Pakora, the Ultimate Snack

India has the most desirable array of street food and snacks. I love them all. Samosa, pakora, bhajii, bonda, aloo chat, and vada are just a few of the Indian treats whose names have become familiar to many Australians over the last 40 years. I enjoy going to the nearby Monday market ( or rather I did,¬† back in the pre-Covid¬† days when big junk markets were still operating ) just to visit the colourful Indian Sikh tent for a morning snack, usually a freshly made samosa, or even better, a plate of samosa chat, a plate brimming with hot chana masala, topped with a samosa, the pyramid draped with yoghurt, green and tamarind chutneys. Balancing the loaded paper plate while standing was always a fearful business. Samosa chat covers late breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea in one go. Most suburban Indian restaurants offer a few standard snacks as starters on their menus but there’s a catch here. Start with a few tempting aloo bhaji, samosa or pakora and there’s not much room for mains.

eggplant pakora, batter a mixture of besan and lentil flour, with green sauce.

Pakoras make the best afternoon tea or accompaniment to beer. I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t love them. When I make pakoras, the wolves appear from nowhere. Lust and greed overcome good manners. Just have pity on the poor cook chained to the stove, making more on demand. If you are that cook, I advise you to keep a saucer of dipping sauce handy, so that you can eat as you go and not miss out.

the flour and spice for pakora before adding water.

Over the years, I’ve adapted my pakora batter recipe. In the 1980s, I used recipes by Charmaine Solomon and Jacki Passmore, my only Indian cookbooks at that time. Since then, my Indian collection has expanded, now numbering around 15 but who is counting. The variation on the pakora theme is enormous. Some recipes include a little self raising flour to the base of besan flour ( chick pea flour) providing more puff to the batter. Others add nigella seeds, ajwaiin seeds, garam masala, salt, sliced green chilli, chopped garlic, chilli powder. Everyone’s Indian grandmother has the most authentic recipe, I’m sure. I add a little rice flour to my mixture which gives the batter more crunch. Sometimes I play with a mixture of besan flour and very fine red lentil flour, especially when making onion bhaji, a close relative of the pakora. It’s easier to¬† just wing it with additions so long as you start with around one cup of besan flour in your mixing bowl. The following recipe is a good version.

Pakora Batter Recipe

  • 120 gr of besan flour ( or 100 gr besan plus 20 gr rice flour)¬†
  • 1 teaspoon ajwaiin seeds¬†
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and gradually add 275 ml of water to the batter while whisking. The batter should be thickish but loose enough to coat the back of the spoon and gently drip down. 

Heat some canola oil in a wok, or heavy based saucepan. Don’t skimp on the depth of the oil- your pakhoras need to be deep fried and must be covered. Test the heat of the oil by adding a little batter to see if it’s ready. Coat individual vegetable pieces, such as eggplant, potato onion rings, cauliflower or broccoli with the batter and deep fry until cooked through and dark golden in colour. If you are making mixed vegetable pakora, as shown in the picture below, chop 250 gr vegetables and mix through the batter before frying spoonfuls. My last combination included diced eggplant, finely shredded silverbeet ( chard) and thinly sliced and halved onion rings.¬†

Mixed pakora with green sauce.

Green Sauce Recipe

  • 25 gr mint leaves, chopped
  • 25 gr coriander leaves, chopped
  • 2 green chillies, chopped
  • 1 garlic chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbls sugar
  • 1 teas salt
  • 125 g ( 1/2 cup) plain yoghurt

Place in a food processor and blend till smooth. Store in fridge for 30 minutes to allow the faavours to settle before use. Make the sauce before the pakora. If herbs are in short supply, serve with yoghurt or a commercial chutney, thinned down with yoghurt.  My kids like pakora dipped in soy sauce, totally inauthentic but still good.

eggplant pakora, batter a mixture of besan and lentil flour, with green sauce.

Notes.

The batter makes and excellent coating for deep fried, battered fish. I often add some turmeric if using with fish.

The recipes are based on two found in Spice Kitchen, Ragini Dey, 2013. 

A big loud applause to Melbourne’s Sikh Volunteers Australia, who make and deliver 650 meals each day to vulnerable people within the community. They are currently building a larger kitchen. They have a facebook page with details for donations and many happy photos.¬†

 

Indian Night to the Rescue

Unlike the residents of the nearest village who are offered a plethora of dining options during this period of social distancing and isolation, we have none. Down at that village seven kilometres away, every coffee shop, take-away, fine dining restaurant and catering business has published their menu online to tempt families, couples and the non cooking brigade, setting times for parcel pick ups, sourdough bread days, couple’s date night in, and more. They all seem to have adapted to the new normal, competing for the same disposable dollar. They appear to be doing well enough.

I’m not prepared to brave the queues or drive at night to pursue those options. The last time I went out, everyone was too close for comfort. There’s no rest for the lockdown wicked. I get quite cantankerous in the kitchen these days, especially if I’m the only one contributing to the decision making about meals. There’s trouble in paradise. It usually goes like this:

Me “What would you like for dinner?”

T¬† “Hmmm, what do you feel like?”

