Shubho Mahalaya and a Kalakand recipe (in Microwave)

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My city, like all others, is always buzzing with activity, with people and their busy lives, but this time of the year it is at its peak. This is the festive season, season to celebrate, to rebond with friends and families, to share smiles and exchange furtive glances with your special one. It is the time when everything else is forgotten and forgiven… everything other than love and happiness. Mahalaya brings about the final countdown towards 10 days of maddening glee. Hands filled with bags of bargained and non bargained items, bellies filled with food which is a must after hours of shopping, minds filled with ticking off items from the to do lists while adding some more to it, and hearts filled with content. ‘Pujo ashchey…’

My city, the city of joy, is not always filled with joy. Most often you see it struggling with the nuances of daily lives, with the shackles of its non progressive approach to simple things and competing feebly and, may I add, complacently with the other fast growing cities. The city which was once the capital of this country, which was once and still is the abode of great men and women, the centre for literature, art and culture, now appears to be saddled by its own legacy. Do not get me wrong,  I am completely in awe with this place. I came here unwillingly, fell in love with it inspite of all my prejudices and then lived here for 10 years. So I am already a victim of its irresistible charm. I know there is something so special here that will touch your heart and make you yearn for it when you are far far away. May be that is why when I look at other cities and countries, I realise that there will never be a place like Kolkata, but on the other hand I also wish it was so much more… So much potential and yet the stagnancy here drives all us Kolkata lovers away from it. Bengal has always and will continue following the “Cholchey – Cholbey” policy irrespective of who is in power. There was a time when I would defend this city with all reasonings, and with hope. Sitting miles and miles and mountains and oceans apart I am confused at the mixed emotions this city arises in me – to just give up and move on with my life or to hold on to that blind faith that someday something good will happen out of it.

Pic Courtesy: Bedabrata Chatterjee

Pic Courtesy: Bedabrata Chatterjee

However this isn’t why I am here. Today I wanted to convey my best wishes for the coming days. “Mahalaya” which in Hindu mythology means Homecoming of the Goddess Durga and the dawn of this day marks the ceremony of ‘Chakshudanam’ – literally meaning giving eyes to the Goddess (the artists, who make the idols, paint the eyes of the Goddess on this auspicious day). And Durga puja, being the main festival of Bengal,  is now in its final stages of preparations. I can see it all infront of my eyes… the roads all lighted up, the streets scurrying with innumerable people with their last minute puja shopping before they start pandal hopping, bamboo barricades being set up for the visitors, long queues for big and small restaurants, no place to walk in almost any part of the city.

But amidst all this I can not resist writing about the irony of this day and the bizarre situation of the city with the recent events. While on one hand we are all set to wroship the epitome of feminine power and strength, there is a section of the city (if not whole) which is hurting. Hurting against injustice, struggling against the inaction against female attrocities, fighting against a failing system. While one half of the city is getting together to celebrate, the other half is hoping that their rage will bring some change, will stir the conscience of a dying world, will empower people to have the right to walk and talk freely without being questioned about the lateness of the hour or the length of the dress. As we embark upon the celebratory mood, let us not forget this other half, let us keep reminding ourselves that we have to fight against the disappearing humanity. It might be a long time before we reach that goal, but lets hope and act for a better tomorrow!

So Shubho Mahalaya and may you all have a safe and delightful time!

I have a quick recipe for you – ‘Kalakand’ in microwave. This is an Indian sweet/dessert usually made with milk. Inspite of the hustle bustle of the Puja days, this sweet will take just 18 mins of your time and 2 main ingredients. Although, if in India, you can easily buy it from the local sweet shop wouldn’t it be nice to surprise your guests with this homemade version? This recipe is taken from Showmethecurry

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Ingredients:

  • Ricotta cheese – 15 oz
  • Condensed Milk – 14 oz
  • Cardamom powder – 1/4 tsp (optional, but preferred)
  • Chopped nuts – for garnishing, I used chopped pistachios. (optional)

