There is something about fried foods that makes them irresistible, even addictive. In the Indian tradition, deep fried foods are referred to as pakwana and are considered pure foods that can be partaken of by the orthodox without any fear of pollution. Times have changed, and the mere mention of the word ‘fried’ sets the alarm bells ringing. Fried foods have suddenly become taboo. These foods can choke our arteries, add layers of fat all over the body and accelerate the onset and progression of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart, liver, etc.
Few pause to ponder over the difference between deep fried and shallow fried dishes. Stir-fries aren’t mentioned in the same breath. Boiled, steamed, roasted and baked are blindly believed to be better options.
The prevalent myth is that shallow frying is better than deep frying as less fat is absorbed by the ingredient — only part of the surface is exposed to fat. Now, any experienced chef or housewife/home cook can testify that this is not true. If you have mastered the technique of deep frying, which includes maintaining the right temperature of oil/ghee during deep frying, using proper sized utensils and preparing the ingredients beforehand, the deep-fried delicacies will absorb as little fat as shallow fried stuff. If the oil is heated to smoking point (about 350°- 375° C) and food is deep fried, it will remain in contact with fat for a short while and absorb very little fat. The batter has a useful role to play in healthy deep frying. Starch and carbs have a lot of water content. Dipping in very hot oil releases steam that pushes the oil outward. It is only when the temperature is low and the batter is not providing a protective shield that food becomes soggy or greasy. Small-sized portions need minimal contact with oil.
Deep frying in the American and British context means plunging the potatoes, fish or chicken in a deep fryer for mass consumption. This is where the trouble about cheap cooking oils and transfats begins. Recall puri, luchi, kachori prepared at home? Not a drop of extra oil/ghee would stain your fingertips because home cooks and halwais had mastered the skill of deep frying. Ditto for pakoras and samosas. The translucent Japanese tempura is so attractive because it allows you to enjoy deep fried stuff without guilt. The thin batter allows the seafood and vegetables to retain their natural texture, colour and flavours.
We would like to reassure our beloved readers that our body needs fat as much as proteins, carbs, salt, sugar and vitamins. No harm can come to you if you enjoy fried foods in moderation. Any oil that your palate prefers is fine as long as you avoid hydrogenated vanaspati, palm oil or oils in vogue, for instance those with low smoking point. Wisdom is encapsulated in the adage: ati sarvatra varjyet! Don’t yield to gluttony or over-indulge. Pan-grilling on a non-stick pan with a thin film of oil layering can be a good substitute for shallow frying that is encountered in dhabas. Try out ajwaini arbi and cucumber pakora at home and relax!
Cucumber (medium-sized) 1
Gram flour 1/4 cup
Rice flour 1/4 cup
Salt To taste
Mustard oil 3/4 cup
Chaat masala To taste
Wash and slice the cucumber in thin discs. Combine gram and rice flour and salt with water and prepare a thin batter. Heat oil to smoking point in a thick-bottomed pan. Test the oil temperature by dropping a blob of batter into it. If it rises to the top after sinking, the oil is right for frying. Deep fry the pakora by dipping the cucumber discs in the batter; gently lower these into oil. Cook on medium high flame in batches turning pakoras once. Don’t overcook. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen towels. Sprinkle chaat masala and serve with chutney of choice or tomato sauce.
Arbi 300 gm
Ajwain 2 tsp
Amchur powder 1 tsp
Red chilli powder 1 tsp
Turmeric powder 1/4 tsp
Hing A pinch
Black rock salt To taste
Salt To taste
Mustard oil 2 tbsp
Parboil and peal the arbi. Press between palms to flatten. Mix all powdered spices and salt in a little water to make a coarse paste. Coat the flattened arbi in this paste. Heat oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Add hing. As soon as it dissolves, carefully place the coated arbi in the pan. Generously sprinkle with ajwain. Cook on medium heat for a minute and half on each side. Sprinkle a little water on arbi, cover and simmer on low heat for another minute. Garnish with fresh coriander, mint and green chillies.
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