For a brief, interesting period, a Punjabi grocery store set up behind the outlet mall in the town just north of us. It was hard to find and only occasionally open, but they carried all sorts of things that we normally need to go to Seattle, or at least Everett, to find. It closed, of course – but we had stocked up on several ingredients first, including a bag of chickpea flour – which I inexplicably did nothing with for an embarrassingly long time.
Finally I decided it was stupid to have chickpea flour and not use it, so over the holidays we made pakoras to go with cocktails. Pakora is like Indian tempura: vegetables dipped in a batter of chickpea flour and spices, then deep fried – a bit of a production, but not at all difficult. I used a batter recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s first cookbook, but decided to use mushrooms after looking at my parents’ copy of Alford and Duguid’s Mangoes & Curry Leaves.
The chickpea-coated mushrooms turned out excellently. I quartered them, rolled them around in the batter and dropped them in a wok partially filled with hot canola oil. After five minutes or a bit more they puffed and turned golden brown, and tasted rather like falafel (which they kind of are). The mushrooms inside were soft and juicy. I made a quick yogurt sauce with fresh mint, and got out a hot chile pickle to go with them.
As I cooked, a few blobs of batter fell into the oil. I fished them out and ate them, and in some ways liked them even better than the mushrooms. I fried more batter blobs, on purpose. Then Jon had the brilliant idea of mixing some of the chile pickle into the batter and making fritters of that. Now that was a really good idea – the chiles took on a whole new level of flavor in the hot oil and the chickpea batter absorbed the sauce. I could see making this again with just the chile relish, and a yogurt sauce for dipping.
This Udupi pickle is our new favorite, but Patak’s also makes a chile relish that I’m really fond of. I would think any salty, hot chile blend or other chutney would work well for this. We’ll have to experiment more once we’ve worked off our holiday indulgences a bit.
adapted from An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey
- 1 cup chickpea flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- grinding of black pepper
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3/4 cup water (or more)
- Vegetables (potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, peppers, etc) cut into bite size pieces or slices, OR some quantity of hot chile pickle or chutney
Combine all the batter ingredients (chickpea flour through water) and mix well, adding extra water if it doesn’t seem quite thin enough.
Heat two inches of oil in a wok or deep skillet over low heat, until a drop of batter sizzles in it. Line a plate or baking sheet with paper towels.
Dunk a handful of vegetables into the batter and stir to coat. Fish them out and drop them in the oil. Cook, poking occasionally to turn them, until puffed and golden. Drain and set on paper towels. Continue to cook, not overcrowding the pan, until the batter or vegetables are gone or you’re full (being made of beans, these are very substantial).
Or, if using chutney, stir some into the batter. Use a spoon to drop blobs of batter into the hot oil. Cook until puffed and golden. Drain.
Eat with yogurt-mint sauce and a good cocktail or beer.