Its monsoon season in my part of the world so it’s raining pretty heavily most days. One of my favourite things to do during the rains is find a quiet corner and a good book. This gets even better accompanied by a cup of hot spiced tea and crisp fritters that we Indians call Pakora. Who doesn’t like some honest deep fried goodness, especially on a cold day? So today, I’m sharing my recipe for Paneer Pakora.
Pakora (also Pakoda), Pakodi, Bhajiya, Bhajji, etc are some of the names for crisp, spicy and savoury Indian fritters. They are usually made with vegetables like onion, eggplant, potato, raw bananas or ripe plantain, paneer, cauliflower, or a particular variety of green chillies. Fritters are also made with bread, spinach leaves, Indian borage, pumpkin blossoms, etc. They’re a popular Indian street food too. Pakora make perfect canapes or appetizers, a starter for an Indian meal, or a snack or light meal with accompaniments like chutneys, sauces and dips.
Paneer, if you’re new to it, is a North Indian soft fresh cheese made from cow or buffalo milk. Hot milk is curdled with an acidic ingredient like lime juice or vinegar. The curdled solids are then pressed to remove the liquid and used to cook a variety of dishes. Homemade paneer is always the best, but there always is very good local store bought paneer available too in India.
Paneer Pakora holds a very special place in our memories, and there’s a story behind it. This is from way back when our daughter was probably about 6 or 7 years old. We were living in Goa then. Panjim had all of 2 or 3 vegetarian restaurants where we used to eat out once in a while. One of these restaurants was right in the middle of the shopping area in town. When we were in town for shopping we would usually drop in for a cup of coffee and some snacks before going back home.
Our daughter was in love with anything paneer in those days. It was a phase that lasted well into her teens, and paneer is still a favourite. Every time we stopped by that restaurant for coffee, she would order Paneer Pakora. She was so in love with the fritters that we rarely passed by the restaurant without going in for them! It got to point where the head waiter developed a soft corner for her. He used to send in a large bowl of Paneer Pakoras as starters, courtesy of the kitchen, every time we went in for dinner.
These pakoras are very different from the ones we used to have at the restaurant. Those were dipped in a white all-purpose flour batter that was very mildly spiced. These are coated with a gluten free batter of chickpea flour and rice flour and reasonably spicy.
Making Pakora is no rocket science, and takes very little time. Make sure the oil is hot enough but not too hot. A trick is to drop in a couple of drops of the batter in the hot oil. If it bubbles and rises up without turning brown too quickly, the oil is at the right temperature. When the oil isn’t hot enough, you’ll end up with greasy pakora. If the oil is too hot, the pakora will brown too quickly without cooking through.
The batter should be of slightly thick coating consistency. It should be thick enough to coat the vegetable or paneer yet not so thick that it doesn’t crisp up on frying.
There are few tricks or hacks to ensuring pakora are crisp. Make sure the paneer (or vegetables you’re using) has no moisture on them. Pat them dry before dipping into the batter. Double frying also helps. First fry them on medium heat till they’re almost done. Take them out and then fry again on high heat till they’re golden and crisp.
Try using chilled water to make the batter. The cold batter helps crisp up pakora and ensures they don’t absorb much oil. Once the pakora are fried, you can keep them warm and crisp until serving time in the oven at 80C (175F).
- 200 gm paneer
- 1 cup chickpea flour besan
- 1/3 cup fine rice flour
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp thymol seeds ajwain
- 1 1/2 tsp kasuri methi dried fenugreek leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup water
- Oil for deep frying
- Pat the block of paneer dry and cut into about 1 1/2-inch cubes or rectangles about the same size. Set aside.
- Make the batter for the pakoras. In a largish bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients, except the water and the oil. Mix in enough of the water to make a smooth and reasonably thick batter of coating consistency.
- Heat the oil for deep frying in a wok or pot. When it is hot enough, turn down the heat to medium. Dip the paneer pieces, one at time, in the batter so it is well coated. Carefully drop them into the hot oil. Fry them till golden brown and crisp. This should take about 3 to 4 minutes or so.
- Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve warm with ketchup, mint chutney or tangy and sweet tamarind chutney.