Me “No, I asked you first. I’m sick of thinking about food”

T¬† “Maybe a stir-fry?”

At which point I pour myself a glass of wine and turn on Netflix. A stir-fry is not the answer I was hoping for. It’s a recipe for disaster, usually resulting in some hodgepodge dish doused in a collection of pantry Chinese sauces and condiments, the plating resembling a dog’s dinner, with little thought given to ethnic origin or finesse.

I usually cook Italian food, which is second nature to me, but if I’m straying at all, I’ll choose between Indian, Lebanese, Turkish, and Greek cuisine. We’ve now resolved the problem with the advent of cuisine theme nights, where we both test new recipes from my wall of cookbooks. On Indian nights, which seem to be occurring rather frequently of late, we make one curry each, starting quite early to allow the curries to settle a bit before rewarming them for dinner. There’s usually enough leftover to stash in the fridge for another meal, given that most curries improve with age. We rate our new concoctions, and if they get the nod of approval, they’re scanned, then popped into a folder. Our Indian nights include dressing the table with Indian fabric and playing some romantic ghazals by that old crooner, Jagjit Singh. Who needs to dine out? It’s a fine solution for those who take self isolation seriously.

I hope to share our tried and true Indian recipes this week, in case you need some inspiration for some Indian take away made at home. Recipes will include two good versions of pakhora, muttar paneer, prawn curry, dhal, potato, pea and yoghurt curry, pumpkin curry, rajma and naan bread. Stay tuned.

eggplant pakhora with coriander and mint sauce.

Outback Camp Kitchen: a New Approach.

Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges
Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges

Setting up a base camp in the outback takes organisation and planning. Supplies are available but they are usually extremely expensive and limited to the basics. While Mr Tranquillo takes charge of things like batteries, the fridge, testing solar panels, and setting up good lighting, I like to plan a functional camping kitchen.

Before leaving home, I tend to pack in this way:

  • tall bottles in one box (extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, tomato sauce, passata, good vinegar, other sauces depending on length of stay).
  • dry goods box, includes, jasmine rice, arborio rice, dry falafel mix, plain flour, atta flour, fast cooking oats, lentils, dried coconut milk, couscous etc.
  • cans box includes, tomatoes, chick peas, borlotti beans, baby beetroot, tuna large and small, other canned fish.
  • breakfast basket¬†–¬†muesli, spreads and jam, tea bags, coffee, small long life milk packets, cups, picnic set, bread board, bread well wrapped ( more important for days when travelling)
  • root vegetable bag, includes a big bag of Nicola chats, onions, garlic, ginger, beetroot, sweet potato, ( carrots best in fridge)
  • car fridge includes fresh milk,plain yogurt, tasty cheese, parmesan cheese, fetta, fresh herbs, fresh vegetables,¬†butter or Lurpak. Fish as found on route.
  • the spice box. (more about this below)

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Along the way, I begin to rearrange these boxes. Despite our camping rule, to do the major cooking prep in natural light, sometimes this isn’t possible as long walks and day trips demand¬†a later start. So a new method of sorting emerges, one based on ethnicity or cuisine.

The indian bag
The Indian/Middle Eastern bag

An example of this approach can be seen with the Indian cooking bag containing:

  • coconut milk powder
  • red lentils ( masoor dhal)
  • curry leaves
  • atta flour
  • chick pea cans
  • besan flour

The spice box is a permanent feature of the camp kitchen and stays in its own compartment in the kitchen, and is regularly refreshed. In it are spices, dried herbs, salts and black peppercorn, whole chillies and stock cubes.

The spice box
The spice box

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis new approach can be seen in action on the day I decided to make some chapatis on an open fire. I simply grabbed the Indian bag and started the chick pea curry on the gas stove, a simple dish involving four steps:

  1. Finely chop onion, garlic, ginger and gently fry in plain oil (canola) till soft.
  2. Add the following ground spices, coriander, cumin, turmeric, big handful of curry leaves. Stir through for one minute.
  3. Add 1 cup of reconstituted coconut milk plus a little extra water to loosen. Stir then cook for two minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add a can of chick peas, drained and well rinsed.
  5. Let cook slowly while making the chappatis. Taste, add salt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The chappatis are made with atta flour, water and nigella (kalonji) seeds. These were rolled out using an empty Riesling bottle, then cooked quickly on hot wood coal. Asbestos fingers are handy: so are tongs.

Chappatis ready for the fire.
Chappatis ready for the fire.

chappati cooked on open fire, raita, chick pea curry.
Chappatis, raita, and chick pea curry. Please pass the tamarind chutney.

Another Indian treat is a simple potato chat dish. Peel and parboil nicola (yellow fleshed) potatoes. Add Indian spices such as mustard seed, salt, lots of curry leaves, and fry in a little canola oil in a super hot wok over coals. Serve with then a squeeze of lemon if you have one. 

Indian chat, beer snack.
Indian chat, beer snack.

My new organisation also has a wonderful Italian bag -naturally. Basics like cans and sauces stay in the original boxes. 
I am keen to hear from anyone who enjoys packing food supplies for long getaways, especially where there are no shops and electric power is limited.
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