Ramadan is the time I most yearn for Lahore and my ammi’s (mum’s) home where almost every iftar was a party. At sunset friends, relatives and neighbours would gather around our dinner table laden with deep-fried goodies, dates and drinks to replenish our bodies after a day of fasting to nourish the soul.
Pakoras were a staple at my ammi’s place and in most homes in Pakistan during Ramadan.
Everyone has their own twist on the recipe. The spices can vary from simple salt and chilli to cumin, coriander and garam masala, and the chickpea flour batter can be really dense or runny. Everyone has their most loved vegetables too, from the humble potato sliced or shredded to the more exotic okra and whole green chillies dipped in the batter and fried until lovely and golden.
Then there’s the abundance of chutneys to choose from – garlic and fresh coriander smashed together in a mortar and pestle with chilli and Himalayan salt, or you can go for some mint and yogurt raita. Chilli garlic sauce straight out of a bottle will do, too. There are so many delicious variations.
My favourite pakoras are a mix of baby spinach, onions rings and thinly sliced potatoes in a thinnish batter made with salt, chilli, water and yoghurt.
For me, iftar without pakoras is no iftar at all. Just the smell of them frying transports me back to my childhood home where two or three karahis (saucepans) with pakoras and samosas are on the go, dates are deseeded and filled with almonds and fresh cream, and ice is added to jugs of lassi (sweet or savoury yoghurt beverage) and rooh afza (rose water syrup mixed with water).
Guests arrive just before the melodious sound of Azaan from the neighbourhood mosque heralds the anticipated iftar time. The joy of sharing home-cooked food with loved ones is even more meaningful during this time, when Muslims all over the world come together to reflect and contemplate.
It’s hard to replicate the hustle and bustle of Lahore in Sydney, but I do bring back small slices of memory, the sounds and smells, into my home every day during Ramadan.
Here’s how I do it.
2 cups chickpea flour (besan)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp of red chilli (or to taste!)
3 tbsp yoghurt
1 cup of baby spinach
½ red onion
1 potato, thinly sliced
¾ cup of water
Vegetable oil for deep frying
In a medium bowl, mix the salt and chilli into the chickpea flour. Add the yoghurt and water into the dry mix to make a batter, and whisk thoroughly until smooth. It should be about the consistency of a loose cake batter, but you can adjust to your preference by adding more water.
Put aside the batter to rest for half an hour.
Fold the baby spinach, red onion, and thinly sliced potato into the chickpea flour mix until the vegetables have been coated in the batter.
Over medium high heat in a deep pan, heat the oil to 190°C.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out the pakora mix and slowly put it into the oil. Make sure to keep turning the pakoras around every 30 seconds or so for about three to four minutes until they are golden brown.
Drain excess oil on a paper towel before serving.