This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.
O is for Onion Bhajjis.
We come now to the letter 'O" and unfortunately I can't really think of too many Marathi foods here. One possibility is "Olya naralachi karanji"; sweet turnovers made with a filling of fresh coconut (the literal meaning of "olya" is "wet") but that is a pretty complicated recipe that will have to wait for another occasion. Instead, I made a dish that is a favorite of people all over India, onion fritters/pakodas, called "bhajjis" in Marathi. Here is a dish that is found on the menu of every Indian restaurant, whether North Indian or South Indian. It is found on every street corner in India, often eaten stuffed between slices of bread (a way to convert a cheap snack into a filling meal). It is a favorite of all home cooks, a way of serving up a hot tasty snack using ingredients that are found in every pantry. Chai and pakodas is a match made in culinary heaven, and the perfect snack for Indian monsoons and North American winters alike.
The recipe is a mere guideline; go easy or heavy on the spices as you like. I love that the sliced onion forms these funky-looking odd shaped pakodas when fried. This is a very easy crowd-pleasing snack for beginner cooks to make. Making smaller pakodas will ensure that the inside gets cooked well. People who do not like the sharp pungent taste of onions might find that the onions cooked as bhajjis have a pleasant sweetish taste that they enjoy. A variation on these is to add some finely sliced spinach leaves to the batter...they add a wonderful flavor.
Onion Bhajji (Pakodas)
2 medium onions
1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1/4 cup minced cilantro
3-4 minced green chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander powder
salt to taste
Oil for deep-frying
1. Peel the onions, halve them and slice them thinly (using a mandoline if you own one, or a sharp knife).
2. Mix salt into the onions and leave them for 10 minutes. This softens the onions and brings out their juices.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients (except oil) into the onions, add a little water to make a thick batter.
4. Heat the oil and add teaspoons of batter into the oil, fry till bhajjis are golden. Drain on paper towels.
Serve hot with tamarind chutney or mint chutney or even ketchup!
We'll meet again soon with "P" which is a letter with many many interesting possibilities, so stay tuned!