired with a tasty chutney or two (or three). While I only make vegetable pakora, you can also make them with chicken or fish if that is your preference. I’ve also used the vegetarian cookbook The Best of Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, which has a more sophisticated treatment of Pakora, with a detailed discussion of the varied properties of frying oils and regional variance in pakora. She has one batter recipe which can be used for any vegetable, and then different ones of varying texture for specific vegetables, with different seasonings such as nigella, coriander, and turmeric. Both of these cookbooks have fabulous recipes and deserve a place of honor in the bookshelf of any gluten free chef interested in Indian cuisine. The Bombay Cafe has a small section on flatbread, and there are some gluten treats in the savories, but otherwise recipes are both predominantly gluten free.
The other weekend at the farmer’s market, I picked up some mint chutney from the kindly Indian vendor selling locally produced chutneys and sauces. I decided to make my own tomato chutney, and have a pakora night, since DH is generally at work at the traditional teatime. I made my favorite recipe for Special Indian Rice, simmered a batch of tomato chutney, and spent some time in front of the stove frying a large (double) batch of pakora. My rationale is- if I’m going to spend time deep frying, I want to have enough for many meals in the future. So, I made lots, and then after they had cooled, made up several lunches of rice and fritters to freeze and eat later. I separated the fritters and rice from each other in the tupperware by putting down an insulating layer of saran wrap. Some night or afternoon in the future when I haven’t got time to cook I will put the fritters in the oven for 10-15 minutes and microwave the rice and enjoy a delicious feast. DH came home and was suitably impressed to see a mountain of golden brown pakora piled up in our sapphire blue bowl waiting for us to chomp them. I made spinach, green bean, green chili, thinly sliced potatoes, and onion fritters- and they were all good! I think my favorite, surprisingly, was the humble potato, with its starchy, floury texture hidden inside a golden brown coating. They were proclaimed to be as good as any in a restaurant, and devoured. Why not try some for your teatime, with some homemade or store bought chutney and some good homemade chai?
For your viewing pleasure, here is an excellent video (in English) showing you how to make pakora with besan flour and rice flour!
instructive video on how to make pakora on IFOOD.
And, click here for the interesting History of Pakora in Bradford, England
One important note- make sure, if you are dipping a curved vegetable where batter can fill a pocket of the vegetable that it is cooked all the way through. I did have one nasty surprise with a curved piece of green chili and some raw batter. Raw chickpea batter is perhaps the ickiest raw batter out there- it’s amazing how much better it tastes cooked. I learned this the hard way when sampling some raw cake batter made with chickpeas- I know, bad idea- but with chickpeas… it was the worst.
1 cup chickpea flour
pinch baking soda
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp chipotle pepper)
1 tsp roasted ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup water
Vegetables I used:
You could also try
Vegetable oil for deep frying (i used canola)
Combine dry ingredients and whisk in water until about as thick as heavy cream. Recipe can be cut in half or doubled.
Fill pan with oil to deep fry, heat on high until hot but before reaching smoking point. If oil is too hot, fritters will burn. If not hot enough, the fritters will absorb too much oil. Oil is ready when a drop of batter rises to the surface immediately and sizzles. Lower heat to medium high to keep at correct temperature.
Dip 5-6 vegetables of one type into batter, coating all sides if possible. Drop them into hot oil, turning piece when half done and fry until golden brown. (It takes around a minute or two, depending on vegetable and heat of oil.)
Remove fritters from oil and set on rack to drain. Then keep warm in oven on low heat for (at most) 15 minutes, or they will get soggy.
Serve with chutney.
This is a great, easy batter. DH said they tasted just like Indian fritters should, and I agree. Yum yum.