Pakora: Indian cuisine
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Pakora: Indian cuisine
Recipe: Crispy golden aloo pakora
Thin and round slices of potatoes dipped in a thin layer of besan and deep fried are a delight to relish Crispy golden yellow aloo pakora teamed with hot masala chai is a stealer. You can relish the mouthwatering aloo pakora along with your spouse or with a group of friends. Either way, the aroma of the fried potatoes makes the get-together quite interesting.
Potatoes -- 2 -3 Besan - 75-100 gms Water - 200 ml Cumin seeds - ½ tsp Ajwain/ Carom seeds (optional) - ½ tsp
Red chili powder - ½ - 1 tsp Salt to taste
Cut the potatoes into thin round slices. Make a thin(do not make a thick paste like mixture) batter by constantly mixing the besan with water. Add cumin seeds, ajwain, red chili powder and salt and mix it well. Next, add the potato slices to this mixture and mix it well. Take a deep frying pan and pour oil. Let the oil heat for a while and when you feel the oil is hot enough, dunk the slices one by one and as soon as the potato slices are golden yellow in colour, take those out and put them on a plate with tissues(to absorb excess oil). The tissue will absorb the extra oil from the pakoras.
The evolution of the pakora
From bheja to Maggi, Indians can make bhajiyas out of anything but what makes this snack distinct is the batter. With fake besan hitting shelves, our pakoras may not be the same
The flight that British writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown took out of Kenya in March 1972 was an unhappy one. It was packed with East African Indians, like her, fleeing politically fuelled intimidation from native Africans across the region. Many had been robbed of their possessions, with women stripped of their jewellery even on the way to the airport.
But, as Alibhai-Brown recalls in her memoir The Settler’s Cookbook, one old lady seemed unconcerned. And when safely aloft she revealed why: “From a large, hand-stitched bag embroidered with the map of India she takes out a tin containing several battered, fried snacks made of mashed potatoes. She opens one carefully with bent, brittle fingers. Inside are a couple of diamond rings.” She had 55 diamonds and some gold hidden inside the potato pakoras. “I fried the whole afternoon,” the old lady said proudly.
This is probably a more literal example of frying for fortune than Prime Minister Narendra Modi meant when he recommended making and selling pakoras as reasonable employment. Yet a link between deep fried foods and doing well has always existed and it has to do with the nature of frying itself.
Frying needs fats and these have always been harder to get than other foods. They require messy and laborious crushing (for plant oils) or clarifying by heat (for animal fats, like ghee). It was hard to do at home and, as a result, fat extraction and selling became the basis of early trading. Entrepreneurial communities like the Jews were linked with oil extraction and trading. The Bene Israeli Jews of the Konkan were known as Shaniwar Telis, or Saturday Oil Pressers from their holy day and trade. PM Modi’s own community of Ghanchis also has roots in oil pressing and trading, which they extended into grocery selling.
If oil was an expense, then deepfrying, the most lavish way of using it, was a luxury. So much oil had to be heated and then, usually just discarded. Deep frying is also associated with cities, those centres of wealth. When people migrate to cities they seek deep fried food as an easy luxury. Our brains are wired to love fats (unfortunately) as high energy storehouses and deep fried foods are a fast and delicious way to get a high fat hit. City street foods are often deep fried; as with any addiction, supplying the hit is good business.
It isn’t just craving calories. Deep frying deliciously transforms food. In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee’s magnum opus on cooking science, he notes that deep frying is a form of boiling “with the essential difference that the oil is heated far above the boiling point of water, and so will dehydrate the food surface and brown it.” When a thin slice of potato hits boiling oil the water in it is forced out and it becomes wafer crisp — and deliciously fatty because some oil takes the place of the water.
Choose your fritter
Pakoras are fritters, which deliver two types of taste satisfaction — crisp browned coating and soft, steamed interior. Indian cooks boast of being able to make pakoras out of anything. Apart from the usual onions and potatoes, there are many regional variations. Some of the most striking are given by Renuka Devi Chaudhurani, whose collection of classic Bengali recipes is, in its English version, actually called Pumpkin Flower Fritters. Apart from the title recipe, it has recipes for pakoras made with Agastya flowers, water hyacinth flowers, onion flowers, neem leaves, jute leaves and jasmine leaves.
Such traditional recipes have been joined by modern ones like processed cheese which is ideal for pakoras — it melts, yet holds together. A friend swears by the pakoras his mother made from Maggi noodles. He also describes a mega-pakora his brother encountered while studying in a college in Raigad: “The students were bored with standard vada-pav, so they got the guy making them to dip the whole vada-pav, bun, chutney and all, in batter and deep fry that!”
As Indians travelled the world, they took pakoras with them. The most startling incarnation must be the haggis pakora where the signature Scottish dish of sheep’s lung, heart and liver minced and mixed with oats and onions is made into balls and made into pakoras. Scotland is famously home of the deep fried Mars Bar, so it is no surprise that haggis pakoras have become popular. In Mauritius the loaves of bread called baguettes, part of their French heritage, are sliced up when stale and given the pakora treatment, for a snack called Di Pain Frire, meaning fried bread.
More commonly, reflecting the humble status of most Indian immigrants, the pakoras are the simplest form of batter mixed with a few vegetables and dropped into the hot oil. (In India this might be distinguished as bhajiyas, but the nomenclature is very mixed up). In South Africa these are called dhaltjes and phulourie in the Caribbean, where a song in the local Indo-Caribbean style of music called ‘chutney’, asks an excellent question in its title: Pholourie Bina Chutney Kaise Bani?
What makes all these Indian, as opposed to other kinds of fritters, is the use of besan. Elsewhere, batters are made from different types of flour, or breadcrumbs, mixed with eggs, milk, beer or other liquids. But pakoras usually use besan, sometimes with semolina (sooji or rawa) for a crunchier effect, or rice flour for a crisper one. But besan, made from roasted and ground chana dal, is basic, giving pakoras their enticingly golden colour and savoury taste.
A new batterfield
Today there’s a new complication. The besan being sold in India may not be made from chana dal at all. In January 2017 Madhvi Sally, Economic Times’ commodities specialist, reported that across the country ‘besan’ made from yellow peas, which sold at Rs 35 a kilo wholesale, was rapidly replacing chana dal besan, which was selling for Rs 100 a kilo wholesale.
This was the result of decades of poor planning for cultivation and procurement of pulses like chana, resulting in irregular supplies from Indian farmers. But rather than rectify this, governments have resorted to importing yellow peas, particularly from Canada, where it is grown as animal fodder. Late last year the government finally did put a restriction on this by raising the import tariff to 50%.
But this has been vigorously contested by Canada, which managed to persuade India to ease import rules on pulses during the visit of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. As for our government, the test of its commitment to pakoras will be in its commitment to real besan, the essential Indian ingredient behind this most Indian of snacks.