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My exact favourite

I was granted the gift of a decent ability to remember things. My capacity for recall has served me well enough; through years of English Lit exams, countless passwords and PINs, phone numbers and postal codes, and all the other scraps of information deemed vital these days.

For the longest time, I had my brother's Social Insurance Number memorized. I was without specific reason to do so, I just did.

Mysterious how the mind works. Doubly mysterious how it sometimes chooses to abandon you completely. In my case? That memory of mine has one specific failing, and a funny one at that. Pakoras.

It's not that I've forgotten them, that would be impossible. Those vegetable fritters were one of the reasons that ours was the most popular house for after-school snacks on our street.

My grandmother and mother made them with onions or with sliced potatoes most often, sometimes with cauliflower too. Crisp and tender, touched by spice, they were like onion rings and potato chips and french fries all rolled together, made that much better by the combination.

Sitting at the table, I'd concoct an accompaniment to the pakoras as we waited for them to be cooked. The glass bottle of ketchup and a plastic bottle of chili sauce was all it took. You'd pour some ketchup into a little bowl, then stir in a swirl of firey-hot chili sauce, being as miserly or as generous as you'd like. That's it, that's all, you were ready to go. (This sauce is not at all authentic, but the thing to a six-year-old palate.)

My preferred pakoras were onion ones. They would emerge from the oil open-weaved, with rings of onion coiling around each other. In those few spots where the batter collected, the pakora was soft and fluffy; where the batter was thin, it shattered with a delicate crunch.

Trouble is that Grandma, the maker of superlative pakoras, firmly disavows these lacy versions of my childhood memory as her intended result. For a split second I foolhardily considered a defense of my recollection, but you don't argue with Grandma.

Of course the mistake was mine.

As I examined this lapse in my reminiscence, I had two epiphanies. First, my well-documented greed is probably at the root of this. I wouldn't be surprised if my childhood self (or my adult self for that matter) saw it fit to only select the thinnest, snappiest, pakoras of the bunch; only those ideal specimens would have been squirreled onto my plate.

Second, I shouldn't expect myself to be a faithful narrator to this story. It is inherent to the nature of our most treasured childhood memories that they be viewed through the blurred lens of nostalgia. Of course it would be that in my recollection every pakora was my exact favourite.

Lucky for me, pakoras are not only in my memory. And now that I'm the one at the stove, I can indulge my fancy and make sure that every pakora out of the oil is, in fact, my exact favourite kind. Yes, I know, greedy of me. Again.

But I'll sit with spine straight and head high. To me, these are memory brought to life, or to our plates to be specific, with the bias of sentiment fully, marvelously intact.

Indian Onion Fritters
Pakoras are often made with a batter that includes a variety of spices and a leavening agent. This is my Grandmother's recipe, who believes that simplicity is best when appreciating the qualities of each ingredient. As I said, you don't want to contest her opinion; I'm smart enough to be a good little granddaughter and report it faithfully.

Since I do deviate from tradition in the way they are shaped, I've called these fritters to avoid any confusion. Ramshackle and rustic, the messier your clumps of onion, the more texture there will be in the finished fritter.

For the full pakora experience of my childhood, the ketchup chili sauce combination is a must.

1/2 cup gram (chickpea) flour
1 small red chili, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons minced cilantro
A generous 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Oil for deep frying (peanut, vegetable or canola)
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and sliced into thin rings horizontally
Salt and fresh lime wedges for serving
Ketchup and chili sauce for serving (optional, see above)

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, chili, cilantro and salt. Slowly stir in enough water until the mixture reaches the consistency of whipping (heavy) cream. Beat the batter well, so it is lightened and foamy at the edges. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove or in a deep fryer, heat oil to 350°F (175°C). When that's reached temperature, separate the onion layers into individual rings and drop them into the batter, stirring gently to coat. Using a fork, pick up a clump of onion rings and allow the excess batter to drip off.

Carefully drop the tangle of onions into the oil and fry until lightly golden on one side, around 30-40 seconds. Flip the fritter and cook until crisp on the other side. Remove from the oil and drain on a cooling rack set up over newspaper or on some folded paper towels.

Repeat, frying a few at a time, until all the onion and batter is used.

Enjoy immediately, with additional salt sprinkled over and a squeeze of lime juice. Offer a condiment of ketchup blended with chili sauce for dipping.

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite. To be safe, let's say 2.


• A small amount of crushed dried red chili can be used in place of the fresh.
• Pakoras can be made with a variety of vegetables. Melissa has some phenomenal versions to offer.