Method:

  • Pour the condensed milk into a microwave safe bowl, preferably a square or rectangular one. That way it becomes easy to slice the sweets.
  • Add the ricotta cheese to it and mix it well witha  spoon/ whisk.
  • Cook it in the microwave as follows:
    • 5 mins – uncovered. Then Take out and mix everything well.
    • 3 mins – uncovered. Then Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – covered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – cross covered / partially covered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
  • Once done, sprinkle the cardamom powder and mix well.
  • Level out the mixture evenly by pressing it with a spatula or a flat spoon.
  • Sprinkle the chopped nuts for garnishing and press it lightly onto the surface of the prepared sweet.
  • Cover it and allow it to cool down and set a couple of hours. You may set it in the refrigerator (if in a rush) for an hour but I avoided it as I did not want it to harden too much.
  • Once set, take a knife and cut into the desired shape – squares / rectangles / diamonds.

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Coffee Cake

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Half a year has already passed by and it seems like just yesterday that we celebrated the start of a new year. Sumner is on its full bloom now, after what has been a very long winter. It feels so good to look outside at the clear blue skies and the greenery all around. I have come to appreciate such days even more, thanks to the East-coast weather.

Last couple of weeks have been quite busy. With the weather improving tremendously, the weeks go by planning summer events, weekend trips and concerts. Reading, movies and friends occupy the rest of the hours. And now-a-days of course the soccer matches. The blog had been going down in my list of priorities. It was only as I was changing the calendar for the month of July that I remembered this post pending since May. So finally, here it is. And though I silently promise to be a bit regular on my blog, I have stopped apologizing to my readers for my disappearances once in a while with the hope that they must have gotten used to it by now.

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Today I will talk about the cake I made for my husband’s birthday. Though I love baking, I have not really tried out different cake recipes. Reason is that both of us prefer the sponge cake (recipe) that I had learnt from my mom. However this time I wanted to make something different. A while ago we had got an amazing coffee cake for a friend’s birthday from a nearby bakery. Since then I had been wanting to bake one of my own and what better day to do this than a birthday.

Interestingly, Coffee cake has no coffee in it, quite contrary to what I had assumed. It is known as a coffee cake as it is usually had with coffee.

Stephanie’s Joy of Baking had this recipe of a coffee cake which looked exactly like the one I had had. Being a big fan of her website which has wonderful baking videos and techniques, I did not want to look any further. The original recipe can be found here, the only change that I did was used plain yogurt instead of sour cream. As the recipe suggests using yogurt instead of sour cream gives a lighter textured cake.

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Ingredients:

  • All purpose flour - 1 2/3 cups or 215 gms
  • Baking Powder – 1 tsp
  • Baking Soda – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt – 1/4 tsp
  • Unsalted butter (at room temperature)- 1/2 cup or 113 gms
  • White Sugar – 1 cup
  • Eggs – 2
  • Vanilla extract – 1 tsp
  • Sour Cream / Yogurt – 3/4 cup or 180 ml

For the Crumb topping -

  • Walnuts or Pecans – 1 cup (I used a combination of walnuts and pecans, but you can use other nuts of your preference.)
  • Light brown sugar – Little less than 1/4 cup
  • Mini Chocolate chips – 1/3 cup. (I used the semi sweet ones but you can use any that you prefer.)
  • All purpose flour – 1 tbsp
  • Ground cinnamon – 1/2 tsp

Crumb Topping

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Prepare a baking pan, preferably a spring form pan so that you don’t have to flip the baked cake which might result in messing up the crumb topping. I did not have one so i used a Bundt pan and needless to mention some of the crumb topping came out while flipping it. Whatever pan you choose, grease it with butter and dust it lightly with flour or line the greased pan with a parchment paper.

Prepare the crumb topping -

  • Dry roast the nuts on stove top or bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Let them cool. Coarsely chop them.
  • In a bowl mix the chopped nuts with the other ingredients mentioned for crumb topping – sugar, chocolate chips, flour and cinnamon and keep aside.

