Aloo and Onion Bhajjis

I woke up with a start today, completely disoriented, something that hasn’t happened in a long time. Today was like coming out of a mental fog. There was no clarity of day or time. Was I late for work? Had I missed a test? (Yes, it must be only me who deliberately picks eight o’clock for all her exams when she could pick absolutely any time. This way it gets over and done with faster, you see.) But then, just as suddenly, the eerie-ness of it all faded. It was my Friday off. My next test is at the end of a month. There was a moment of quiet calm. And then it was effectively shattered by a sharp and precise thwack-thwack-thwack of a hammer. Construction workers don’t have Fridays off.

The renovation of my apartment building continues merrily on. It inevitably figures in my conversation because these days it is over on my side of the building. And at times, it is cacophonic. There is a strange desperation that claims your life when your home is no longer your refuge, when the simple act of reading a book or listening to music could be summarily interrupted at any time by loud noises and vibrations that has utensils bouncing off the dish rack. The situation also has the odd air about it of bringing my work home with me. The noise doesn’t consciously bother me unless it’s very close, but every time there is a new, different noise, part of my brain automatically engages in trying to figure out what machine it is, what phase of work is going on. Probably normal given my profession, but certainly not something I want to do on an off-day. Fortunately this is San Francisco. There is no dearth of places to be. So we packed some snacks and decided we’d be somewhere else.

There is an amazing array of food that could pass as snacks in Indian cuisine. Some of them just as easily become a side dish in a meal. Bhajjis (or bhajiyas or pakoras) are one such snack. They are the Indian version of fritters. They just use a different flour for batter and are principally made of vegetables. The flour here is chickpea flour, way tastier than most flours are. There is a basic and very simple ‘no yoghurt or buttermilk’ batter with a one time dipping given to the veggies. The veggies can be practically anything large enough to hold, dip and fry.

Potato & Onion Bhajjis

Yellow or red potatoes – 2, medium, sliced into 1/4 inch discs
Onions – 2, sliced and slivered
Chickpea flour – 2 cups
Red chilli powder – 1 heaped tsp
Asafoetida – 1/4 tsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Turmeric powder – a pinch
Water – to make the batter
Canola oil – for frying

– Heat about an inch of oil in a deep vessel or fryer.
– In another vessel, mix the chickpea flour, chilli powder, asafoetida, turmeric and salt
– To this dry mix, add water little by little until it forms a very thick batter, almost a paste or add more water to make a thinner batter depending on veggies used. (See Cook’s notes)
– To gauge the temperature of the oil, drop a tiny bit of the batter in. If it sizzles and rises to the surface immediately, the oil is at the right frying temperature.
– Spoon a few drops of the hot oil into the batter and quickly stir into it.
– Toss the veggies in batches to coat completely in the batter and drop gently into the oil.
– Fry until they turn a deep golden brown (about 7-10 minutes).

Serve with chutney or ketchup if serving as a snack or as a side dish if serving with a regular meal.

Cook’s notes:
There is a slight difference in the quantity of water involved for a relatively smooth-textured veggie like the onion and the rougher-textured potato. That’s why when you are using a mixture of vegetables, separate them by texture. The smoother ones will need to be cooked first. This is because they need a very stiff paste-like batter. For the onions here, several long slivers were bunched and tossed together into the batter. They are the more gnarly looking ones in the photos. Once they were cooked, the batter was thinned out a bit for the potatoes. The onions being smooth grab on to just enough thick batter. If the potatoes were tossed into the same thick one, they’d grab on to too much. And there is such a thing as too much chickpea batter. Less is definitely more here.

This is probably one of the rare times I’m specifying an amount of salt. That’s because this is the absolute minimum this batter will need. The batter should taste slightly extra salty than you would like your fritters to taste. The vegetables and the frying process will even out the salty taste. Practically any veggies can be used. Smoother textures like pepper and eggplant work with the thicker batter. Rougher ones like cauliflower used the thinner batter. Even leaves like spinach be individually fried. Of course, the fry time is much quicker. Isn’t it amazing how food around the world has counterparts? Change the flour & batter and this would be tempura in Japan and fritters in the West.

We had a lovely day at the beach with our fritters. And a wonderful, peaceful evening at home. Here’s to a weekend where I can sleep in and wake up to dulcet tones of tow trucks and fire engines instead of jarring hammers!

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