FINALLY! I am sorry it has taken so long but re-entry has been tough – jet lag, starting work, etc etc. Brinjal pakora all started with the beautiful veggies at Shyampur Market. I couldn’t resist the lovely looking eggplant but the food at the ashram is so delicious that I didn’t really want to cook anything. Enter Seema didi, who said that brinjal (Hindi for eggplant) pakora was the only thing to do with it. Pakora is essentially like tempura – vegetables, cheese, maybe a bit of meat (although never at the ashram), battered in flour and deep-fried into golden deliciousness. The cooking part is fun, engaging the kids and navigating two languages (Hindi and English) to figure out what the ingredients are and the subtleties of the execution process, but the best part is the eating. Sitting around on the flour with Gauri mommie, Seema didi, Ansu, Simi, Amita, and Preeti, being fed by each other as a sign of love, respect, and devotion, getting teased that if I make this for Jason he will want to marry me right away. In India there is no such thing as too little food. Everyone who comes to the mat gets welcomed onto it, handed a small plate or katori (bowl) and the portions are shared and multiplied so that everyone gets enough. Its family-style eating at its best. Enjoy!The Seema Didi’s Eggplant “Brinjal” Pakora
**You are most likely going to have to make trip to an Indian foods market. Sometimes you can find besan or chickpea flour in Italian specialty/health food stores, but I have never seen amchoor powder (tangy green mango powder) anywhere but Indian markets in the US. Worse comes to worse, you can omit the amchoor powder and add a little bit of lemon juice to the batter. Also, India cooks don’t really measure, so the measurements here are approximate. Serves roughly 20 people as appetizer. Time: Approx 45 minutes active time
Ingredients: 1 kg (2 lbs) eggplant, preferably a smaller variety 2 tsp red chile powder 2 tsp haldi (turmeric powder) 2 tsp coriander powder 2 tsp salt 1 tsp garam masala (see recipe for homemade below) 1 tsp amchoor powder 2 cups besan flour 5-10 small green chiles, such as serranos 6-8 cups mild tasting oil, such as vegetable or canola oils
Wash and dry eggplant, cut in half vertically, and cut strips about 1/4 inch thick length-wise. Repeat with all eggplant. Cut chiles into quarters, splitting vertically and then chopping in half. Remove the seeds for a less spicy batter. In a deep wok, heavy-bottomed pot or cast-ironed skillet, add oil until it reaches about 3 inches up the side of the vessel, place on the stove, heat on medium high to high heat.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl combined the chile powder thru besan flour and stir with a fork or your hands. Slowly mix in water to the flour mixture, starting with about 3/4 cup and adding slowly until you get a batter that is similar to a pancake batter and there are no lumps of flour remaining. Drop in about half of the chiles and the eggplant mixing gently with your hands to completely coat both ingredients. At this point check to see that the oil is hot enough to start cooking – you can test this by carefully adding just a drop of batter to the oil. If it starts to sputter and sizzle, you’re in business.
Add a single layer of eggplant and chile pieces to the pot carefully, turning over with a slotted spatula or metal spoon after about 3 to 4 minutes and cooking both sides until they are golden brown. Be careful not to add to many pieces (more than 8 to 10 at a time is too much) because it will cool the oil too rapidly. When the pieces are deeply golden (see photo below) lift out of oil and drain pieces on a cookie sheet lined or in a large bowl, either lined with newspaper. Keep warm in a very low oven. Repeat the batter/frying process until you work your way through all off the eggplant and chile. If you have any leftover batter, you can drizzle it slowly into the remaining hot oil and fry until golden brown – you will never want potato chips again!
Serve pakora as quickly as you can after they come out of the fryer. Although I did not have it at the time of preparation, a drizzle of fresh cilantro chutney would not be a mistake here. Recipe follows, also from Jaffery.
Madhur Jaffery’s Cilantro Chutney
3 cups cilantro leaves 1/2 to 1 hot green chile, coarsely chopped 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, (1/2 lemon) 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds Freshly ground pepper Combine all ingredients in the jar of a blender. Blend, stopping to push mixture down the sides of the blender several times with a rubber spatula, until a paste forms. Transfer paste to a small glass or other nonmetallic bowl. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 2 days. Madhur Jaffery’s Homemade Garam Masala Recipe
1 tbsp cardamom seeds (if you can’t buy the seeds then buy cardamom pods and shell them yourself 1 tsp black peppercorns 1 tsp black cumin seeds (you can use regular cumin seeds if black aren’t available) 1 tsp whole cloves 1/3 of a whole nutmeg (you can break a whole nutmeg by placing it on a cloth and bashing it with a meat mallet or rolling pin) a medium stick of cinnamon, about 5-8cm/2-3 inches, broken up into 3-4 pieces
Put all the ingredients in a clean coffee grinder or other spice grinder and grind as finely as possible. Store in a tightly lidded jar, away from heat and sunlight and use as needed.