Crisp Onion Pakoras/Bhajiyas
There is no denying it. India loves pakoras. It’s difficult to walk around in India without eventually coming across some shop, tiny or big, selling these fried morsels. Like cricket, pakoras are a national passion.
As with much else in India, it’s not easy to classify a pakora. A pakora is a pakora in the north but might be a fakkura, bhajji, bhaja, ponako, phulauri elsewhere in the country. Some people will make a distinction between the techniques used in cooking and use a separate term for each. Others prefer a general umbrella term for any ingredient deep-fried in a chickpea batter. To make matters more confusing, Indians have invented hundreds of ways in various permutations and combinations to deep fry things.
Take the onion pakora, for example. Adding chickpea flour to the onions to make a very thick batter would be a bhajiya in some people’s eyes whereas dipping onions in a relatively thin batter (like a tempura) would be a pakora. Other people would not be so particular about the terminology. And onions aren’t the only pakora-material in India. If it’s edible, Indians would have likely made pakoras out of it, either singly or in combination with other ingredients : vegetables, chicken, fish, prawns, nuts, bread and just about anything else you can think of.
You would think that at least there is something common to this mammoth category of Indian fried food – chickpea flour. In most cases, yes, that would be right, but sometimes the batter is made out of rice flour or soaked, ground rice or dals.
So you see, like the tangles of the very onion we set off to deep fry, there are no straight forward answers.
But luckily for us, all we need to concern ourselves with right now is the making and eating of some basic onion pakodas. Pssst… and here are a few secrets to achieve maximum crispness:
- Onions must be sliced fairly thinly but not so thinly that they don’t lend body to the pakoda.
- Separating the slices into individual pieces will ensure that there is maximum surface area for crispness
- Water is the enemy when you’re trying to get things crisp and onions have a bit of water in them to begin with. Salting the onions for a short while before adding the flour draws out this water, so you need to add less to make the batter.
- You can make these with chickpea flour alone, but rice flour will lend added crispness.
- Adding hot oil to the mix is a little-known secret that ensures further crispness.
- The oil should neither be medium hot, about 180 degrees C. Too hot and the pakodas will burn, too cold, they will absorb too much oil. Here’s how to tell the temperature if you don’t have a frying thermometer.
- You can use any type of onion but do keep in mind that the water content will vary, so you might need to adjust the quantity of added water. Pink Rosanna onions are my favourite for any task in the kitchen but they are not always available, so I often make this with any type I have.
- The basic pakoras can be made with just onions, salt, chickpea flour (and oil, of course). It’s then easy to flavour them to your preference. You could add any other fresh herbs such as curry leaves, mint or fresh fenugreek leaves, spices such as crushed coriander seeds or vegetables such as spinach.
P.S. For those times when you want to make onion pakodas but rather not deep fry them, I am working on an air-fried version. I will post it on the blog as soon as I have a recipe I am completely happy with.
- 400 g onions, any kind about 4, tennis ball size
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 0-1 tsp chilli powder
- 0-6 green chillies finely chopped
- 3 tbsp coriander leaves
- 2 tsp lemon juice juice of about half a lemon
- 3 tbsp rice flour
- ½ cup chickpea flour (besan)
- vegetable oil for deep frying
- First things first, peel the onions, halve them lengthwise, cut the top 'nodes' where the slices converge and join, then cut the onions into approximately ½ cm slices. Transfer to a medium to large bowl.
- Sprinkle the salt and use your hands to lightly massage the onions and separate out any conjoined slices. Mix well so the salt is evenly distributed.
- Add all the ingredients except the chickpea flour, rice flour and oil. Mix well and set aside for about 20 minutes.
- Add the oil to a deep frying pan to a depth of about 3 inches and turn the heat on to medium high. Set a platter lined with absorbent kitchen paper next to the frying pan. Meanwhile, add the rice flour to the onions and mix.
- Add the chickpea flour to the onions tablespoon by tablespoon, mixing after each addition. At this stage the onion slices will be coated with the dry flour mixture.
- Now add water, one tablespoon at a time - you probably will only need one or two, depending on how much water the onions have given off. If the mixture looks dry in places even after mixing well, add a tiny bit more water until you have a batter that clings to the onion slices as shown in the photo.
- When the oil gets up to 180° C or medium high, carefully take a tablespoon full of this hot oil and add to the onion mixture. Give the mixture one last stir and now you're ready to fry.
- Drop about a tablespoonful of the mixture into the oil at a time, making sure not to crowd the pan. Fry for about 5 minutes turning once halfway through until uniformly golden brown. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the waiting platter.
- Important: Make full use of your cook's privileges and taste, taste, taste as you stand there deep - frying. After all, it's your responsibility to ensure that it tastes just right. Go on, you're worth it.
- Sprinkle with a pinch of salt on top if you feel it needs it. As a general rule of thumb, the spicier it is, the more salt you might need to balance the flavours.