A few days ago, I was thinking about things I have learned to make since I got married. Getting married improved my cooking repertoire substantially. I always loved cooking, but was too busy as a student to really dive in and explore a lot of new dishes. My husband’s taste buds sometimes dictate what I cook as well. I admit, I am more domineering in the food side of things, so usually what I say goes! That’s the way it should be, right girls? Also, my husband has not cooked a meal for me even once! Can you believe that? Shame on him! If I do not want to cook we go out or order something. Never once will he offer to make something. Not that I mind it on a daily basis, but sometimes a girl does not want to see the kitchen. Recently, he was away on electives and had to cook for himself. Can you guess know what he made? His infamous chicken breasts, baked with salt, pepper, and zucchini in a foil pouch. Wow, how utterly creative!
Okay, enough with the husband bashing (he really does not deserve it), this was supposed to be another tribute to his taste buds but somehow I got sidetracked. During the past two Ramadans (Islamic month of fasting) I have made Pakoras everyday, I never really made them before I got married. My husband, being a creature of habit needs to have pakoras to open his fast. We are not particularly religious, although we do try to do the basics, I more than him. But, in Ramadan we try to fast as much as possible. It is a spiritual cleansing and makes us remember all we have been given.
It is a spiritual cleansing, NOT a physical cleaning. Us Pakistanis open our fasts with the most artery clogging dishes possible. Pakoras, samosas, lentil fritters swimming in yogurt, puff pastry patties, fried potato cutlets are usually on the tables in most Pakistani households at the opening of the fast. Yes, there are the afterthoughts of fruit salad and dates in the corner. But, after fasting all day most people jump for the fried foods. I try to steer away from this habit. Give me the fruit and a date and then afterwards I’ll eat a normal healthy dinner.
Despite my eating habits, I still make Pakoras for my husband and maybe an occasional one for myself, shhhhhh. I have perfected them and although he likes them dipped almost like vegetable tempura, I make them with everything in the batter. It’s easier and in my opinion tastier. My mother told me to add yogurt to the batter because it makes them fluffier, but that is entirely optional. Pakoras are not only reserved for Ramadan, that is why I felt like making them today, on some random April day. I must admit they are delicious and I do devour them when I go to Pakistan, where I do not gain weight from eating all these fried foods, but that is a story for another day. In Lahore, the best pakoras are available in Liberty Market.
Pakoras: Chickpea Flour Fritters with Spinach, Red Onion, and Potatoes
Makes about 12
3/4 cup chickpea/gram flour (besan)
water (enough to form a thick batter)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain)
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon chaat masala powder, available in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores
1 heaping tablespoon of plain yogurt, optional
1 cup packed baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 small potato, cut into thin matchstick pieces
1 small red onion, sliced as thin as possible
handful of cilantro, chopped
1 thin long green chili, minced finely
vegetable oil, for frying
In a mortar and pestle crush together the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and carom seeds. Leave them coarse. In a bowl mix together the chickpea flour, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, carom seeds, red chili powder, chat masala, and salt. Add in the water slowly until the ingredients form a batter, similar to a slightly thick pancake batter. Add in the yogurt and mix. Next toss in the spinach, onion, potato, cilantro, and green chili. Heat a pan with oil, I like to shallow fry the Pakoras, if you wish, you can deep fry them. Add heaping tablespoon-fulls of batter into the heated oil and cook on medium to medium low heat until they are golden brown on each side, about 3-4 minutes per side. Make sure the batter and the vegetables inside are fully cooked before serving. When cooked, drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Sprinkle with some extra salt and chaat masala. Eat them fresh, they do not taste as good if they are not hot. You can serve the Pakoras with tamarind-date chutney, green chutney, or even chili garlic ketchup.