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Got a Crisper Drawer Full of Veggies? Make Pakoras.

Use produce that you have on hand to make these richly spiced fritters from the Indian subcontinent—and don’t forget a vibrant chutney (or two) for dunking.

If you have a few vegetables in the fridge, a sack of besan (flour milled from skinned and split brown chickpeas) in the pantry, and a well‑stocked spice cabinet, you’ve got everything you need to fry up a batch of pakoras, the crispy, savory, two-bite fritters that are treasured throughout the Indian subcontinent.

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Most vegetables fit neatly into the pakora template, offering loads of use-it-up flexibility: Chop or shred a mix of whatever vegetables you have on hand; season them liberally with fragrant spices and minced fresh chiles; add a little besan; and drizzle in water to create a scoopable batter. Deep-fry spoonfuls until the fritters develop a jumble of brown, spiky tendrils, and then serve them piping hot with assorted chutneys and milky cups of masala chai. 

It’s a cozy, comforting snack that many, including Indian-born British chef Asma Khan, have a deep fondness for. The cookbook author and owner of London’s Darjeeling Express told me that she’s been hooked on pakoras since she was a child: “In my haste to ensure that I got my fair share . . . I would make the mistake of eating them while they were still excruciatingly hot,” she recalled before admitting that even as an adult, it’s still hard to wait: “Somehow the temptation is too much.”

I understand. When New Delhi native Gulshan Singh, cooking instructor and author of Masala Magic: Unlocking the Secret to Indian Home Cooking (2014), taught me how to make the golden nuggets more than a decade ago, I too found them irresistible.

Eager to assemble my own recipe, I started with a common trio of vegetables that Singh uses: sliced red onion for sweetness; chopped spinach for a pop of color; and a shredded russet potato to bulk up the fritters. But that’s just one of many possible combinations—lean into the versatility of pakoras and substitute whatever is in your garden or fridge (see “Vegetable Pakoras, Your Way”).

Next, I assembled a selection of whole and ground spices that would enhance a variety of produce: earthy cumin; citrusy coriander; turmeric for an ocher tint; mildly spicy Kashmiri chile powder; fruity, maple syrup–esque fenugreek; and ajwain, which is frequently added to fried foods to support digestion. Finally, a minced serrano chile added bright, zingy heat.

Bean-Based Batter

Three-quarters of a cup of besan hydrated with 1/4 cup of water produced a batter that was thick enough to suspend 4 cups of vegetables in a loose tangle. Singh taught me that many cooks also add baking powder, and I followed suit, finding that it gave the fritters a lightness that unleavened versions lacked. 

“In my haste to ensure that I got my fair share . . . I would make the mistake of eating them while they were still excruciatingly hot.”
Chef, author, and restaurateur Asma Khan

As I lowered heaping tablespoonfuls of the vegetable-packed batter into a pot of gently bubbling oil, I reflected on Khan’s account of a perfectly fried pakora: “crunchy-textured on the outside and soft and cooked all the way through in the middle.” Closely monitoring the oil temperature—370 to 380 degrees—produced deeply browned fritters that weren’t greasy, and frying just five at a time ensured that each one cooked thoroughly and evenly with crisp, scraggly threads around the edges. 

Besan versus Chickpea Flour

The golden, powdery staple called besan is made by milling skinned and split brown chickpeas (aka gram chickpeas, desi chickpeas, or chana dal) into a fine flour. In addition to pakoras, the mildly nutty, nutritious ingredient appears in missi roti (savory flatbreads), laddoos (dessert balls made with sugar and ghee), and numerous other sweet and savory dishes. Chickpea flour is not an identical swap for besan; it’s milled from white chickpeas into a slightly coarser grind and requires extra water to hydrate.

The Big Dip

For the requisite chutney, cilantro-mint is common, as is a syrupy tamarind type. Tomato ketchup works, too: “[It was] my fallback option when I was young and I found chutney too spicy,” remembered Khan. 

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I’m fond of a carrot-tamarind style inspired by a recipe from chef and author Hari Ghotra. To make it, I buzz raw carrot and red onion in a food processor along with sweet-tart tamarind juice concentrate, lemon juice, water, sugar, and salt. Cumin and coriander echo the earthy, citrusy notes of the pakoras. 

You’ll find that the lively mixture is an ideal complement for the crispy, spiced fritters. And a generous dunk may just prevent you from burning your mouth.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.