Prepare the Cake Batter -

  • In a bowl mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, whisk together and keep aside.
  • In a  separate bowl add the softened butter and beat it well using a hand mixer / stand mixer.
  • Gradually add the sugar and beat well till light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition. Using a spatula or a spoon scrape the sides of the bowl so that everything is well incorporated.
  • Beat in the vanilla extract.
  • Next gradually add the flour in three additions alternating with the sour cream. Mix till everything is well combined and there are no lumps.

Assemble the Coffee Cake -

  • Since the batter will be thick, spoon out half of the batter into the prepared pan and smoothen the top with a spatula or the back of the spoon. If using a Bundt pan spoon out the mixture and place dollops of it all over the pan. This makes spreading the batter, in the Bundt pan, easy.
  • Sprinkle evenly approximately half of the crumb topping on top of the batter.
  • Again spoon out the remaining batter into dollops all over the crumb mixture. Lightly level it out so as not to disturb the crumb layer.
  • Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture evenly.
  • Bake for about 40 – 50 minutes or until the cake is done and a toothpick inserted in tehe middle of the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes.
  • If using spring form cake, release the sides of the pan. If using any other cake pan, do what I did – gently flip the cake onto a plate. At this stage some of the crumb topping might come out. Take another plate and flip it once again so that the side with the crumb topping on top faces up. Gather the crumb topping that had come out of the cake and sprinkle it on top of it and press gently.

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Note: For a denser texture use sour cream and for a lighter cake use yogurt. Though I used yogurt, I would want to use sour cream the next time to for the denser texture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Dum Biryani

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This post is specially for my brother who is trying his hand in cooking for the last couple of months. And every time I call up I find him cooking chicken. Earlier I would have been impressed but as they say “I ain’t dumb no longer”. (Sorry Bro, its my blog and I get to say whatever I feel like.) Basically the point I am trying to make is that chicken is probably one of the easiest and a no-fail thing to cook. All the basic ingredients with some twist here and there and it always comes out good. So I was thinking maybe he was taking the easy way out. And then he surprises me by making some authentic Bengali fish preparations that even I have never tried. And that knocked me down… well at least the pics did! So I told him to try something from my blog … what kind of a food blogger would I be if my own brother does not refer to it once in a while. On his request of Chicken Dum Biryani recipe here comes today’s post.

I already have a post on chicken biryani (Pakki) (see here), but that was a long time back when I had first started cooking, clicking and blogging. Since then I feel I have come a long way and hence the need for a newer version of the recipe was in my mind for a long time. More so because now I know that there is no one right method of making biryani. Wikipedia shows an impressive list of the types biryani (see here), but that is a little too overwhelming for me. For now I will stick to the types I have tried.

Kachchi Biryani – Here the raw chicken, marinated with spices is cooked with parboiled rice on Dum (sealed air tight condition) over low heat. You could either do this on stove top or in the oven.

Pakki Biryani – Here the chicken and rice both are cooked to 90% and then layered and cooked on Dum (sealed air tight condition) over low heat. You could either do this on stove top or in the oven.

Irrespective of which method you decide to cook the ingredients remain the same. This recipe is the kachchi biryani style.

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Ingredients: Chicken to rice ratio is usually 2:1. Whole /freshly ground spices are preferrable, but most of the times I end up using the store bought Shan’s Biryani Masala and whole cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.

