Saturday, February 26, 2011

Vegetable Pakoras (Indian Vegetable Fritters)

So this is my first blog about my new vegan "lifestyle" and I was trying to think of something to write about. So many things were going through my head like - why not write about why I went vegan?, or why I've been a vegan for 4 months and have tried to hide it from my parents?, or the trials and tribulations of veganism which include feeling like an outcast when eating out with friends. But instead I decided to start with what it's really all about and what I love - FOOD!

One of my favorite appetizers in Indian restaurants is vegetable pakoras. It's a fritter made with garbanzo bean flour batter and vegetables like peas, cauliflower, potato and onion. I decided to make a garbanzo bean-based batter because my husband has Celiac Disease and can't have most batters since they are wheat flour-based. You can imagine what it's like when me and my husband eat out - the typical American diet is thrown out the window when you're not eating wheat products, milk, eggs, beef, chicken and fish. (My husband's not a vegan and I think he felt I had somehow betrayed him when I told him about my dietary changes - but, more on that in later posts). Generally I've found it's easier and tastier to eat at ethnic restaurants (Indian, Thai, Italian - not sure if Italian is still considered ethnic) when trying to eat vegan. Even though my husband loves Indian and Asian food he's afraid to venture out from things that haven't made him sick in the past, so he'll order the same things all the time in order to play it safe. One would think he could just ask the wait staff at these ethnic restaurants if there's wheat in the food, but most of the time the wait staff speaks broken English and there's no guarantee that there won't be cross-contamination from other wheat containing food in the kitchen. When I looked up pakoras recipes on the internet, most had a garbanzo bean flour base, but many had some all-purpose flour in the  recipe (yes! all-purpose flour is made from wheat - it may seem odd that I'm pointing this out, but many people don't seem to know this). At this point it may appear strange that this is a post about veganism, yet I'm focusing on Celiac Disease. Well, I do most of the cooking in the household, and I think my husband married me for my cooking, so I keep him in mind when cooking. (There was something in our wedding vows about in sickness and in health and veganism and Celiac Disease fall somewhere in there - Celiac Disease is definitely a sickness, I'm not sure about veganism).

 I had a hard time finding a pakoras recipe on the internet that made sense (bad English, wrong quantities, no instructions- I think India doesn't want to give away it's cooking trade secrets, can't blame them, I guess) or it seemed nothing like what I had at one of my favorite restaurants. Many of the places I usually search for recipes like were unhelpful. Following is what I cobbled together from the various recipes, based on what I wanted it to look and taste like from what I had had at my favorite Indian restaurant.

2-1/2  cups garbanzo bean flour (I used Bob's Red Mill brand)
1-1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon Indian chili powder (or more to taste - you can also use cayenne or
         whatever hot pepper you have on hand)
salt to taste
1 medium potato about 4" long- boiled - cubed -1/4"
1 medium onion chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 lbs cauliflower - cut into about 3/4" florets.
1 cup chopped spinach - I used frozen spinach leaves

frying oil - like canola (I used peanut oil since that's what I had on hand)

Mix first 6 ingredients in a bowl. I mixed in a blender for a few minutes to whip in some air and let sit for about 1/2 hour. I made it about the consistency of a thin pancake batter - adjust the amount of water if you need to or add more garbanzo bean flour).

Mix the remaining 4 ingredients in a bowl gently and add the batter and mix. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary (i.e add more cumin, salt or hot pepper to taste).

Put 1-1/2" of oil in a frying pan and heat until lightly smoking. Gently drop the batter into the oil by the tablespoon. The batter should just spread out a little (like thin cookie dough batter). If the mix is too thick you can add more water, too thin add more garbanzo bean flour. Fry until golden on bottom and flip over to cook on other side. Drain on paper towels. Makes about 30 pakoras (I'm not sure what the plural form of pakoras is).

Even though pakoras are an appetizer, they are quite filling and I served them as a main dish with jasmine rice and a mixed green salad. For dipping sauces I made coriander chutney and opened up a jar of store bought mango chutney. We had a Pinot Grigio with it, but the brand we had did not hold-up too well to the intense flavor. A sweeter, more food friendly Pinot Grigio would have been better, but I'm sure a Gewurztraminer  Reserve would have been best.