How to pakao pakodas
Before pakodas were considered junk, they were staples for the soul. A new cookbook revives the art of making them
There can't be a better time to talk about deep-fried treats than the monsoon. In India, however, we have enough versions of pakodas to have a new chai-time treat every day for at least a year. Author Sangeeta Khanna's book, Pakodas: The snack for all seasons, itself has 190 of them and an additional 13 pakoda curries and 37 chutneys.
Three years ago, when Khanna was writing a column for a newspaper, she observed that the new generation thinks that pakodas are junk food. The healthy-fad machinery went completely against the humble treat. The irony of it, she says, "is that they don't even know what the real thing is. Even the traditional names of pakodas are forgotten."
During childhood, pakodas for breakfast were a normal sight at Khanna's home. Atte ke gulgule was an all-time favourite. So, in her column, she included several variants and even revived their original names such as bafouri, fulouri, rikwachh, among others. Laced with nostalgia, that story went viral and within a week, Khanna received a call from Westland Publications to check if she could write a book on the same topic.
Interestingly, the book isn't just a collection of recipes, but has detailed instructions on making the perfect pakodas. From the size of the kadhai to the amount of heat at which it must be cooked and, most importantly, how to ensure it soaks less oil, Khanna has listed everything one must know before heading into the kitchen. It took her three years to write the book, in between travelling for work and leisure to remote places in the country.
"It allowed me to witness diverse cultures. I kept talking to people, chatting with street vendors and kept sourcing information from elders to fuel my content," says Khanna. For instance, the machha tareko, a Nepalese small fish pakoda was learnt at Lungta, a Nepalese cafe in Gurgaon.
Khanna believes the subject is so vast that one book cannot cover all the Indian variants. "I am sure there are many other lesser-known pakodas. The only trouble was to find the lesser-known ingredients to try those unique ones. I often brought back ingredients from my travels and my farmer friends have helped me by growing them at their farms. Sneh Yadav from Tijara Farm was closer home and was very helpful in sourcing these produces."
There are several rare dishes in the book. What piqued our interest are the ones made from flowers. For instance, the sehjan (drumstick) ke phoolon ki pakodi; parijat (nyctanthes arbor-tritis) ke phoolon ki pakodi; kumhro (pumpkin) phooler bhaja; nenua (sponge gourd) ke phool ki pakodi; and kachnar (bauhinia) ke phoolon ki pakodi.
While it is hard for her to list her favourites, Khanna tells us over a call from her home in Dehradun that she loves karela na khalwa (recipe below) for being the surprise it packs with sweet, sour, bitter and crisp; cashew pakodas for its chilli kick and the magical flavour of kadipatta; and bijodia (seed-lentil cake) for being nutrition-packed.
Sangeeta Khanna, cookbook author
Karela na Khalwa
(Makes 8 – 10 khalwas)
6 – 8 small bitter gourd
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp sugar or jaggery, pounded
2 tbsp lime juice
1⁄2 cup besan
250 ml peanut oil
Remove the top and the tail of the bitter gourd and halve them longitudinally. Cut into thin slices, apply salt all over and keep aside for 15 minutes.
Mix the besan with the other dry ingredients and sprinkle over the bitter gourd slices and mix thoroughly. Now add the lime juice and mix again.
Heat the oil to medium and drop a handful of bitter gourd slices into the oil. Keep turning the khalwas gently to cook evenly until they become crisp and golden-brown on the surface. Remove from oil with the help of a slotted spoon and place them on a plate lined with a kitchen towel.
Serve hot with tamatar ki khatti-meethi chutney.
(2 – 3 servings)
250 gm small pona fish
4 tbsp rice flour, preferably of the coarse variety
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1⁄2 tsp garlic powder or 1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)
3⁄4 tsp salt
300 ml mustard oil
1 tbsp marmalade or jam of choice , Few drops of mustard oil
Clean the fish thoroughly. Wipe with a cloth napkin to remove excess water. Mix all the ingredients for frying and toss to coat the pieces evenly.
Heat the oil to medium and fry 8 – 10 pieces at a time, until the edges become crisp and pinkish-brown.
Serve hot on a bed of kachumbar.
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