For Chicken:

  • Chicken 1 kg
  • Yogurt – 3/4 cup
  • Ginger paste – 1 tbsp
  • Garlic paste – 1 tbsp
  • Green chillies, chopped – 7-8 or to taste
  • Onions, thinly sliced – 2 large onions
  • Whole peppercorns – 4-6
  • Shah Jeera/Caraway seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Coriander powder – 1 tbsp
  • Red chilli powder – 1 tsp or to taste (adjust with the proportion of green chillies added)
  • Whole garam masala / spices
    • Green cardamom – 3-4
    • Black cardamom – 1
    • Cinnamon sticks – 2 one inch sticks
    • Cloves – 6
    • Nutmeg (Jayfal) – 1
    • Mace (Javitri) – 2-3 (depending on the size)
  • Lemon juice – 1 lemon
  • Oil / Ghee / Clarified Butter – 3-4 tbsp + as required for frying onions
  • Coriander leaves, chopped (Save some for assembling) – 1/2 cup (I usually skip this)
  • Mint / Pudina leaves, chopped (Save some for assembling) – 1/2 cup (I usually skip this)
  • Salt – to taste

For Rice:

  • Long grain Basmati Rice – 500 gms
  • Bay leaf – 1
  • Whole Garam Masala:
    • Green cardamom – 2
    • Cinnamon sticks – 1 inch stick
    • Cloves – 2
  • Whole peppercorns – 2-3
  • Shah Jeera/Caraway seeds – 1 tsp
  • Salt – to taste
  • Oil / Ghee / Clarified Butter – 1 tbsp
  • Water – as required

You can also use Mace and Nutmeg along with the whole spices, but I usually skip that.

For assembling the Biryani:

  • Onions, thinly sliced – 2 large
  • Potatoes – 3 medium sized
  • Oil / Ghee / Clarified Butter – as required for frying onions and for assembly.
  • Food color (optional) – I always skip this.
  • Saffron soaked milk (optional) – 1 tsp saffron added to 1/2 cup. I usually skip this.

For Dum: Chapati dough or foil paper

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Method:

Stove-top method:

  • Heat a pan with sufficient oil and fry the thinly sliced onions till they are nice brown in color. Take care not to burn them. You can fry all the onions (mentioned for chicken and assembling) together and then divide them into equal halves, one for marinating chicken and one for the assembly.
  • Cut the peeled potatoes in halves and sprinkle some salt and garam masala. Lightly fry them till it gets a light golden color. Drain and keep it aside. These will be cooked completely along with the biryani.
  • Grind the spices mentioned for chicken – Green & Black Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Mace, Nutmeg, Shah Jeera, Peppercorns.
  • Marinate the chicken with all the ingredients mentioned for chicken and keep it in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or more.
  • Wash and soak the rice in sufficient water for atleast 30 minutes before cooking.
  • In a big pan add sufficient water (for cooking rice) and put on boil.
  • Take a clean cotton cloth and a put the spices mentioned for rice (Whole Garam Masala, pepper corns, Mace & Nutmeg,  if using ) and tie it to make a small bundle. I usually add the whole spices directly to water. However if done this way you will get the flavor of the spices and can remove it if you don’t like to bite into the whole spices.
  • Add the bay leaf and the spice bundle along with salt and oil into the boiling water.
  • Next add the drained rice to the water and give it a light mix. Let it come to a boil. Once the rice has come to one full boil it will be 50% cooked. Turn off the stove and drain the parboiled rice. At this stage you can remove the bundle of spices. Do not throw away the drained water from the cooked rice as we will be using a portion of it later.
  • Take a heavy bottom pan for assembling the biryani, put it on high heat and add 1-2 tbsp of oil or ghee to it.
  • Add the chicken with its marination to the pan, spread evenly and let it fry on high for a couple of minutes, then lower the flame to medium.
  • Add the fried potatoes.
  • Layer half of the parboiled rice on top of the chicken layer and spread evenly.
  • Sprinkle some of the fried onions saved for assembly (from step 1) and a few drops of ghee.
  • Add little (maybe 1/8th cup) of the drained water (from cooking rice) to it. If using saffron milk add it in place of the water.
  • Add the remaining rice and spread evenly.
  • Top it with the remaining fried onions, a couple of drops of ghee, chopped coriander and mint  leaves saved for garnishing.
  • Again add little (approx. 1/8th cup) of the drained water (from cooking rice) to it. If using saffron milk add it in place of the water.
  • Place the lid of the pan and seal it with the chapati dough. Alternatively. Seal the pan with a foil paper and then place the lid over it. The chapati dough works better.
  • Lower the flame to low and let it cook for 45 minutes approx. Then turn off the flame and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove the hardened dough with a knife and carefully open the lid.
  • Check if the rice is tender. Gently insert a spatula or a wooden flat ladle at the edge of the vessel and lift up the chicken from the bottom of the pan. Do it along the edges of the pan to lightly mix the biryani. Do not over mix the whole thing.
  • One way of checking the doneness of the biryani is by checking the potatoes. Usually everything will be well cooked by now. If for some reasons it is still not done, place a flat heavy bottomed non-stick pan on heat, once hot, lower the flame and place the biryani pan on top of it, cover it with the lid and let it cook for another couple of minutes.
  • Serve it with raita and salad.