Reader Comments (38)

i have not made pakoras in years (actually decades) but damn those look tasty! do you do take-out?

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Shopped

i can't say I've ever desired anything fried this early in the day, but now I do! i will definitely have to give these a try, and will certainly include the ketchup-chile sauce :) great story!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterheather @ chiknpastry

Do you think your Grandma would approve if I brought the Kingfisher?

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternikole

Wow, I love the loose, lacy look of these! I've never fried anything myself, but I may have to give these a try.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne

I should learn never to read your homemade goodness stories an hour before lunch. The recipes (this in particular), the photos...make me swoon and salivate.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjen

mmmmmm, these do sound like the perfect after school snack, or late night snack.....or early morning snack ;) I think they'd be great with your dipping sauce too! I'll let you know when I try them out=)

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterI'm Cassie....

Such a lovely story Tara. I have never heard of pakoras, but now I cannot stop thinking of them! Looks amazing!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfresh365

Oh. My. Goodness. Tara, these sound absolutely divine. I'll never forget the delight I felt when Brian and I fried our own crunchy onions to top green bean casserole last Thanksgiving. I've been meaning to try a battered version ever since, and this recipe is just the push I needed. Thank you, as always, for sharing.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea [bella eats]

mmm I love pakoras, although my favorite are eggplant ones (so creamy inside, so crunchy outside!)and squash blossom ones (I don't even know the words to describe how yummy those are). My friend's mom adds a bit of rice flour to keep things crunchy, I like to do that too =)
But other than that, this is basically what I do. SO GOOD! Simplicity is the best =)

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDani

What a beautiful story. There's just something special about the foods that we remember fondly from childhood. I guess nostalgia makes the best spice!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Rowdy Chowgirl

Oh my...utter deliciousness. Lovely story, photos and recipe.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJan (Family BItes)

what a tasty looking tangle of onions. It is no surprise why your house was popular. Your sauce sounds so simple and just perfect too ~

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersara

These ribbons of fried yumminess appear worthy of a lifetime of devotion. Your platter is gorgeous too.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenious

Seeing these made my mouth water! I haven't had a good pakora (or even onion bhaji for that matter) in ages! The places around here aren't as good as what I'm use to.
But perhaps with this recipe I can make them in my own house. :)

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Incredible, really. Thanks for the recipe, I will be trying it soon!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnh

gorgeous picture - I can almost taste them as I read this. Haven't had any pakoras for a long time....too long!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterspice and more

You are absolved, entirely, having thus shared these with the world. Wonderful, this.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermolly

Beautiful and warm memories Tara! I love the simplicity of the recipe as well as it transfered on paper/pictures. Well done!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTartelette

A lovely post and description about family recipes. Your granmother sounds like my momma. I like the ketchup chili sauce. It already reminds me of the ketchup concoctions my momma used.

I cannot wait to try this out!

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDawn M

Michelle Shopped, good idea, maybe I'll start a side business ...

heather, thank you! I'll admit, I crave pakoras often. No matter the time of day.

nikole, my grandma is going to adore you.

Adrienne, please report back if you do! they're so simple.

jen and Cassie, thank you both!

fresh365, you can use a variety of vegetables, spinach even. think of them kind of of like Indian tempura.

Andrea, I'm beating a path to your site to see if you posted about that casserole. Such an old-school weakness of mine!

Dani, my father is fond of the eggplant, too. Now one of my faves as well.

The Rowdy Chowgirl, so true!

Thanks, Jan!

sara, ketchup and chili sauce isn't the most gourmet thing in the world, but I loved it.

Jenious, Anh, molly, and Tartlette thank you for the kindness.

Emily, spice and more, and Dawn, I do hope you try them for yourselves. If you do, I hope these simple ones meet your standards!

Andrea, I take that as a true compliment. Thank you.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertara

yeah, it is funny how the mind works ... i can still remember my grandmother's telephone number ever though its been years since she had that #! But, I can't remember any of my old phone #s!

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDina

These are beautiful, Grandma can't argue with that! These are a must to make for my Mom-in-Law who has beloved "fried onion rings" as favorite New England memory. This might be the perfect Mother's day gift, enhanced with spices and other lovelies.

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternakedbeet

I'm on diet (again) so these look devilishly good... Mabe I could cheat,just today

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCrystal

i am not much of a cook, but i really do love your blog, especially the stories!

March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

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