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Besan & Pakoras: If at first you don't succeed..

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On Friday night my friend and I tried to duplicate the Indian meal we'd learned to prepare in our Indian Cooking class.  I won't bore you with too many details but want to share one revelation and make one plea for help.

1]  we tried making pakoras from thinly sliced vegs [potatoes, eggplant, squash].  i thought the pakora batter looked wrong but wasn't sure why or how, being a total novice to Indian cooking.  we coated the slices and dropped them in the heated oil [@ 4 inches] and all the batter came off.   :sad:   so then jennifer got the idea to make fritters--she added about a cupful or chickpea flour to the batter, we diced the vegs and mied them together in the batter, then i dropped them by the tablespoonful into the oil, reduced to about an inch in the bottom of a wok--they cooked nicely, crispy, just a little greasy but otherwise flavorful.  i asked jennifer if this was another traditional way of making pakoras and she said she'd never heard of them done this way, and that maybe she had made it up.  did she?  does anyone know?  this method works splendidly, in any case.

2] i think but dare not voice my suspicion to my friend, who seems  commited to her belief that Nirav gram flour is the correct flour, that we used the wrong flour.  help me, someone.  the recipe, and our teacher, told us to use "besan [Nirav brand,chickpea flour, gram flour]"--the instructions ahveme confused.  okay, so at the indian grocery we get a bad marked Nirav besan gram flour.  it looks courser and darker than the chickpea flour she added later to the batter--and no where on the bag does it say chickpea flour, just gram flour.

what IS besan?  is there more than one type?  do pakoras require a blend of gram and chickpea or are these the same thing?  i have no idea and would appreciate any advice. :smile:

[the rest of the meal, stuffed parathas, kadhi, kichadi, green chutney--all good tho salty [we followed the recipes to a T, something I normally don't do].  the besan burphi turned out the best, tho it was a little stiff]

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Hi Stellabella,

I'm not an expert but this is what I had learned when I dabbled in an Indian cooking class. Chickpea flour is also known as besan flour. Gram flour is flour ground from the gram legume and is similar to and interchangeable with besan flour. However, I've never used gram flour.

I learnt two methods for making pakoras. The first one uses chickpea flour and spices to make a batter to coat the sliced vegetables. The goal is to try to get a slightly fluid consistency as a thick batter would produce a 'bready" pakora.

The second method only uses potatoes, onions, and spinach that is combined with a sticky mixture of gram or besan flour and spices. The potatoes are grated, the onions are sliced into thin semi-circles and halved again, and the spinach is chopped into strips the same size as the onion. The flour and the spices are sifted over the vegetables and a tbsp or two of water is added to make a stiff and moist mixture - but NOT a batter. Using your hands, form loosely shaped patties from the mixture and then deep fry.

I prefer the second method as they are lighter and more delicate.

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my eternal gratitude, degustation :smile:

i was sure there was a difference between gram and chickpea, but my friend thought not.

i am going to copy down your recommended methods for my next attempt at pakoras

our recipe says the batter should be like thick pancake batter.  the teacher 's pakoras were indeed "bready"--i actually thought the veg got lost in it, so much preferred our fallback method of combining the vegs into little pancakes.  your method sounds even better.

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If you like I can type out the recipes and e-mail them to you...unless there is an interest and I can post them.

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Post! Post! Degustation, don't make me beg!

The Indian restaurant (Nikita India on Tate Street) in Greensboro, NC, where I ate until I moved to DC which has many more better Indian restaurants, used to serve the shredded spinach-onion type pakoras. These were somewhere between the fried cakes Degustation describes and the fritters Stellabella describes. They were coarsely shaped into little balls and the best parts were the bits of spinach or onion that would break away from the sphere and get real crispy. I don't think these were the most authentic pakoras in the world but they were tasty indeed.

I don't have any actual information to share, but reading this thread really made me want a plate of those things. With tamarind sauce and onion chutney.