Oven method:

To cook the biryani in oven, assemble the whole thing as described above in an oven proof pan. Cover it tightly with a foil. Cook it for 45 – 50 minutes in a preheated oven at 350F. Once done, mix gently.

Note: The process may appear to be a little overwhelming but as with all kinds of cooking, repeated practicing is the only way to go. The process was a little lengthy to write down and I was getting lost in between, so dear readers, I apologise for any vagueness or confusion. Do get back to me if you think I need to explain it better.

The pics were taken a while back and am using it for this post.

Instant Chocolate Cake – Microwave Mug Cake

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Much more than cooking I love baking, infact I am crazy about baking. The only down side is that I love the calorie filled end products even more. That does not really help me in pursuing my knack for baking. So while whipping up a cake or a bunch of cookies may be good for my blog, the following couple of days will find me consuming a lot more of carbs than I would like to. And hence my conscious decision to not make such goodies.

But then there are times – maybe after days of salad crunching and workouts, or when you are sad and need a little break, or you are having a very happy moment – that you want to give in to that sweet temptation. You suppress that voice inside you reminding you of what-not-to-eat.

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Yesterday afternoon found me in such a mood. And just for clarification, No, I am not on a diet…I never diet (Period!), neither am I sad or in a celebratory state. Do cravings need to have any reason or logic? I recalled seeing a couple of 2 minute cake-in-a-mug microwave recipes – no elaborate preparations, instant and a portion size that will not make me indulge later. This is one such recipe that perfectly fits the bill.

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Ingredients:

  • All purpose flour – 4 tbsp
  • Cornstarch – 1/4 tbsp
  • Sugar – 4 tbsp
  • Unsweetend Cocoa powder – 2 tbsp
  • Egg – 1
  • Milk – 3 tbsp
  • Oil – 3tbsp
  • Splash of Vanilla extract
  • Chocolate chips or any nuts of your preference.

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Method:

  • Grease a Microwave safe cup/mug tall enough to allow the cake to rise.
  • Add the dry ingredients: Flour, cornstarch, sugar and cocoa. Lightly mix with a fork or spoon.
  • Break an egg into the cup and stir the mixture vigorously so that everything is well incorporated.
  • Add the wet ingredients: Milk, Oil and Vanilla. Again give it a good mix scraping the sides of the cup so that the dry and wet ingredients are well mixed and there are no lumps.
  • Stir in chocolate chips / nuts if desired.
  • Microwave the entire mixture on high power for 2-3 minutes. You will see the cake rising from the brim of the cup which is perfectly normal. In case you are unsure of the size of your mug and want to avoid any kind of mess, I would suggest placing the cup onto a microwave safe plate so that clean up, if required, is easy.
  • Let it rest for 1-2 minutes after which serve it immediately as is or with a side of your favorite ice cream. This cake, if allowed to sit for longer, will be come a little chewy or hard, so make it just before you want to serve.

