March 18, 2013
I’m a big fan of South Asian cuisine. There was a momentous time when I was growing up in Malaysia where I ate proper Indian food for the very first time. I was captivated by the plate-less experience as a large and green banana leaf takes the place of a plate. All of a sudden, five different vegetable side dishes were generously spooned around the leaf by an Indian guy carrying a large metal container with 5 compartments. Did I tell you that these vegetables were refillable, free of charge too? Another Indian man then swoops in to deliver scoops of steamy hot rice until you say ‘when’ and then with a large ladle delivers your choice of curried gravy: fish, chicken, dhal/sambhar and then he tops it all off with some papadum. Still in awe, a small unpretentious plastic plate arrives and on it, nuggets of crispy, caramelized onion fritters. It was a side of onion bhaji and it came with a sweet and spicy tamarind dipping sauce. It wasn’t an essential component to banana leaf rice, it sure was a decadent addition. I took a bite and it was crispy, sweet and spicy on top of a strong caramelized onion flavour. It was delicious!
I don’t get to eat banana leaf rice in North America. The closest I’ve gotten was a thali meal served on a metal plate, sometimes with a small square of banana leaf, and you don’t get to refill your vegetable side dishes. But I have eaten my fair share of onion bhajis around town in Montreal. And I have to say, I wasn’t very impressed with them. Most of them were just okay, all of them were over-floured. And so were my quests to make them at home. Then I found an onion bhaji recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation. The episode explored Gujerati cuisine in the UK. The method the Gujeratis use to make their onion bhaji floored me, it was simple and it made sense. The result was a crispy, delicious onion bhaji from my childhood and I have an alternative flour you can use if you cannot find chickpea flour.
This recipe makes approximately 30 ping-pong ball sized onion bhaji.
Gujerati-style onion bhaji
- 4 large onions, sliced into strips
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon of grated ginger (if you only have dried ginger powder, use 1/4 teaspoon)
- 2 tablespoons of yogurt
- 1.5 cup of gram flour (a delicious substitute would be fine corn meal)
- 1.5 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon garaam masala
- 1 teaspoon crushed cumin
- a small handful of parsley leaves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
- fresh curry leaves (optional)
- chopped green chilies (optional)
- Enough oil for frying
Tamarind dipping sauce
- 1/4 package of tamarind pulp
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
- 1/3 cup of water
Method of tamarind dipping sauce:
- Soak tamarind pulp with hot water until soft and pulp is soft and squishy. Squeeze as much pulp out and discard the seeds/sacs.
- Mix everything together and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
Method for onion bhaji:
- Put your sliced onions in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- In another mixing bowl, mix all the other ingredient in with a spoon. You will get a sandy looking mixture and that’s fine.
- Pour the flour mixture into the bowl of onions and with your hands, really work the flour into the onions. Don’t be afraid of squishing it because you want the onions to sweat, the juices will transform this dry-looking mixture into a workable paste. Just remember that if you feel it’s too dry, leave the mixture for 10 minutes to let the onions sweat and then mix again. If it’s still too dry, you may add 1 tablespoon of water. This genius method is what gives this onion bhaji recipe it’s incredible flavour as there is no dilution, only onions and it’s natural juice.
- Once you get the onion bhaji mixture into a nice workable paste, they should hold their shape if you scoop them up with a spoon. Heat a deep pan with vegetable oil. You want to have about 1-inch of oil in your pan for frying.
- Fry up scoops of onion bhaji (you can decide on how big you want your bhaji to be) until they are golden and crisp and drain the excess oil to keep the bhaji crispy for longer periods of time.
- Eat with the tamarind dipping sauce.