Ramazan, rain, summer vacation and pakoray, these are a few of my favourite things.
Yes, pakoray and Ramazan go hand in hand, as does rain and pakoray, and since this year Ramzan coincides with the monsoon season, how can I not break into a song.
I don’t know if it's the season that makes me happy, or my childhood memories that come with the joys of eating pakoray come iftar time. Ammi always had a pakora platter ready at maghrib in Ramazan, and since us fussy siblings did not appreciate the vegetable pakora platter, until much later in life, Ammi made sliced boiled egg pakoray for us.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes fritters and/or pakoras in the following way:
The Indian pakora is a savoury deep-fried cake containing bits of cauliflower, eggplant, or other vegetables. Fritto misto is an Italian dish of bits of meat, seafood and vegetables dipped in batter and fried in olive oil.
A specialty dish of various cuisines is the flower fritter, using daylilies, roses, violets, acacia, elder blow, and squash blossoms. Fritters [are best described as] any of these three types of fried foods.
Plain fritters are deep-fried cakes of chou paste or a yeast dough. In second type bits of meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit are coated with a batter and deep fried.
Lastly, small cakes of chopped food in batter, such as corn fritters in the southern United States, are also called fritters.
Hence we can safely assume that the pakora is desi fritters, but why is it that the pakora is made with chickpea flour, and what is the significance of chickpea flour to the subcontinent?
Mansfeld's World Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops 2008 clarifies that;
‘There are two main kinds of commercial chickpeas. The Desi kind has a small darker seeds and a rough coat and is cultivated mostly in the Indian subcontinent, Ethiopia, Mexico and Iran. The chickpea is also used to make flour, and as a batter to coat various vegetables [such as the pakora from the subcontinent].
‘Mature chickpeas can be cooked and eaten cold in salads, cooked in stews, and eaten in soups. They also can be ground into a flour called gram flour (also known as besan, and used primarily in sub-continental cuisine), ground and shaped in balls and fried as falafel or pakora, and eaten as a snack.
‘Chick peas and bengal grams are used to make curries and are one of the most popular vegetarian foods in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the UK.’
If you grew up in Pakistan or North India you obviously know what a pakora is, it is the quintessential desi snack found in every street corner, summer or winter. The pakora is a popular street food but in a desi household, the pakora is very much a homemade food as well.
In many Punjabi homes, pakoray and mosoons go hand in hand, as do Lucknow, pakoray and teatime.
History tells us that spring was the time when the locals enjoyed eating fried pakoray, kachorian, purian, all kinds of pakwans (batter fried or fried foods), and thus they decided to batter vegetables in the spring and monsoon season to celebrate the season.
It became a street food, affordable, quick and scrumptious and in doing so also became a sumptuous snack to be enjoyed at iftar time.
When breaking fast people in the subcontinent have trained their taste buds to savour fried and battered delicacies, hence the pakora is a must iftar treat, almost as much as the khajoor (date).
Come Ramazan or not, my household remains in a constant state of pakora frenzy. Here it is from my kitchen to yours.
2 cups gram flour 2 green chillies, chopped 2 medium sized potatoes, sliced 2 to 3 boiled eggs, sliced 1 small eggplant, sliced Spinach leaves 6 tbsp. chopped cilantro Salt to taste Red chillie powder to taste 1 tsp. ajwain, 1 tsp. coriander seeds, 1 tsp. cumin seeds (pan roasted and roughly ground) 1 tsp. baking powder (level)
Note: Use any vegetable of preference to make pakoras.
Mix ingredients, eyeballing amount of water and deep fry until crisp and crunchy.
Enjoy with chaat masala, yogurt, chutney or ketchup.
—Photos by author.
Explore more food stories here.