My dear friend Irit and I often talk about India. For me, it’s the childhood Delhi winter breaks eating channa bhaturra (Indian chickpea curry and fluffy fried bread) for Irit it is the spiced tea with which to break the day. Irit is not Indian, yet without question I learn so much form her when it comes to India and as her stories become more vivid, her moistened eyes drift further East. It was time to take Irit down memory lane to a place that would recreate the bold aromas, aesthetic vibrancy and lively sounds. We were took the R train from Manhattan to Jackson Heights.
We started out on 74th street, it was only 10 am but one could already smell the competing scent of barfee (Indian fudge) and samosas filled with ground lamb and potatoes (Indian empanadas ) in the air. Our first stop was at Butala imports. A fun place to buy Indian treasures from religious figurines and yoga DVD’s to traditional pots and pans. The brands available at Butala are also available at many local ethnic stores or yoga studios outside of Jackson Heights, but at Butala, price comes without premium.
As we continued our navigation down 74th street, Jackson Heights was waking-up. Like the adrenalin that drives a country whose population exceeds 1.2bn people, the energy is similar here too. No stone is left unturned, no opportunity is left unexplored and no space is spared (no matter how small, impractical and questionably legal) . Here, a store can play host to a phone card vendor, barber and palm reader, a pop-up table sells imported DVDs and CD’s (even American), tiny mithai shops (Indian sweet shops) sell the largest variety of confection and gold merchant display windows are filled sell 24 carrot gold adornments. There is nothing mundane about this street or the culture it represents.
However, the experience can be overwhelming to a newcomer as it is challenging to know where to start. Taking it one brush stroke at a time, we made our second stop at Sabzi Mandi, a full on Indian supermarket. Here, one can find everyone all kinds of Indian mangoes, bitter gourd, stacks of lentil packets, a variety of rice, spices, pre-packed paneer blocks and Indian television dinners.
Needless to say that we walked out with several bags and were now in need of respite. What could be better at this very moment than a garama garam chai (A Chaiwalas expression for ‘hot hot tea’) and something to munch on. Amidst several places to choose from, Raj Bhog seemed like the best option. Raj Bhog is an Indian snack shop, with stores throughout India and franchises all over the world. Their specialty are ‘afternoon-tea snacks’, a whole genre in itself in India. Here one can find a variety of samosas, pakoras (vegetable fritters) and chaats (crispy noodles or chips, yoghurt, spicy and sweet tamarind sauce, mint chutney and spice blends).
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Today I will be sharing the recipe for pakoras. They are addictive and a great way to eat a myriad of vegetables. Traditionally people make these with cauliflower, eggplant and potatoes, but be as creative as you want and try other vegetables, such as, asparagus and bell peppers.
- 1 ½ cups besan (gram flour)
- 1 cup chopped cilantro (hara dhania)
- 2 cups of water (Use water as needed)
- 4 cups Vegetable oil
- 2 large potatoes (russet), peeled and cut in to 0.5cm rounds
- 1 medium-sized egg plant, cut into rounds
- 1 large onion
- 1 tsp. Salt
- 1 tablespoon of coarsely coriander powder
- ½ tsp. garam masala (optional)
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. carom seeds
* for added crispiness, add 3 tbsp. rice flour
1) Combine dry ingredients: besan, rice flour, coriander powder, and salt and spices
2) Add the water slowly to make a batter
3) Add cilantro. Mix well.
4) Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. Test the oil by adding a little batter to the hot oil, if it sizzles immediately, it is ready
5) Dip the vegetable slices in the batter one at a time and slowly drop in frying pan.
6) Fry the pakoras in small batches. The pakoras will take about 4 to 5 minutes to cook. Turn them every couple of minutes so they don’t burn on anyone side
7) fry until golden and crisp, remove with slotted spoon, drain on paper towels
Saira Malhotra, is of British –Indian descent and is a chef, food writer and cooking instructor based in New York City. Raised in Hounslow, U.K, or rather ‘Little India’, where the air is aromatic with roasted spices, little did Saira know these moments would follow her from being a student in France and Italy to residing in NYC with her husband and kids and parlay themselves unexpectedly in to a culinary career. She is a graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York City. Come visit her at her food blog: Passport Pantry where she shares approachable and international recipes.