Pakora are a classic Indian snack food or appetizer, made by coating just about any vegetable (or sometimes fruit) with a chickpea flour batter and deep frying. They can be made from whole slices of vegetable or smaller pieces spooned together, and the batter can be thick or thin, crispy or puffy. I’ve seen pakora made with anything from spinach to raw banana, but my heart will always belong to onion pakora. I’m an onion ring kinda guy too, and onion pakora basically scratches that same itch.
The batter I use is adapted from the basic one in Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, which as far as I’m concerned is one of the all-time great cookbooks. Just to give you an idea of the level of detail, just on this one food, pakora, she’s got a multi-page introduction explaining how it is made in different parts of the country, what the different variables are in fine tuning your batter, optimum frying technique and so-on. Good stuff.
The only ingredient in this recipe that is likely to be unfamiliar to a lot of folks is chickpea flour. Ten years ago, it was kind of hard to find, you’d have had to track down an Indian grocery store (ask for besan, pronounced bay-san). However it has become a popular staple for gluten-free baking so now it is much more widely available. Personally, I think it is not especially pleasant in most gluten-free baking. It has a distinct legume flavor that I’m not looking for in a muffin. However it is perfect for making pakora and many other Indian savories and sweets, as well as socca from the south of France.
Bob’s Red Mill does a great job of making chickpea flour and dozens of other high-quality specialty grains and legumes available in small, practical packages. I love that you can find them even in surprisingly small grocery stores. Even when I’ve been on vacation in tiny little resort towns, the local grocery often has a row of Bob’s packages that allow me to pick up a bit of rye flour or quinoa if the urge strikes. Good stuff.
Pakora are always served with something for dipping, most often tamarind chutney, which you can make or buy at an Indian grocery.
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free
Serve with tamarind or mint chutney
- 1 cup chickpea flour (I used Bob’s Red’s Mill brand)
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (use less if it isn’t Diamond Crystal brand)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 white onion
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Flaky sea salt (Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt))
- Cilantro for garnish
- Put the chickpea flour, vegetable oil, lemon juice, kosher salt, cumin, turmeric and cayenne in a medium bowl. Whisk in the water, slowly so as to break up any clumps. You can also do this in a blender. Allow to rest 15 minutes. Check consistency – it should be definitely pourable but not *too* thin. Somewhere between pancake batter and crepe batter if that helps. If it is too thick, whisk in a little more water, and if it seems too thin, whisk in a little more chickpea flour.
- Set a pot of oil on for deep fat frying and bring it to 360 F. The oil should be at least 3″ deep. How wide it is is a tradeoff – wider will allow you to fry more at once, but of course will use more oil. You can filter and save the oil if you like. Line a plate with paper towel
- Slice the onion in half lengthwise and peel it. Now each half in half again, in the perpendicular direction. Take each quarter and cut it into 1/4″ slices. (In the photo they were more like 1/3″ but I think I’d prefer them slightly thinner.) Separate all of the onion pieces and toss them in the batter, thoroughly coating all surfaces.
- Spoon the battered onions in, about 2 tablespoons or a bit more at a time, keeping each “blob” well separated from the neighbors. They tend to stick to the bottom when first dropped in, so move them about a little with a heatproof spatula. Fry, turning occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes.
- Remove with a slotted spoon or spatula to the paper towels. Season with a few flakes of sea salt. Serve garnished with a few leaves of cilantro and pass tamarind, mint, or other chutney at the table.