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Onion Pakoda / Pyaaji

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Remember those animals we had read about who hibernate during winter, what will I not give to be one of them! As much as I would love the splendor of wishing away the winter or sleep away this harsh weather in my cozy bed, it is not a realistic dream. This has been the coldest / longest winter till date, and though every time it snows it feels surreal and beautiful, I am getting a little tired of it. So … so… long to see the spring colors around me.

Like the weather, things are a little challenging these days and every time I get to my blog, words just don’t seem to flow at all. I do not know if this is what is so commonly referred to as a writer’s block. But then, I am no writer. I merely write about my recipes and my thoughts as and when it comes to my mind. However these days I am missing the fluidity of my thoughts. Life seems to be reaching a crossroad, yet again, the only difference being I can’t see where that cross road is, just have a feeling that it is around the corner. And till I reach that point I have basically put everything on hold. As with me, all I can do when this kind of a phase strikes me, is stop doing things that used to make me happy, and in turn keep sulking the whole day.

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I was on such a sulking mood when this mail came from my friend ‘A’. She had been visiting US a couple of days ago and we got some chance to catch up, have some good food and a good chat… She dropped me an email on her return to India referring to that wonderful day spent while we talked and talked as the sun set outside the window and it grew dark. It was much later that we realized our plates had dried up from the sumptious lunch and evening had set in. Such moments are not that frequent these days, so are much cherished.

As I was replying to that email and giving her some advice (which, am sure, was not needed, but had to be given considering my agewise-advanced-status) on taking charge of your life and keep enjoying whatever comes your way, I realized it was time I applied that to me too. So what if things are a little uncertain now, so what if I am not sure of what is ahead of us right now, isn’t that what is exciting about life? As Forrest Gump’s momma always said – “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”

So on that note I shrugged the slumber out of me and got going. I will continue doing what I love – read and read a lot, write, cook, explore my interests, stay active and most importantly stay positive. Put on some music and clicked on my blog which brings me to today’s recipe – Onion Pakoda or “Pyaanji” in bengali.

I usually do not make too much of fried food at home, but this is my friend A’s recipe or as she says – her mom’s recipe. The other day when she came to my place she made it for us with almost no help from me. I just clicked the pics and helped in finishing off the plate. Ideally, I would not post recipes / pics that are not prepared by me, but I am making this an exception. I know there are multiple variations of this recipe but this is the best I have had till now. Thank you ‘A’ and A’s mom!

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Ingredients: All ingredients are approximates, adjust according to your taste

  • Onions, sliced – 2 large onions
  • Fennel seeds – 1 tbsp, coarsely ground
  • Green chillies – 3-4 finely chopped or to taste
  • Fresh curry leaves – handful, finely chopped
  • Salt – to taste
  • Besan / Gram flour – 1 cup approx. adjust as required
  • Water – a couple of drops or as required.

Method:

  • Heat sufficient oil in a wok for deep frying.
  • In a big mixing bowl add the sliced onions, Ground fennel seeds, green chillies, chopped curry leaves and salt. Mix everything well. Keep it aside for 5 mins so that the salt releases the moisture from the onions,
  • Gradually add the besan/gram flour (as required), mix it and keep it aside for a 5- 10 mins. The moisture from the onions will help in binding everything together.
  • If required, gradually add a few drops of water while mixing so that everything comes together and forms a batter.
  • When the oil heats up sufficiently, drop small dumplings of the batter into the hot oil and fry them in medium heat till they start getting a nice golden brown color.
  • Flip on the other side and fry for another couple of minutes till they turn crispy and deep golden brown. The frying may take some time but do not put the flame on high or else they will get the brown color without getting completely cooked.
  • With a slotted spoon drain the pakodas onto a plate lined with tissue paper.
  • Repeat for the rest of the batter frying in batches of 5-6 pakodas at a time, or more depending on the size of the wok.

Serve immediately with some dip or chutney or simple ketchup and a cup of tea to go along.

My Notes: Adding a little bit of rice flour might make them even crispier. You can also add some chopped coriander if you want.

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