Perhaps because I was visiting sans the family, I spent far more time in the kitchen on my recent trip to Delhi than I usually do. My mother doesn’t cook so very much anymore but her cook is an ace—and I spent quite a lot of time watching and bugging him in the kitchen. I refined some techniques; I finally jotted down rough estimates of ingredients and steps of some family favourites (for example, this lau); I learned some new variations on dishes I already make; and I also learned to make some new dishes. Today’s recipe is in that last class and it is for pakodas made not in the way most familiar to non-Indians—i.e sliced vegetables coated in a besan/chickpea flour batter and fried—but with masoor dal or red lentils. The recipe is simplicity itself. You soak the dal (with some rice if you’re so inclined), drain and grind it to a thick batter, mix a few spices in and then drop spoonfuls of the spiced batter into hot oil for a few minutes till crisped to a golden brown. (You can see my teacher making it here.) It comes together very easily for an evening’s snack with tea and also makes a good passed snack for gatherings. For your first try you might want to start out small as with the proportions of the recipe below. Once you get the technique down (and if you like the results) you can easily scale the recipe up.
- 1/2 cup masoor/mushoor dal or split red lentils
- 1 tblspn short grain rice (optional)
- 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1/2 tspn red chilli powder (optional)
- 2 tblspns minced red onion
- 2 minced Thai chillies
- 2 cups neutral oil of choice
- Rinse the dal and rice together till the water runs clear and then soak in a couple of cups of water for at least an hour if not two.
- Drain the dal and rice and grind with just enough water to make the blades move to produce a thick, barely pourable batter.
- Pour the batter into a bowl and add the haldi, red chilli powder, salt, minced onion and chillies. Mix thoroughly.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a small karhai or similar till a tiny piece of onion dropped in sizzles immediately.
- Using a tspn drop as many blobs of batter as you can fit into the hot oil. Don’t worry too much about over-crowding—even if they stick together at first they’ll come apart as they crisp up.
- Using a slotted spoon turn them over after 2-3 minutes or once the bottoms have turned a dark gold. Fry till they darken a little more—another 2-3 minutes—and remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. If they seem to be darkening too quickly lower the flame.
- Blot the excess oil from the crisp pakoras and serve warm with chutney of choice.
- If you are an experienced deep frier this will present no anxieties for you. If you are not then please know that I am not an experienced deep frier either and I hit this out of the park on my first try and also on my second. The main thing is to get the oil hot but not let it get too hot.
- The other main thing is the consistency of the batter. Too thin and it will risk falling apart; too thick and it’ll be too dense. When grinding the dal and rice add water a little at a time to keep it from getting accidentally runny. You want it to end up like thick coconut chutney or hummus.
- The red chilli powder is optional. If you add it you’ll get a redder pakoda; if you don’t a yellower pakoda. You could also try adding a small pinch of ajwain to the batter, and also some very finely chopped dhania/cilantro or chives.
- The rice is also optional but will make the pakodas crispier.
- Green chutney (with cilantro and mint) is always nice with pakodas but frankly I don’t think Maggi Hot & Sweet sauce can be beaten as a chutney with almost any pakoda. Get a bottle from your local desi store and thank me later.