In the less than thirty years I’ve been alive, I’ve attended more than seventy five weddings. And all but two of them were Indian weddings.
My parents have a massive group of friends who immigrated to the States from India around the same time, all with kids who are older than me. Consequently, we’ve been attending a constant roll of weddings for years. By this point, I’ve basically seen it all when it comes to wedding celebrations, the amazing bridal lehengas, gorgeous decor that always finds that right blend of traditional Indian with a modern flair, which DJs turn out the best blend of Punjabi music. And who could forget the food and post-reception cups of chai?
These weddings have all been a welcome opportunity to come together and catch up with friends, and the sangeet nights and cocktail hours have formed the backdrops of some of my best memories as I’ve grown up. Seeing the same people I used to sit at the kids’ tables with actually get married themselves has been such an adventure.
One of my favorite nights of every Indian wedding is the reception. Before everyone piles into the reception hall that’s been decked out in the most vivid colors, we all storm the lines of stainless steel chafing dishes that have been lined up and filled with the savory foods I crave: samosas so crispy and drenched in imli chutney, paneer tikka and aloo tikkis, and of course, the pakoras that I drizzle in even more imli and mint chutney. We all pile our plates high with the crispy fried vegetables and squeeze as many people as we can at one of the bar tables with cocktails in hand while catching up and then heading back for seconds.
Controversial opinion alert: while I love a good samosa, pakoras are superior.
Don’t get me wrong, samosas are great, and it may not be entirely fair to compare the two, but I’m going to anyway because they appear on buffet lines together all the time. Samosas are crispy potato filled pastries that are pockets of joy, while a pakora is more like a vegetable fritter that is so texturally exciting and makes for the perfect dunking vessel for chutneys of all kinds. And while samosas will always have a special place in my heart, you really can’t eat more than one without filling up. Enter the pakora.
Pakoras are like French fries, you literally can’t eat just one.
There are many different varieties of pakoras, but the ones I’ve grown up eating are essentially just vegetables like onions, spinach, and potatoes, tossed in a chickpea batter and fried. Vegetables = healthy, right?
While they’re my go-to cocktail hour snack at weddings, my mom has also made them at home for as long as I can remember. The best part was hanging around the kitchen while she fried up a whole batch of pakoras and my brother and I waited for the crispy leftover bits to munch on. Frying can be intimidating, and up until last week, I had never deep fried anything myself. But then my mom came up to my new apartment and showed me exactly how easy it is to fry anything, and I’m officially on the train. Don’t get me wrong, fried foods aren’t exactly on my weekly meal plan, but knowing that I can recreate one of my favorite snacks in less than thirty minutes is pretty amazing.
If you’ve never had a pakora, most Indian grocery stores have a few frozen varietals that you can try. Figure out which veggie combinations you like and then get to cooking! You can’t go wrong with the classic potato, onion, and spinach combination, but you could totally venture out and use vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, etc. I recommend sticking to vegetables that don’t have too much water in them, but feel free to experiment. Plus, they’re an easy way to try and get pick kids to eat a few extra veggies, because who would turn down a fried vegetable?
All you do to cook them is add the chopped vegetables to a bowl, add the chickpea flour and spices, and toss the veggies to coat, and then add a little water at a time until the batter is sticky and you can drop little nests into your oil to fry. Sprinkle on some chaat masala when the pakoras come out of the oil, and then serve with chutney! Whether you’re enjoying them at home with the family, or at a wedding with family friends, pakoras are always a good idea.
- 1/2 a yellow onion, sliced into thin strips
- 3 - 5 oz of fresh spinach, roughly chopped
- 2 small red potatoes, cut into French fry strips
- 1 - 2 tsp of finely chopped jalapeño, optional for heat preferences
- 1 tsp of finely chopped ginger, optional
- 1/2 tsp of carom seeds
- 1/4 tsp of red chili powder, optional for heat preferences
- 1/2 tsp of garam masala
- pinch of turmeric for color
- 1 tsp of salt to taste
- 1 cup of chickpea flour
- about 1/4 cup of water, adjust the water amount depending on how dry your batter is
- oil for frying, we use canola oil
- Place a 6 - 8 quart pot safe for deep frying on the stove top. We use stainless steel for frying, but be sure to use a deep pot that will keep any oil splattering minimal.
- Add the oil to the pot, filled about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up the pot. Begin to heat the oil on a medium to medium high heat, heating up to about 350 degrees (it's okay if you don't have a cooking thermometer).
- While the oil is heating, add the onion, spinach, potatoes, jalapeño, ginger, spices, and chickpea flour into a bowl. Toss all of the vegetables in the flour and spice until evenly coated.
- Add a little water at a time to the bowl, tossing the vegetables with your hand, coating the vegetables. The mix should be sticky enough to hold the vegetables together without entirely coating them. The batter should not be wet or runny.
- To see if the oil is hot enough and if you don't have a thermometer, you can test a few different methods. Dip the end of a wooden spoon into the oil, if small bubbles form around the spoon, the oil is hot enough. Or you can test a small bunch of batter by carefully dropping a small piece into the oil. The batter shouldn't sink straight to the bottom and it should bubble and fry.
- To fry, you can use a large spoon to carefully drop some of the veggies bunched together into the oil. Fry for about 5 minutes, using a spider strain spoon to toss the pakoras until they are golden brown. Remove from the oil and set on a paper towel to soak any extra oil.
- Sprinkle pakoras with a little chaat masala while they're warm, and serve warm with chutney. Enjoy!
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