I very vividly remember those wintry and/or rainy evenings when the dinner used to be ‘something different’, different from the regular affair of dal-roti or sabzi-roti. Why not rice-dal or rice-sabzi because rice at night was quite unheard of, especially in traditional Punjabi households. But those evenings, followed by those dinners were, well, DIFFERENT because vegetable pakoras adorned the menu for those nights. The preparation for pakoras used to begin pretty early - vegetables were cut in specific shapes and sizes, besan (chana flour) was mixed in water well in advance, the batter was infused with multitude of flavors of - grated garlic-garlic, finely chopped green chillies and coriander leaves; and the mustard oil was heated up in a big wok. The whiff of flavours emanating from the kitchen used to be just too irresistible. I clearly remember how those minutes waiting for the dinner call were so killing. Now when I look back, I really wonder, how big and special were those little joys of life.
Over to the time when we were in Boulder, Colorado, USA, during the first year post marriage. Trying to recreate the magic of those bygone days (in fact nights), I would plan pakora-dinner for the evenings when it snowed there. But soon realised that during the season, it snowed pretty frequently and even when it was not snowing, it used to be so cold that piping hot pakoras with hot ginger tea is what one can call sheer bliss.
I love making pakoras and as mummy would say, making pakoras is an art which demands artist’s (here a cook’s) love and happiness. Without further ado, let’s begin our journey in the pakora heaven.
Chana Besan: 2 cups
Grated ginger-garlic: 2 tbsp
Finely chopped coriander leaves: ¼ cup
Finely chopped green chillies: 2
Red chilli powder: ¼ tsp
Garam masala: ½ tsp
MDH chana masala: 2 tsp
Baking soda: ¼ tsp
Mustard oil : for deep frying
Salt: to taste
Take a bowl and put chana besan in it and add 1 ½ cups water to it. Mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl and let it sit for half an hour. Again mix it well and adjust the water to make it as runny as dosa batter (slow running consistency). Now add all the ingredients, except mustard oil in the batter and prepare a smooth batter with all ingredients well incorporated.
Brinjal: 1 big to be cut in round 2cm thick discs starting from the purple tip
Cauliflower: in small florets
Potatoes: 2 (to be cut like brinjal discs)
Spinach: 1 cup (chopped finely)
Green chillies: 4 (with a slit in the center)
Onions: 2 big (cut in thin slices)
Put oil in a deep pan and heat it up, now reduce the flame to medium high. Keep the vegetables ready in the meantime. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and red chilli powder on the cut pieces before putting them in the batter. I prefer to start with brinjal and potatoes as they start changing colour if kept exposed to air. Dip the pieces in the batter and drop them carefully in hot oil one by one ensuring that they don’t stick to each other. Turn the sides so that they get fried nicely on all sides. Remove the first batch from the oil and spread them on paper napkins so that excess oil gets absorbed. Cauliflower, green chillies are to be fried next. Now divide the batter in two halves, in one put the chopped spinach and in the rest put onion slices. If the one with spinach looks too runny, add some dry chana besan to it and also adjust the salt and other ingredients in it. Now with a spoon, pick small portions of both the mixtures one by one and fry them in the oil.
The whole process will take some time and a lot of patience too but the outcome will be worth all the effort, I vouch.
I usually keep the pakoras ready till this stage well in advance and when they are to be served, I re-fry them in piping hot oil. The pakoras get ready in a jiffy and they remain hot when served.
Serve them with hot phulkas (chapatis) along with mint chutney, home-made saunth (tamarind-jaggery chutney) and grated radish.