Zucchinis are erupting from gardens left and right, and you can’t even give them away anymore. If you decided to garden this year, you’re most likely drowning in zucchinis the size of baseball bats and perhaps starting to panic. (Wait, could they work as baseball bats?) That’s perfectly normal; take a deep breath. As an alternative to considering them for your little leaguer’s sports equipment, make a batch of crispy, spiced zucchini pakodas instead.
Pakodas (also written in English as pakoras) are an Indian snack food, served by street vendors and restaurants alike. They’re usually composed of a mixture of vegetables, spices, and gram flour (also called besan or chickpea flour), all mixed together into a light, veggie-poppin’ batter. Small scoops are dropped into hot oil and fried until brown and crisp. They range from mild to spicy (with added chilis) and are darn delicious.
The brilliant part of making pakodas is that none of the vegetable juices are wasted. Most American style fritters involve draining every last drop of water from the vegetable after they’re chopped or sliced. Some methods resort even so far as to wrap the veggies in paper towels and press them over a sink until bone dry, only to subsequently add a wet binder, like egg, back into a batter. Pakodas are far simpler. Instead of draining off your chopped veg, the veggies sit for 10 minutes at room temperature to release their juices. The gram flour and other dry ingredients are mixed in, juices and all. The vegetable water is the only wet ingredient in the resulting batter, and chickpea flour is the main dry ingredient along with optional cornstarch, making it completely vegan and gluten-free as a bonus.
Although you can find numerous pakoda recipes out there, they can all be adapted to the vegetables you have on hand, which is why this dish is your lifeline to exhuming yourself from that pile of zucchini. The following recipe uses about 20 ounces of julienned zucchini. That’s about four medium-sized, or one or two of those monsters you pulled out of the garden. I added a half an onion, for an extra flavor boost, and half a large carrot, for the color and sweetness. Otherwise, zucchini is the star of the show.
Make this dish by first julienning all of the vegetables. That’s about a ¼-inch thick matchstick cut, keep them about two to three inches long. For the half onion, just slice it and separate the half-moons. The key is allowing the water in the vegetables to release. To speed up this process and season the vegetables along the way, I salt the vegetables as I cut and load them into the large mixing bowl. Julienne half of the zucchini, add it to the bowl, sprinkle over a ½ teaspoon of salt. Julienne the other half and add it to the bowl, and sprinkle on salt. Add the cut carrots, salt. Add the onion, salt. Don’t go over 2 teaspoons of salt, but there should be at least 1 teaspoon total in there. Add the spices and aromatics. Give the veggies a toss to distribute everything and leave it to sit, covered, at room temperature for about 10 minutes. When you return, you’ll see a pool of liquid at the bottom. Add the dry ingredients and mix.
Depending on the type of vegetable you have, and how rainy your summer was, you’ll need to adjust the dry ingredients to accommodate the pool of water in the bowl. The batter should be stiff enough to hold up if you scoop all the vegetables to one side of the bowl, but not too dry where there are clumps of batter rolling around that aren’t coating vegetable strands. If it’s too dry, add a tablespoon of water at a time until the consistency is right. If it’s too loose, and puddling at the bottom, mix in a tablespoon at a time of gram flour until you’ve got it. Scoop small bundles (roughly a mounded tablespoon) into hot oil—about 2-inches of oil for deep frying these babies. After a minute or two, flip them to cook the other side until deeply golden brown. Drain on paper towels and let cool on a drying rack. If you find your scoops are unruly and strands of zucchini are poking out, take another spoon and try to wrap them up and over onto the rest of the batter into a little dumpling. The vegetables have all softened at this point so it should be relatively easy to bend them. Pakodas are beautiful because of their irregular, haphazard formation, so if yours look like jagged haystacks, lean into it! They’ll be all the crispier for it.
Once you get a taste of these crunchy, golden snacks, you’ll be planning the next batch. Each bite is crisp on the outer edges with a slightly soft middle. The spiced vegetable mixture is balanced, savory, fragrant, and veggie-forward in the most irresistible way. Unlike all-purpose flour, the besan actually carries a flavor and texture of its own, which feels a little richer without being claggy. This recipe makes 30-40 pakodas. That may seem like a lot, but they’ll disappear before your eyes. Eat them immediately with an herbaceous green chutney or allow them to cool and freeze them for up to a month. They reheat well in a 350°F oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until hot and crisp.
- 20 ounces zucchini, about 4 cups (julienned)
- ½ medium white onion (sliced into half-moons)
- 1 shallot (sliced)
- ½ medium carrot (julienned)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ginger (grated)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 tablespoon of fresh mint leaves (chopped)
- 1 tablespoon of fresh cilantro leaves (chopped)
- 1 ½ cup gram flour (or besan or chickpea flour)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Vegetable or canola oil for frying
Layer julienned zucchini, onions, carrot and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the garam masala, ginger, garlic and chopped herbs. Toss the mixture thoroughly and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour enough oil into a medium pot, or cast iron skillet, to give you about an inch to two inches depth. Use a cooking thermometer to keep the oil around 375°F, or test it with a drop of the batter or breadcrumbs. It should sizzle raucously but not burn immediately.
Mix the gram flour and cornstarch into the vegetable bowl until a batter forms. Adjust the batter if necessary by adding either more of the flour or more water.
Fry tablespoon-sized dollops of the battered vegetables until deeply golden brown, flipping as needed in the oil. Drop onto paper towels to absorb excess oil, then move over to a wire drying rack. Repeat with the remaining batter. Enjoy immediately or re-crisp them in a 350°F oven for 5-10 minutes if you’ll be eating them a bit later. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to five days or in the freezer for up to a month. Reinvigorate them in the oven.
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