Food. Memories. Comfort.

Bread pakoras were one of my favorite childhood foods. Typical street food in India, prepared and sold by vendors on the road-sides, although much better when made at home for a once-in-a-while Sunday brunch. Pakoras and tea in general are considered great comfort foods on a rainy day.

So it rained today here in Indy. It doesn’t usually rain this hard here and for only a few minutes it was like monsoons were here in Indiana. Needless to say, it made me crave pakoras. I have made them before for pitch-in parties at work or friend’s homes. Always found that they were quite appreciated by the American friends and colleagues, so I thought why not share the recipe for my friends who like to try new foods!

Just to clarify the terminology before I go on to the recipe – ‘pakora’ in general is fried batter. Dip different things in the batter before frying it and you get different varieties of pakoras. Here’s what you will need:

  • Chick pea flour – Also called Gram flour or Besan in Hindi and can be easily found in any Indian/Pakistani store: 2 cups (makes enough for a family of 3-4)
  • Salt: To taste (I used 2 teaspoons)
  • Turmeric, red chilli powder, cumin powder: to taste (I used 1 teaspoon each). If you do not have these spices, no worries. You can be creative and use black pepper powder, oregano powder or any other spices you have on hand.
  • Baking powder: 1/8th of a teaspoon
  • Water: 1 cup (approximately)
  • Oil: for deep-frying.
  • Bread: 8 slices of wheat or any not-too-soft bread
  • Veggies: alternately, for different types of pakoras, you can use onion rings, very thinly sliced potatoes, chopped spinach and even cauliflower or broccoli (see? that just turned it into a healthy dish).

To make pakoras, mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, spices and baking powder) well in a somewhat flat-bottomed bowl (if you are making bread pakoras, the flat bottom will make it easy to dip the bread slice). The chick pea flour may have lumps. Squash them with a spatula.

Slowly add water to the dry ingredients, mixing constantly with a spoon/spatula to remove any lumps. If the batter is too thin, it will not stick to the veggies/bread and will fall off when you fry it. That’s why water should be added slowly and not all at once. Keep mixing until all the lumps are gone and the batter is smooth and of the consistency of pancake batter.

In the meantime, heat the oil on medium heat in a wok-style pan (or whatever you use for deep-frying). Drop a tiny bit of batter in the oil to check if the oil is ready. If the batter immediately pops up and dances in the oil, you are ready to go! Dip the bread completely in the batter to cover all sides, and drop it really slowly in the oil (be careful not to splash oil on yourself). Let it cook till it is golden on one side, then slowly turn over and cook the other side.

For veggie pakoras, mix chopped veggies in the batter and drop a few spoonfuls in the oil giving them enough space to dance around. Cook both sides till golden. Place the hot pakoras on a paper towel so that any extra oil is absorbed (healthy!) and enjoy with ketchup!

If you like this recipe, or have any questions about it or any other indian recipes, do let me know. I like cooking and blogging and would love to blog more about food and cooking :)

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The colors of nostalgia

We celebrated our first Holi in the United States today. Although we have been here for almost four years now, it was only last year when we actually got to know some Indian people. For some reason, we could not find enough motivation or time to go looking for other desis. Plus we got our social fix from local friends and colleagues from India who used to visit from time to time. That also meant that sometimes we did not do anything to celebrate our festivals. After all, festivals are meant to be celebrated with other people. What fun would it be to celebrate all by yourself? That’s why we always ended up not doing much at all for these special days. It was in fact much easier and more fun celebrating Halloween and Christmas because everyone else around us was doing the same.

Last year was different. There was not one special day that was not celebrated with this new-found group of desi friends. It is a different kind of satisfaction, to meet people whose jokes you can always understand, who are just as crazy as you are about movies and cricket, and to see our son getting to know little bits of his culture even though he still thinks that the Diwali decoration that I got from India is actually for a Christmas tree.

You don’t really understand or realize what you have been missing until you get to experience it again. Keeping up with tradition, we had a Holi get-together at a friend’s place today. We got there, rang their door bell and waited. The door opened and suddenly people came running out to smear our faces with the powder colors called ‘gulaal’. The kids stood there watching with their mouths open, probably wondering what was it that had come over their parents. It will take them some more years to understand what is so much fun about this. Actually, I was a little taken aback too. I had expected it to be just another get-together with a little bit of rubbing gulaal on each others faces just for the sake of doing it. I had almost forgotten about the element of surprise that makes Holi so much fun.

Some of my best childhood memories are of the festival of Holi. Getting out of the house early, armed with gulaal, pichkaris (water guns) and small balloons filled with colored water. Hiding and waiting for our friends and other suspecting victims to come out so we could drench them before they could drench us. Playing with colors until the evening when our parents came to drag us back in. The fast colors that would not wash away and the tints of which would still be on many proud faces the next day at school.

Those were some of the best days of my life and sometimes it makes me sad to think that  those casual days of  no responsibility will never return, that I will never go back to that house on that street and will never meet those friends again. Life changes when you grow up. I just wish that even as adults, we could be as capable of finding happiness in the littlest things, as we did when we were kids. I wish I could be as impulsive and stupid as I was when I used to live in that house on that street, without being judged by anyone. I wish I could skip and jump instead of plain boring walking. Who knows, may be I will do that one of these days. Thanks to my desi friends for reminding me of the child that still lives inside me, I’m pretty sure I will do that one of these days.

The ABCD in our home

The other day, Chetan and Vivaan were watching a Hindi movie. There was a fight scene, immediately followed by a song-and-dance sequence (it was a Hindi movie remember?). I was cooking and listening to their conversation at the same time. It is fun listening when it’s someone else answering his questions and not me. Here’s how the conversation went:

Vivi: Why are they dancing now?

Chetan: Because it’s bollywood.

Vivi: (referring to the actor in the song): Why is he not wearing a shirt?

Chetan: Because he is Salman Khan (a very popular actor notorious for his missing shirts).

Clearly, this boy has never lived in India. If he did, he would never ask silly questions like these. We come into this world knowing Amitabh Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit and the whole choreographed-dances-with-100-dancers-in-the-middle-of-a-fight-scene thing. In fact, we thrive on all of these. What does he know about it, he would-eat-cake-with-a-fork, please and thank-you saying ABCD who thinks blowing the car’s horn is not nice.

I should probably explain what ABCD means in case you have not heard it before. ABCD is an acronym for ‘American Born Confused Desi’. ‘Desi’ is a Hindi word that means ‘local’ or ‘from one’s own country’ and is used to address Indians and South Asians living abroad. Desis who moved to the US early in their lives or were born and brought up here are called ABCDs by the non-ABCDs.  Some people (the ABCDs) may find this term to be offensive, but that doesn’t stop others (the non-ABCDs) from using it.

Living with my son, who has been in the US since he was six months old, gives me plenty of insight into a budding ABCD’s psyche. As much as I want him to be a ‘normal’ child who has no confusion about his identity, I know that is not how it is going to be. I mean the kid thinks it is not normal for Salman Khan to dance without his shirt on. How can he not be an ABCD?

I will continue to share more about his progress. In the meantime, here is a song from Salman Khan’s latest movie that got the ‘nice song but weird video’ award. Enjoy!