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To save Malawry from begging..... :wink:



1 cup sifted chickpea (besan) flour

1/4 tsp salt, to taste

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 ground pepper

1/8 cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp baking soda

3-4 Tbsp fresh coriander - chopped (optional)

1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds (optional)

Sift together all the dry ingredients. While stirring continuously, slowly add approx. 3/4 cup water until you have a batter that is thick but still retains a slightly fluid consistency. A thick batter will produce a "bready" pakora casing rather than a light crispy casing.

Prepare the vegetables for dipping. Recommended veggies are:

potatoes and/or sweet potatoes cut in 1/8" slices

caulifower flowerettes

wedges of spanish onion

1/4" eggplant slices

green pepper wedges

carrots cut extremely thinly

(Mushrooms and zucchini tend to be too watery)

Heat enough oil in a wok to allow the pakoras to deep fry, approx. 2-3 inches. The oil should be heated over a medium heat. Juggle your heat setting so that the pakoras sizzle in the oil, browning evenly and taking between 4-7 minutes to cook thoroughly. Some vegetables will obviously cook through much faster than others.

Dip a piece of vegetable in the batter and allow most of the excess batter to drip off. Drop into the hot oil. Check the pakoras frequently, turning with a slotted spoon. When they are evenly browned, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately. Do not attempt to keep them warm in the oven as they will simply turn limp and unappealing.

Note: Wipe up chickpea batter immediately as it dries like cement.

Recipe courtesy of Lynne Claire

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Mixed Vegetable Pakoras

Prepare vegetables and toss in a bowl large enough to hold all ingredients comfortably.

2 medium/large potatoes using the large tooth grater

1 large onion, halved, laid flat and sliced into thin semi circles and halved again

1/2 package (5 oz.) fresh spinach, washed, chopped into strips same size as the onion

In a separate bowl, sift the following dry ingredients:

1 cup gram or besan flour

1/2 tsp salt

black pepper to taste

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground coriander (or combination of ground and whole coriander seeds)

1 tsp garam masala (make your own - see below)

Sprinkle sifted dry ingredients over mixed vegetables (make sure veggies are extremely dry), adding a small amount of water, 1 to 2 Tbsp at a time until a stiff but moist mixture that holds together results. You are aiming for a sticky mixture, NOT a batter.

In a wok, heat 1 to 1-1/2" vegetable oil. When oil is hot and just smoking begin cooking the pakoras. Adjust the heat so that the pakoras are sizzling gently, usually a medium-high setting. If the heat is too high the action of the oil will cause them to disentegrate; if it is too low they will absorb the oil.

With your fingers scoop up an egg-sized amount of the mixture, shaping it so that it holds together loosely in a rough patty of uniform thickness. This will keep the pakora from disintegrating in the oil and ensure even thorough cooking.

Ease the pakora into oil and cook until browned on the first side. This will take approx. 2 minutes. Turn and cook on second side with a minimum of handling. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain against the side of the wok. Lift out of wok and drain on paper towels.

Garam Masala

Commercially packaged pre-ground garam masalas are available but not recommended because they tend to be dominated by the less expensive spices. Also, they will almost certainly be stale because the spices have been pre-ground and sitting on a shelf for who knows how long.

There are many variations of garam masala mixtures as individual and regional preferences dictate the ingredients and proportions.

2 Tbsp cardamom seeds

2" cinnamon stick

1 tsp whole black cumin seeds

1 tsp whole cloves

1 tsp black peppercorns

1/3 nutmeg

Grind in a spice grinder (I use a coffee bean grinder) until spices are powdery. Store in an air tight jar, away from direct sunlight and intense heat.

Add 2 tsp anardana seeds for Pakistani version of gram masala.

Recipes courtesy of Lynne Claire

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What great recipes Degustation!

And as for gram flour and chickpea flour... they are one and the same thing.

Gram flour = Chickpea flour = Besan

Certainly sometimes different brands can mill their flours somewhat differently.

In fact just last week I was speaking with Rose Levy Beranbaum who told me how flours can change in their state with time. ANd one has to freeze them to keep them at their optimum. So, maybe the besan or gram flour or chickpea flour that one buys, can be not as effective if it is old and been sitting out for too long. I know t he besan we get in India is very different from what ones sees here.

Several Indian chefs complain about the besan in the US being too refined. They end up smuggling it from India.

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