It’s always the first thing we order at an Indian restaurant. Pakora are little vegetable fritters fried in a spiced chickpea batter. If you’ve been to an Indian restaurant you’ve probably had them. Sometimes they’re just made with onion, sometimes with cauliflower, spinach, potatoes or eggplant. But the best thing about eating pakora, if you ask me, is the green chutney sauce that comes with it. It’s one of the most pungent taste sensations ever. Green chutney has such a striking flavor that it’s hard to decipher the ingredients just from tasting it; the dominant flavor actually comes from a mixture of cilantro and mint. This kind of chutney is completely different from the European style thickened fruit chutneys like Major Grey’s, and it’s one of the wonders of Indian food.
Pakora won’t win any beauty contests; when they’re made the traditional way they are just ungainly shaped blobs of fried chickpea dough and vegetables. But looks aren’t the point with this satisfying, everyday street-food kind of snack. They’re a great combination of crispy and dough-y. The chickpea flour has a distinctive flavor, and I kept the Indian spices on the mild side since we’d be dunking into that gloriously intense green chutney.
I’m so excited about this, both the pakora and the chutney came out perfectly. They’ve always been one of the highlights of getting Indian food out and it’s really satisfying to be able to make them at home. Now we won’t have to battle over the last little bit of precious sauce (they never give us enough!)
I adapted my pakora recipe from The Sophisticated Gourmet, the Green Chutney is my own…
- 1 bunch cilantro, just as it comes from the store, stems removed
- 1 bunch fresh mint (the mint should be about 1/2 the amount of the cilantro) stems removed
- 1 large garlic clove
- 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
- 1 small jalapeno pepper (use 1/2 for a less hot sauce)
- 1/4 red onion
- juice of 1 1/2 limes
- 2 cups chickpea or garbanzo flour
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper or cayenne
- 1 tsp garam masala*
- 1 tsp teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 yellow onion, sliced into 1/8-inch half moons
- 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and thoroughly drained
- 1 cup luke-warm water
- 1 qt mild vegetable oil (corn, safflower, peanut, sunflower, canola, etc.)
- To make the sauce, trim the stems of the mint and cilantro and put them into the bowl of a food processor.
- Cut the garlic, ginger, pepper and onion into chunks and add them to the processor.
- Add the salt, starting with about a half teaspoon, and the lime juice. Turn on the processor and pulse several times to get everything combined. Then process, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, until the mixture is smooth and completely pureed. Add a little water to thin the sauce, and process again.
- Taste the sauce to see if you might need more salt or lime juice.
- Store the sauce in an airtight jar in the refrigerator until ready to use, it should keep up to a week, although the color will be the greenest the day it is made.
- To make the pakora --- heat a quart of vegetable oil in a deep pot on medium heat until the temperature reaches about 350.
- Meanwhile prepare the batter. Into a large mixing bowl put 2 cups of chickpea flour. Add the spices, salt, baking powder and cilantro. Stir to mix.
- Add in the onions and spinach, breaking up the spinach as you put it in. Make sure you have squeezed out all the excess moisture from your spinach. Stir the mixture well.
- Stir in the water to make a thick batter.
- When your oil is hot enough, drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the batter mixture into the oil. Only fry a few at a time so the temperature of your oil does not drop, and the pakora don't stick to each other. If your oil is hot enough they will fry to golden in about 2 to 3 minutes. If your oil is not deep enough to submerge the pakora, flip them half way through the cooking.
- Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
- The exact amounts of the cilantro and mint in the sauce are flexible. You can use equal amounts of each or, like me, use half again as much mint as cilantro. Just add water to thin as necessary, the final texture is up to you. This job is a little too big for the mini processor, and a little too small for the big one. I used the big one and scraped down the sides of the bowl constantly to ensure that everything got processed evenly.
- garam masala is an Indian spice mix. If you are lucky your large supermarket might carry it, otherwise look for it at a specialty store like a health or ethnic food market. I found mine at the farmer’s market.
Don’t try to form symmetrical blobs of batter when you fry the dough, it won’t work, and the charm of these pakora is that the little bits of onion stick out get crispy while the middle is nice and soft.
Next week I’ll be making Chicken Pakora…not sure what sauce or chutney yet. It’s going to be great.