Pakoras – snack, meal all by themselves, lunchbox fodder.

It’s Friday again and, as I like to remind people from time to time, I don’t work Fridays.  However, it’s also the school holidays up here so I’ve got the full complement of 5 kids to look after.  When I told that to one of my colleagues yesterday he said he knew where he’d rather be and patted his desk.

Now.  My old schoolmate Mac asked what my recipe for pakoras was.  So here goes.

Pakoras are a great way of making leftover vegetables from other recipes go a long way.  You don’t need a lot of anything (apart from gram flour) and by changing the vegetables involved you can really change the flavour and texture of the finished product.  Chillies are, of course, optional.  If you’re going to miss them out, finely slice some chunks of bell pepper instead to keep some of the crunch and flavour whilst taking away the heat.

Ingredients

  • 2 onions.  Quarter the onions and then slice finely creating little arcs of onion.
  • 1 large potato.  Peel and cut into big chips and then slice them finely.  You want bits about the size of the last joint on your little finger.  If you don’t have a little finger, the ring finger will do.
  • 1 sweet potato.  Treat just like the large potato.  If you don’t have sweet potatoes, add another spud instead.
  • 1/2 aubergine.  Again, chop as the spuds.
  • 1 courgette.  Cut in half lengthways and then slice finely.
  • 1 bag of curly kale.  I’ve tried spinach and it’s just as good but the texture the curly kale brings to the dish is super.
  • Handful of chopped coriander.  About half of the big pack you get in Tescos.
  • Generous handful of dried fenugreek leaves.
  • 2 tbs coriander seeds, coarsely ground
  • 2 tbs cumin seeds, likewise.
  • 2 tsp salt.
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (when I’m cooking for the kids I substitute paprika here)
  • Chillies – to taste.
  • Red peppers if required.
  • A big bag of gram flour (at least 1kg)
  • Oil for deep frying.

Right.  When I do this, I’m cooking for both adults and kids, so I’ve got 2 big mixing bowls.  Half of each ingredient goes into each bowl right down to the chillies.  The chillies go into the adult bowl, the red peppers go into the kids bowl.  Not only does that give you the option to have full heat mix for the grownups, it also gives you a quick visual check to make sure you’re not about to feed fire to your youngest!  If you can see the red peppers, it’s kid-safe.  If you can’t, then don’t risk it!  Or try it first.

Mix everything together then start adding the gram flour.  You want to make sure everything’s coated sufficiently to bind it all together but not have so much it’s a big, stodgy, floury mess.  When you reckon you’ve got enough, add some water and mix again.  In essence you’re making a batter around the vegetables.  If it’s too sticky, add some more water.  If it’s too liquid, add some more flour.  You want a mixture you can pick up on a spoon and that will slide off again into the hot oil.

While you’re mixing, get the deep fat fryer going.  Take out the basket, it just gets in the way, and set the temperature up to 190C.

Once the fryer’s up to heat, take a tablespoon of the mixture, slide it into the oil.  Repeat until you’ve got half a dozen frying away in your pan.  Give it a couple of minutes (do some washing up in the meantime, this recipe always seems to generate a lot of mess) then turn them over.  Another couple of minutes and take one out.  Carefully (remember, the oil is going to be hot and so are the fresh pakoras) break it open and check it’s cooked right through.  If it is, great!  Take the lot out and put them on some kitchen paper in a basket to drain off the oil.  If it isn’t, pop it back in and give it another minute then check again (with a different one).  The finished article should be crispy, taste delicious and a nice, golden, brown.  Now’s your chance to add more salt, more chilli, change the mix a little before you fry off the rest.

Once you’ve got them all cooked, you can eat them there and then (I’ve usually not got a shortage of quality control officers to check that my work is up to spec) or put them into an air-tight box and save them for a few days.  Re-heating them is best done under the grill rather than in the microwave.  I put them into the kids lunch boxes for school and I’ve not had one returned yet.

Now you’ll need dips.  Lots and lots of dips.  Sambals of assorted types work well, chutneys, mint & yoghurt, sweet chilli sauce, the red lentil dhall from the week before last…  Your only limit is your imagination here.

So go!  Experiment!  See what it’s like with diced sprout (or not), mushrooms, plantain!  Raid the veg cupboard and see what you’ve got left!  The only really essential bits are the onion and the kale (or spinach).

And now I’m hungry.  I’ve got shopping to do.  It’s always a bad idea to shop hungry.

Cook-Along Friday #1 – Red Lentil Dhall

Work-life balance.  It’s the Holy Grail of parents.  Enough time with the kids to appreciate them, enough time at the office to appreciate coming home, enough time to yourself to remember that you’re actually a human being who does stuff other than work and look after kids.

I’m lucky enough to have Fridays to look after the youngest of my kids.  In the morning we’ve got Toddler Group at the village hall (and believe me, Michael McIntyre’s right when he talks about being the only man there!  Though, to be fair, there’s usually two or three of us blokes now).  In the afternoon, while the youngsters sleep, I cook.  Mostly I cook curry.

Long story short.  I used to be scared of curry recipes.  The long list of spices confused me and, like most people confronted by something like that, I avoided them.  The opportunity arose to do a night class in Indian Cookery and I jumped at it.  That was a couple of years ago.  It taught me many, many useful things.  Chief amongst those things are (1) the skill of looking at one of these complicated recipes and knowing what the recipe will taste like and (2) being able to modify the heat of a curry without changing the taste dramatically.  Y’see, I’m cooking for a family of 7 here.  What one of us eats, we all eat.  So I’ve got to be able to cut the heat of a curry dramatically (and then top it back up again at table with a damn fine chilli sauce).

Without further ado, I present the first recipe I cooked when I took that night class.  It’s one that I’ve used as a benchmark to judge curry recipe books since.

Red Lentil Dhall

Ingredients

  • 1 mug of red lentils
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp red chilli powder (substitute with paprika if you’re cooking for the youngsters as well or you don’t want the burn)
  • 1tsp turmeric
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • Chopped green chillies, to taste (I omit these entirely for the low-heat version but put 5 or 6 in for the full-heat)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 black cardamon pods
  • 1 ladle of ghee
  • 4 sliced cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds
  • Big bunch of coriander

Method

  1. Wash and soak the lentils in cold water.  This takes about half an hour, so have a cup of tea and read a book.  I’m reading Writing Therapy by Tim Atkinson at the moment.  It’s very good indeed.
  2. In a large pan bring 3 mugs of water to the boil (same mug size you measured the lentils with).  Add salt, chilli powder, turmeric, chopped tomatoes, drained lentils, cinnamon stick, black cardamon and the chillies if you’re using them.  Stir it, leave it to simmer without the lid for half an hour, stirring every 10 minutes.  If it starts to stick, add a little water to loosen it up.
  3. When the lentils have cooked, they’ll be fairly mushy and the mixture will be nice and thick.  Gloopy is how my kids describe it.
  4. When you’re into the last 10 minutes, get a small pan and heat up the ghee.  Use a medium-low heat for this.  Add the cumin seeds and garlic, fry gently for a couple of minutes..  While it’s frying, chop the coriander.
  5. Add the ghee/garlic/cumin mixture to the lentils, mix thoroughly and stir in the copped coriander.
  6. Serve with chapatis or naan bread. Pakoras work well, so do poppadoms.

Enjoy!  I know my family do.

I use this particular recipe as a benchmark for curry recipe books.

I’d be interested in your variations on this recipe – comment and let me know.