Flavors of India, 192pp.
by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
101 Productions, San Francisco, 1972
Cooking on page 32
This wonderful collection of vegetarian Hindu recipes belongs to my friend, neighbour and fellow book-club member, Pareen.
Many years ago, Pareen’s parents migrated from India to Uganda. During the days of Idi Amin, her family was forced to move on—heading to Australia and Canada.
Pareen claims she didn’t know how to cook when she married Steve, so started accumulating books to get herself on the right track. I’ll have a wonderful time plowing through her Indian and African-influenced cookbooks—and sharing them with you. There’s even a trip to Bollywood in the offing.
For now, let’s get started on page 32.
1 cup cubed cheese (or panir)
2 cups besan (chickpea flour) (gram flour)
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon each coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder and cayenne
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1–1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 fresh lemon
pinch baking soda
2 cups peanut oil
First cut cheese into cubes about the size of sugar cubes and set aside. Next, make the batter.
To prepare the batter, place chick-pea flour in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the water, mixing it with the flour by hand. Make sure that you break up the lumps of flour. Next add all the spices including the salt and the baking soda, mixing them well into the batter. Squeeze the lemon juice into the batter and mix again. Taste, correct the seasonings if necessary, cover and put aside.
Now heat the oil in a wok or shallow saucepan and test its hotness by dropping a bit of batter into the oil. The oil is ready when the bit of batter bubbles and rises to the surface immediately after being dropped in.
When ready, take a few cubes of cheese and thoroughly cover them with batter until there is no cheese showing through anywhere. If it is not covered completely with a thick coat of batter, there is a tendency for the melted cheese to ooze out into the oil.
Gently slip the cubes into the hot oil and cook until they turn a golden brown. Remove the pakoras with a slotted spoon, allowing the excess oil to drain off. Drain on paper towels and serve with yogurt or a raita.
How it played out
I was keen to make this because I have a few packs of besan flour (also called chickpea and/or gram flour) in the cupboard. Must have bought them on sale. Also had a kilo of paneer (my preferred spelling) in the freezer.
My only change was to use the juice of a lime and a clove of crushed garlic. No lemons or garlic powder on hand.
The tricky part of this recipe is getting the cheese cubes into the oil without losing the batter. In the end, I speared each cube with a skewer, dragged and swirled it through the batter, and then used another skewer to push the cube into the hot oil. That worked fine. I cooked 5 to 6 cubes at a time in a smallish saucepan.
Yummy snack and very easy to make. There was enough leftover batter to make another batch or two the next day, and that’s exactly what I did.
The flavour is quite mild, so if you are fond of heat and spice, feel free to up the amounts on the ones you like most.
As an aside, the book’s introduction notes that an Indian girl is not considered a woman until she masters the art of cooking rice at least 15 different ways. I doubt the same applies to boys, even though it should, but at least the cookbook is helpful and provides 16 recipes for rice.