What is it about rain that brings out the urge to fill our tummies with salty fried snacks?
I actually can remember a time when looking out the window and seeing the rain coming down in sheets didn’t make me turn to the others in the room and ask, “Shall we make pakoras?” But those days seem like a long time ago. Living in India during a few rainy seasons, the taste for fried-snacks-and-tea sank its claws somewhere deep in my psyche, and now even Pista and Kishmish perk up at the thought of a yummy snack and a hot cup of chai (in their cases, a lukewarm cup of mostly milk, sweetened with sugar).
The day before Hurricane Irene struck, I joined right in with the low-grade panic in my neighborhood, buying water, flashlights, batteries, and a bizarre assortment of non-perishable food — laughing cow cheese, crackers, granola, soy milk — that would have lasted about 2 hours if we really had been stuck without power and cooking gas. But when the rain started on Saturday morning, coming in windless bands, Ankur and I both panicked at the same time. He ran down to the Indian shops on 74th Street to get “a few things,” and I poured a whole bottle of oil into a kadhai and started frying. An hour later, the rain had temporarily died down, and we were safely settled with our bags of packaged mathris, kachoris, and biscuits. . . .and two platters of spinach pakoras, each with the right amount of spice for the kids and the parents. Let the rain begin!
[We’re not the only ones whose digging out after the storm primarily consisted of eating our way through a pile of emergency junk food. The day after the storm I took the girls to a playdate, and the mom sheepishly emptied a bag of Ruffles (Ruffles!!!!) onto each kid’s plate, right next to Ritz cracker sandwiches filled with non-natural peanut butter! Skippy! She pulled it right out of the cupboard! Such unfamiliar lunch fare. The kids gobbled it all up in disbelief.]
My method for making pakoras everyone in the house can tolerate, spice-wise, is to make the batter with minimal spice, keep the actual pakoras small and crispy, then sprinkle them with a mix of spices appropriate for the person eating them. And then there’s the ketchup. I’m sorry, but pakoras are so good with ketchup. I tried to introduce a less-nasty yogurt-garlic dip (made of greek yogurt, crushed garlic, and salt), and I even tried to generate support for it by bringing the kids into its creation. . . .but no dice; ketchup it is.
For the pakoras:
2 cups chopped spinach
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup besan (gram flour)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup water (give or take)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
pinch of baking soda
oil for frying
For the masala/topping:
salt, cumin powder, amchoor (dried mango powder), and cayenne pepper — all to taste
Chop the spinach and onions coarsely. I know some people like the batter for pakoras to have a fine, even consistency — but I rather prefer them to be more like fritters, with the veggies large and visible. Whatever.
Add just enough besan to coat the vegetables. Again, you can make a big thick batter with a few vegetables, or you can add just enough flour and water to hold it together. I prefer the later.
Add the turmeric, water, salt, and soda, and mix by hand til smooth.
Heat the oil and drop by teaspoonfuls (or small finger-fuls) into the hot oil. If you are skimping on oil — see my photo above — (erroneously thinking this will reduce the total amount of oil the pakoras soak up), then you are going to have to turn them halfway through. If you do it the right way, the pakoras will finish cooking and float to the top to be rescued from the oil.
Remove the pakoras from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels or brown paper, and sprinkle with masalas.
Serve right away with chutneys, yogurt, or . . . ketchup. And tea!