I enjoy living with wellness in mind and trying to make-virtuous some of the more indulgent foods from time to time. But I would never say that giving classic dishes the old nutritional makeover is indicative of my overall approach/style with food. I eat for pleasure first and know my limits when it comes to wholesome versions of old favourites. For this reason, “oven-fried” isn’t even a real thing to me. What’s fried is fried and you can take it or leave it. Me? I’ll take it about 95% of the time.
When I first flipped through Tara O’Brady‘s magnificent new cookbook, my eyes darted to this recipe for vegetable pakoras real quick. There’s a beautiful photo of a paper-lined pie tin that’s teetering with a crispy, puffy, and shattering mix of vegetables. There are little vessels of dipping sauces and everything looks so vibrant against the cool grey background. I was already imagining them all dolled up with tender spring vegetables and a cold drink on my porch.
That’s the thing about this book. The recipes themselves and the thoughtful descriptions call you to action in a very positive way. Tara’s suggestions are quick to entice without a shred of coercion. Everything is stirring and nothing feels forced or terribly particular, which I like. There is precision and a certain cook’s literacy, but nothing is absolute. You can’t help but start visualizing, planning, and working these trusted combinations into your everyday, and on your own terms.
Her simple, but no doubt glorious, pot of braised late summer vegetables made me think of my tomato plants last September. All dried up and slowly fading while I bundled myself up in wool and picked giant bowlfuls of almost too-ripe fruit. In her chia pudding recipe, she suggests bashing up frozen raspberries so that the little jewel-like fragments burst on the palate like pomegranate seeds when tumbled on top. You can bet your life that I tried that the next morning with my overnight chia seed oats, carefully waiting for that tart popping sensation and then widening my eyes when it was distinctly felt.
I say this a lot, but a good cookbook will always drive you to work on the short and long game of sustenance. It drums up a visceral response and allows you to fit the pieces together as you wish without compromise. Tara’s collection is one of well-visited recipes that are precisely executed, but also perfectly relaxed at the same time. And I’m not just saying this because Tara is local to me and I’ve got a serious case of hometown pride. (except I totally do)
In the recipe notes, Tara talks about how these crispy vegetable pakora treats drew anticipation from onlookers and essentially made her family home cool-kid-central when she was young. I can totally understand why. The batter is puffy, soft, crispy, and salty around those tender vegetables. When I first saw the photo, I assumed that eggs or white flour were involved, but it’s all in the whisking of a dead simple chickpea flour batter (seriously, is there anything chickpea flour can’t do? My favourite brand is this one). I made her bright and sharp green chutney to go with these and once I started nibbling, I could not stop my little fingers from reaching in for another piece. So delicious and even better with an ice cold libation. Cheers, Tara!
Tara’s crispy vegetable pakoras w/ fresh green chutney recipe
from Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day
print recipe here!
notes: Before anyone asks, I haven’t tried baking these and I can’t say that I’m really open to it either. These are a “treat yo self” sorta thing :) Also, I’ve identified the vegetables that I used, but Tara also suggests par-boiled slices of beet, ripped pieces of kale, cauliflower florets, and Asian eggplant.
crispy vegetable pakora ingredients:
About 2 1/2 pounds mixed vegetables, cleaned + trimmed (I used 1/4 inch slices of sweet potatoes from 1 medium sized tuber, a bunch-worth of asparagus spears + rings of red onion from 1 onion)
1 cup chickpea flour
1-2 small fresh chiles, seeded + minced
1 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
oil for frying (I used sunflower)
fresh green chutney ingredients:
1 granny smith apple, cored + chopped
2 tsp water (+ extra if necessary)
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 green chiles, seeded + chopped
1/4 tsp natural cane sugar (I used maple sugar)
Prepare your vegetables: snap off the woody bottom end of asparagus spears. Cut the sweet potato down the middle lengthwise, leaving the peel on. From here, cut 1/4 inch slices from the halves. Cut the red onion into 1/2 inch rings and separate the layers into individual rings. Set all vegetables aside while you make the batter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, minced chiles, cilantro, and salt. Slowly whisk in enough water until the batter resembles the viscosity of heavy cream (or coconut milk for all the plant-lovers teehee). Beat the batter well, until the texture is lightened and there are foamy bubbles around the edge.
Line a large baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Flip a cooling rack upside down (so the feet are in the air) and place it on top of the paper towels. In a heavy pot, pour in enough oil to rise up the sides about 5 inches. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F. You can test the oil by dropping some teeny batter coated scraps in there. If they bubble up and float, all’s good.
Take a solid handful of the onion rings and stir them about in the chickpea batter to coat. Pick up a clump of the rings with a fork and shake off the excess batter back into the bowl. Carefully lower the battered clump of onions into the oil. Fry until lightly golden on one side, about 30-40 seconds. Flip the onions over and cook until golden and crisp on the other side, about 30 seconds. Remove pakoras from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on the prepared cooling rack. Season vegetables with salt.
Repeat this process with the remaining vegetables, coating them in the batter individually and ensuring that you don’t overcrowd the pan. The sweet potatoes took a little bit of extra time for me. Keep battering, frying, flipping, and salting until all of the vegetables are used up.
For the fresh green chutney: combine all ingredients in an upright blender and blend on high until you have a smooth, but lightly textured sauce. You may have to add a bit of extra water and do some scraping down of the blender pitcher to get to that point.
Serve pakoras hot with the fresh green chutney and some tomato ketchup doctored up with a little hot sauce. Lime wedges on the side are a good idea too.