A restaurant and street vendor favourite, bhaji, bhajia, pakoras or pakodas all refer to much the same thing. They are thinly sliced vegetables, coated in a batter made of chickpea flour and fried. They are in some ways like the Japanese tempura.
This is our recipe for onion bhaji, or vengaya bhaji.
The important aspect of this home-cooked recipe is that there is much more onion than batter. The batter is just to hold the vegetables together. A curry house or a take-away will do these as doughy fritters, which is not how they should be eaten. These are meant to be pieces of vegetable, in this case onion, held together by a spiced batter.
You must get the oil temperature right. Too hot and they may burn, but certainly will leave the inside uncooked after the outside has browned. Too cool and the bhaji will absorb too much oil whilst cooking.
Spices? Go to town. I have yet to eat a mildly spiced bhaji or pakora I liked. Yet, you can overdo the level of spice, so be sure not to overdo the chilli level.
These need no accompaniment, other than an icy-cold Kingfisher beer. They don’t keep and are best eaten straight from the pan. Don’t expect any leftovers – the more you make, the more will be eaten.
They make an ideal afternoon snack, accompaniment to drinks, or as a starter to a meal. This recipe makes around eight generous bhaji, or four servings. If serving these as finger-food, make them much smaller, but reduce the cooking time appropriately.
- 250 g chickpea flour (besan)
- 1½ tbsp mustard oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp carom seeds (ajwain)
- ½ tsp asafoetida powder
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 3 green chillies very finely chopped
- ½ cup coriander leaves finely chopped
- 1 cup water
- 1 brown onion halved and finely sliced
- 1 red onion halved and finely sliced
- 1 white onion halved and finely sliced
- vegetable oil for frying
Sift the chickpea flour into a bowl.
Heat the oil and pour over the besan. It will bubble and needs to be stirred continuously until it cools.
Add the salt, carom seeds, asafotida, garlic, chillies and coriander and mix well.
Add the water, a little at a time until you have a thick pouring batter. Cover with film and set aside for 2½ hours.
Once the batter has rested, it will have risen a little and is ready for cooking. Add the onions and mix well, ensuring the onion is well coated in the batter.
Heat the frying oil in a large heavy pan until quite hot. Test the oil by dropping a small piece of batter into it. If it sizzles and rises to the top without immediately colouring it is the right temperature.
Using your hands, take a handful of onion mixture and squeeze it into a small flat pattie, no bigger than your palm.
Drop the bhaji into the oil and repeat the process, making sure you do not overcrowd the pan or allow it to cool.
The bhaji are done when the batter is crispy golden brown on the outside and cooked through. The onions should still have some crunch.
Turn bhaji onto absorbent paper to drain the oil, then serve immediately.