If you show up to any Indian household unannounced, you’ll most likely be served fresh crispy pakora and warm masala chai. These vegan and gluten-free fritters are made across the Indian subcontinent, where the method and recipe vary from region to region, and home to home.
Chickpea flour, also known as besan or gram flour, is always used when making pakora which are also known as bajia. Warm spices including coriander, cumin, cayenne, chaat masala and garam masala are added to the batter, along with a variety of vegetables. Most pakora are made with onions, spinach, or potatoes – or a combination of the three.
In India, pakora are often enjoyed during monsoon season. Making pakora during rainy and cold weather has become somewhat of a tradition for South Asians, even for those of us who live outside the subcontinent. A lot of our parents were immigrants, and along with their belongings, they brought with them their food culture.
This version is the one I grew up eating. In my house, pakora were spicy, crunchy, and always double fried. The addition of rice flour just before frying ensures a satisfying crunch, as does the double fry. The key to frying pakora is to be sure the oil is just right. If the pakora fry too quickly, the insides will be gummy, and if they fry too slowly, the pakora will soak up a lot of oil. It’s best to keep the heat on a medium high for perfectly crisp, airy, pakora.
To garnish and serve
For best experience, serve immediately after second round of frying. Pakora can be fried once, and set aside to be fried a second time for a few hours
Slice the onions into quarters, and then by hand into thin slices. The slices should be on the thinner side, but not paper thin.
In a bowl, mix the onions, coriander, carom seeds, salt, cayenne, green chilis and cilantro. Mix well with your hands, rubbing the onions together. Let sit for fifteen minutes, until the onions have released some liquid.
Add 2 tablespoons chickpea flour and turmeric and mix, until a thick paste forms. Slowly add in 1 tablespoon of ice water, mix, add in another tablespoon of chickpea flour and 1 tablespoon of rice flour. Continue to add water, and chickpea flour as required, until the batter is on the thicker side, but not gloopy or too runny. Heat the oil on medium high.
Once the oil is hot, add one tablespoon of rice flour to the batter. Using a spoon, or your hands, drop loosely packed tablespoons of the onion mixture into the hot oil. The oil should be at a temperature that allows the pakora to cook to a light golden brown at a slow pace. If the oil is too hot, the outside will brown quickly, and the inside will be gummy and undercooked.
After about 3-4 minutes or once the pakora are a light golden colour, flip them over and fry for an additional 3-4 minutes. Remove to a paper towel lined dish, repeat with the remaining batter. Set aside and let cool for 15 minutes.
Reheat the oil to medium high. Drop the pakora in and fry until a dark golden, about one minute per side. Remove to a colander placed over a paper towel, this helps the pakora stay crisp!
Sprinkle with chaat masala and fresh cilantro, enjoy immediately with your favourite chutney and warm chai.