Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vegetable Pakora with Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Vegetable Pakora

It has been quite some time since we've posted an addition to our collection of Indian takeaway recipes. The main reason for this is that we live thousands of miles and an ocean away from the nearest Indian takeaway. While I can't say for certain that the specific kind of Indian food we enjoyed while we lived in Edinburgh does not exist here in the US, we definitely haven't found it.

Recently, however, we were craving Pakora - the fried gram (chick pea) flour snacks that always used to come with our takeaway curry meals. Searching the internet for recipes, mostly what I turned up were recipes for vegetables coated in a gram flour batter and then fried (kind of like an Indian take on tempura). While that sounds good, it is definitely not what we remember - the Pakora were more uniform in texture, without any large chunks of vegetables.

Finally, I came across suggestions to use grated vegetables. The light bulb in my brain went off, and we set about making Pakora.

Start with zucchini (courgette, for our readers from the UK), carrot and potato - coarsely shredded using a grater:

Vegetable Pakora

The vegetables get quickly blanched in lightly salted water and then drained. They are then mixed with some sliced onion, Serrano chile, an egg and a mixture of spices (see the recipe at the bottom of the post for details).

Vegetable Pakora

I want to take a second to highlight one element of the seasoning - fenugreek leaves (or "Kasuri Methi", as labeled at our local Indian market):

Vegetable Pakora

We discovered fenugreek leaves recently because they were called for in a recipe we were making. We've been using fenugreek seeds for a long time (they are a key ingredient in our Saag recipe), but the leaves are a relatively new ingredient for us. We really like them - they have an absolutely fantastic aroma and we need to find ways to use them more often.

But back to the recipe - the next step is to add the gram flour - enough to add body without completely losing the moistness of the mixture.

Vegetable Pakora

Then you drop spoonfuls of the batter into hot oil where they form irregular ball-shapes (bigger than a golf ball, but not by too much) and deep-fry them at 375°F until they are a dark, golden brown.

Vegetable Pakora

They come out looking like this:

Vegetable Pakora

Now onto the dipping sauce. The Pakora we got from our local takeaway always came with a tangy, dark red sauce. We didn't know what it was at the time, but have since found out that it is tamarind based.

Tamarind pulp comes looking like this:

Tamarind Dipping Sauce

After soaking it in hot water for about 10 minutes, it softens so that it can be put it through a fine mesh strainer or sieve to get a nice, smooth paste.

Tamarind Dipping Sauce

After mixing in some ketchup, roasted garlic, sugar and a bit of salt and cayenne, the sauce is ready to go - flavor-wise, at least. But it still doesn't have the characteristic reddish tinge. The solution? Red food coloring - the same kind that we use in our Chicken Pathia recipe.

Tamarind Dipping Sauce

You can certainly omit the coloring, but we like to add it to make the sauce look "right".

Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Then, all that's left is to dip and eat!

Vegetable Pakora

While it has been over ten years since our last genuine takeaway Pakora, the memory of them is still strong and I think that these are a very good step in the right direction. Any suggestions on ways to make them even better are most definitely welcome.

Vegetable Pakora

Makes 12 Pakora.

2 small carrots, peeled and grated
1 small zucchini, grated
1 small potato, peeled and grated
1/4 onion, thinly sliced and cut in 3/4-inch lengths
1/2 serrano chile, minced
1 egg
1 teaspoon oil
1 1/4 cups gram flour, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek leaves, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 garlic clove, pan roasted and mashed
vegetable oil for frying (peanut or canola)

Blanch the carrots, zucchini and potato in lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool in the strainer for 15-20 minutes.

Stir together the vegetables, onion, chile, garlic, egg, oil and spices until thoroughly mixed. Add the gram flour and blend. The batter should be fairly loose, but not runny.

Put about 2 inches of oil into a heavy, high sided pan and heat to 375 degrees. Using two large spoons, scoop some batter with one and carefully push it into the hot oil with the other. The pakora should immediately rise to the surface forming irregular ball shapes -- if it sinks, the oil is not hot enough. Work in batches to avoid over-cooling the oil and cook each pakora to a deep, golden brown color, about 5 minutes.

Serve hot or at room tempurature.

Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Makes about half a cup.

1/4 cup tamarind paste
1/2 cup hot water, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
2-3 pan roasted garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Red food coloring

Place the tamarind paste in a small bowl and add 1/4 cup of hot water. Break up the paste with a spoon, then let sit for 5 minutes. Smash the paste in the water, then force through a fine mesh strainer, pushing as much of the dissolved portion through as you can. Return the leftover seeds and skin to the bowl, add another 2-3 tablespoons hot water and let sit for another 5 minutes. Stir and strain again. You should end up with 3-4 tablespoons of smooth tamarind sauce.

Peel the garlic, sprinkle with the salt and use the side of a large knife to smash the garlic into a paste. Chop through the paste to make sure no large chunks remain, then add it to the tamarind sauce. Stir in the sugar, ketchup and enough food coloring to obtain a noticeable red color. Thin to your desired consistency with up to 3 tablespoons of cool water.


  1. Ooh I love these. I've never made them at home but I do have a suggestion for a restaurant to try out, Annapurna in Mira Mesa near the target. I rarely like buffets but theirs is delicious and has a good variety of more authentic indian stuff, including pretty good pakoras and interesting vegetable dishes.
    Oh no, now I sound like I work there. I really don't. Just like your blog and went to La Playa at your suggestion recently and can't believe I hadn't found that place till now. It's actually walking distance from my home!
    Oh yeah about the pakoras, I'm indian so I miss the real stuff. Your pakoras certainly look pretty damn perfect!

  2. Hi shimona - thanks for the restaurant rec! We'll definitely give it a try.

    Glad you had a chance to check out La Playa. We went there for breakfast just yesterday and it was great, as usual.

  3. Other uses for Methi --- I love them in potatoes. stir fry potatoes (pre-cooked or really small pieces), methi and onions. You can add geera (cumin) later if you want. yum.

  4. Thanks for the idea - I bet that would be great for breakfast!

  5. Never used fenugreek seeds, but have used the dried leaves. I use them when I cook french lentils for one of our favorite and utterly simple lentils, peas and rice. The smell when cooking using this is wonderful.

  6. Hi Dave - thanks for the suggestion. We'll have to give it a try sometime.

  7. Hi my mom went to Pakistan so I just made pakoray for the first time from your site. I did not have enough time to grate the carrots and zucchini, and I omitted the fenugreek. I added some "chaat masala" (spicy-tangy spice mix) and water to the paste. My first set of pakoray got burnt, second set looked perfect but had a thin layer of batter uncooked (GROSS).. and third set was finally good. I served them with BBQ ketchup. My family enjoyed them...thank u for posting.

  8. Hi Sidra - glad that it worked for you on the third try! Getting the cooking time right can be tricky.

  9. Hello Mike, Thanks for posting your pakora recipe, I'm going to try it out for definite.I tried making them before with a recipe in a book and was disappointed with the texture, but yours look ace. Here is the sauce I made if you would like to try.

    Tomato ketchup
    Chilli Powder
    Mint Sauce from Jar
    Lemon juice

  10. From Glasgow living in Ct.I have yeT to find a Indian restraunt like the ones in Glasgow.Just got in from visiting the local Indian shop,we bought frozen pakora and my basmati rice.Going to try your recipe.Thank you,