We recall very well that we never joined the gang of children who sang in chorus “Rain Rain Go Away, Come Again Another Day!” We knew that when it poured, mom would put the karahi on stove and soon start dishing out delicious deep-fried pakoris. No one addressed these crisp dainties as ungainly pakoras. Those were the years of innocence when one could tuck in plates full of the fried stuff without any sense of guilt or worrying about trans-fats and artery-choking cholesterol. In the hills, where our student days were spent, pakoris were the most affordable snack at roadside teashops. These fritters were prepared with thinly sliced potatoes, cauliflower, onion rings and green chillies. Finely chopped palak and methi were specialties. Paneer was a very late entrant, introduced by Punjabi migrants — descendants of refugees. But, we digress.
For us, nothing matches the allure of homemade pakoris. We have never been able to fathom why most households have given up this joyous celebration of monsoon at home. Surely, it’s not the result of growing health awareness. The addicts continue to consume ‘refried’ mixed pakora by kilos at dhabas and restaurants.
Time to clear a few cobwebs. Deep-fried seductions like pakori/samosa don’t have to ooze oil. With a little effort and some skill, you can remove excess oil and drain it on a kitchen towel. Anyone who has savoured the translucent Japanese tempura will testify that you can enjoy hot ’n’ crisp rainy-day fare that is not scary. Tempura also makes us think that it isn’t imperative to dress the vegetables, boiled eggs, fish and chicken in a thick coat of spicy besan batter. This monsoon, try playing around with rice flour or cornflour for the batter. Prepare the batter with ice-cold water and substitute the usual suspects — aloo, pyaaz, gobhi and paneer with vegetables like bhindi, tori, gajar, babycorn, mushrooms, some green leaves like baby spinach and some flowers (why not?), like that of pumpkin.
Let your imagination grow wings and take off to greet the gathering rain-bearing clouds that promise to rejuvenate the parched earth.
- Carrots (medium sized) 2-3
- Okra/bhindi (tender, small-sized) 4
- Babycorns 4
- Tori (small) after scraping 1
- Button mushrooms 1/2 cup
- Baby spinach leaves 6-8
- Rice flour 1 cup
- Salt to taste
- Oil to deep fry
- Wash the vegetables. Wipe clean the okra and mushrooms. Scrape the carrots and cut into thin batons. Slice the bhindi lengthwise. Ditto with babycorns. Using a peeler, remove the skin from tori and slice into 1.5 cm thick discs.
- Sift the rice flour with salt and prepare a thin batter, ensuring that there are no lumps while mixing ice-cold water with rice flour. To chill the batter, drop 10-15 ice cubes in it.
- Heat oil in a pan on high flame. Dip the vegetables and mushrooms lightly in the batter and flash fry, removing immediately with a slotted spoon and drain off excess oil on paper towels. For flash frying, keep the temperature of oil high and don’t fry all the tempura pakoris in one go.
- Enjoy hot. Resist the temptation to douse these beauties in chutney or sauce that makes everything taste alike. A light sprinkling of salt and freshly milled pepper will enhance the taste. The Japanese tempura batter is prepared using egg whites. We have dispensed with it in this recipe to keep it kosher for shuddh shakahari friends.
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