Pakoray are a staple during Ramadan for us. We eat them for iftaar, the small meal served after sunset when you break the day's fast. I often describe pakoray as deep fried vegetable fritters, but they are so much more than that. I heart pakoray in a big way, and I make 'em darn good too! They are not an easy thing to make, though, especially because before starting this particular batch of pakoray, I had never measured the ingredients called for in my mother-in-law's recipe. It just lists "a spoon" of red chili, and the measurement means "one of those small spoons from that ugly set of silverware your husband bought that one time." A cup = our yellow teacups with the blue rim. Now some of you may have yellow teacups with blue rims, probably not all of you do - so that meant I had to measure first with my ugly spoons and yellow teacups, then pour into actual measuring cups, and then write it all down for you, lovely reader. And then, since I think making pakora can be a bit tricky, I took pictures of (almost) every single step in the process! That means your in for a treat - FORTY ONE PICTURES of the ins and outs of deep fried Pakistani appetizer.
Not to toot my own horn, but my pakoras are pretty darn good. They're my MIL recipes, so it's not even tooting my horn, I'm tooting hers. I'm not being conceited, I'm being gratuitous! They're so good that when a good friend invited us for an iftaar party yesterday, and I asked if I could bring anything, she asked me to bring my famous pakoray. So while I was making them, I documented the whole process in case any of you wanted to make them too, or wanted to try a new recipe. This recipe made enough for a dinner party for about 15 really hungry, fasting adults. If you're making them for fewer people, you can divide all the measurements by half, but some of them would be difficult to divide more than that. If you make too much of the batter, though, it can be put in the fridge and re-used the next day too.
If you're making pakoray, these are the things you'll need:
Flour made from dried, ground chickpea (garbanzo beans.) It can also be called "besan" or "gram flour." Any brand is fine, this is just the one we had in the cabinets. You'll need 3 cups.
|Two types of Indian/Pakistani green chilis on the right - jalapeno on the left for comparison purposes only.|
|My pile of mangled green chilis. I forgot to measure them, though.|
Next, take out a big handful of springs of cilantro from a bunch.
|Bunching it all up|
|Some big pieces around the edges always seem to escape my knife. Pile them up on top and give it another try!|
First, though, heat up about 3/4 of an inch of oil in a pot. The heat of the oil is the most important part to making sure you have crispy pakoras. The crispiness is how I judge a good pakora from a bad one - it's all in the crispiness and they can not be TOO crispy! You want these things to shatter in your mouth like glass when you bite into them. The way to get them crispy is to fry them on relatively low heat for a long time. You DON'T want these things frying on high heat for less than a minute because 1) your besan won't cook enough and neither will your veggies, so your potato might be crunchy too and that's not good and 2) the besan will end up doughy or spongey, which is what most pakoras in restaurants tend to be. I think the frying technique is probably the most important part of making pakoray, but we'll talk more about that in a minute. Right not you just want to pre-heat your oil. My oven dials have numbers, and I set it at 6. Otherwise, I would put it judge a smidge above medium, but not quite to the middle of medium-high. It's like my father would say - the arguable Barbeque King of central Florida - "low and slow."
Next, find a good potato. I've been using these Green Giant Idaho russets, and they've been working out for me these days - not to gluey or starchy.
My mother-in-law peels them, but I've always liked potato skin so I don't. The peel ends up being not very noticable anyway, because of how you slice them.
I know people who cut all their potatoes in advance and then put them in water so they don't turn red or brown (which is what happens when you cut a potato and leave it out in the open air.) I think that makes the batter too watery later, so I just smush it all back up into potato form after I cut it, so that none of the cut edges are exposed to air until I'm ready to fry them:
I used three medium sized potatoes for this recipe. When you're done cutting your potatoes, you take each slice and dredge it through the batter. You don't want a whole lot of batter on the potato slice or else it won't cook well and won't get crispy. And crispiness is probably the more important element of these pakoray. Even though the recipe is quite good, remember that it's the frying technique that makes them stand out. You want these babies so crispy that they shatter like glass in your mouth. LIKE GLASS!
Sorry. Next you'll want to chop up your spinach, which I do the same way as the cilantro. Gather up all the spinach under one hand, then slice across the whole bunch, moving your hands back a centimeter at a time so you don't chop up your fingers too. Then pile up on top any of the big pieces that your knife missed the first go-round and chop in the other direction too.
|Spinch, washed and dried (or more acurately, spinned)|
|Gather it all up under one hand, then use the knife with your other hand to chop all the way across the bunch, making sure to move your fingers back a little each chop so you don't end up with finger pakoras.|
|Add the large pieces to the top of the pile, then rotate the cutting board 1/2 a turn and chop again, going in the other direction.|
|Finished pile of chopped spinach|
So you'll want a fairly thin layer of batter on the potato. I do this by submerging the potato in the batter, then slowly taking it out and wiggling it a litter as it's pulled out of the batter. Or you can dip it in the batter and then kind of hold onto a tiny edge and wipe both flat sides across the top of the batter, which helps to take off any excess.
Now hopefully your oil is good and hot. When you drop your potato into the oil, you want it to rise fairly quickly to the top of the oil. Settling on the bottom of the pan for more than a second means your oil isn't quite hot enough. I probably woundn't increase the heat, though, I'd just wait five more minutes. If it rises instantly to the top in a bubbling cascade of oil, though, that means your oil is too hot - they'll brown too quickly and won't get to spend enough time frying to make them truly crispy. Once your oil is to the right temperature, don't overcrowd your pan with pakoray. Put enough in that they still have a little bit of room to roam.
I turn them early and often. If you don't turn them over pretty quickly, the batter on the top of the pakora can start to cook in the heat rather than fry in the oil, and it becomes puffy on the top. (Puffiness on the top can also mean your batter is too thick or you're coating them in too much batter, or maybe that you've put a little too much baking powder in the batter. This is actually something I haven't quite figured out myself yet.)
For the potatoes, I turn them early and often. You want them to fry and brown on both sides equally. I generally put 2-3 in the oil, then turn them over, put 2-3 more, turn, 2-3 more, turn. For large batches like this one, I enlist a helper (it used to be M, not it's often my sister-in-law) so that I'm putting them into the oil, and she turns then a few seconds later.
For a recipe of this quantity, I used three potatoes. This is the result, around 60 pakoras. Let's look at some individual pakora to see how important the frying technique is:
|Perfect pakora on the left, puffy pakora on the right.|