The Culture and Cuisine Club is thrilled to feature author and jill-of-all-trades Carolyn Steele. Carolyn is the author of the excellent memoirs “A Year on Planet Alzheimer: and a little longer in Canada” and “Trucking in English”, and short articles in two anthologies.These books provide a window into who Carolyn is, and illustrate the zest with which she approaches life. Life can be heartbreaking as well as hilarious, and Carolyn’s ability to sum it all up has won her a legion of fans. Be sure to check out the links below to connect with Carolyn and purchase her books. But first, a little story from the author…
Rocky ‘n Ken’s Food Fight Onion Pakoras
My significant other and I both love to cook. Unfortunately, we each have idiosyncratic food rules which rarely agree. He puts carrots in everything and refuses to use garlic except in the rarest of specified dishes. I like my garlic but eschew cooked carrots under all but exceptional circumstances. He insists on seasoning at the end of cooking, I maintain that seasoning needs time to work. The list of conflicts seems endless, but it’s made us inventive in reaching compromises.
This pakora recipe began as a difference of opinion regarding vegetarian food. Ken believes that all meals must contain meat and I tend to find veggies more interesting and can happily live without meat. So what do you serve at a party which will be attended by a lot of beer-swilling macho men—all priding themselves on their cave-man eating tendencies—and a couple of vegetarians? The answer began as we watched an episode of the UK TV program River Cottage. This long-running show features Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (and presumably a bunch of staff) working out how to become as self-sufficient as possible, growing and producing ingredients and cooking seasonal, locally-sourced recipes.
The challenge for the episode we watched was to convert diners at a local pub to the idea that vegetarian food was just as good as steak and chips. Working on the principle that Brits view Indian food as macho anyway, regardless of the content, the wonderful Hugh served vegetable pakoras as a starter. They went down well and we scrambled online during the show to write down the recipe. We gave them a try as a possible solution to our party dilemma. The little spicy veggie dumplings were scrumptious, but we decided to experiment a bit. The original recipe made two types, corn and cauliflower, dividing the batter between two bowls. We found the cauliflower version dry and lacking in flavor, although the corn ones were lovely. So, the next time, we did the bowl-dividing thing but made the second option with a mix of onions instead. They were so much nicer than either of the other recipes! Now we prepare one sort, a big mix of different onions. Sometimes, if fresh corn is in season, we’ll mix a few nubs in for a pop of sweetness. And one bowl of goo does simplify the preparation.
By the way, the party was a great success and nobody noticed that these pakoras, made with chickpea flour, are also completely gluten free! They freeze well and make a comfortingly filling and special contribution to a pot-luck that everyone can eat, regardless of most intolerances. Another happy compromise.
We are planning a food blog called Rocky and Ken’s Food Fight that will feature a disagreement about a recipe and how we resolve our disagreement. Stay tuned.
For the batter
- 250g gram flour (chickpea flour, if it`s not in the specialty aisle of your usual supermarket try an Asian grocery store)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 heaped tsp ground cumin
- 2 heaped tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/3 tsp cayenne
- 1tsp baking powder
- 250ml cold water
For the filling
- 2 medium or one large white onion, quartered and sliced
- 2 medium or one large red onion, quartered and sliced
- Half a dozen shallots, sliced
- Half a dozen spring (salad) onions, sliced
- 1-2 fresh chillies, chopped (if you like, any colour, any heat, just depends whether you want a bit more kick or not)
- Niblets from a fresh corn cob, again, if you like.
For cooking and serving
- Sunflower or other relatively taste-free oil for frying
- 300 mls plain/natural yogurt
- Fresh or dried mint (bit of both is nice)
- Salt and pepper
- Handful of fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
Slice all the onions, chillies etc and mix well in a large bowl. Set aside. Mix the yogurt and mint (if using fresh mint, finely slice the leaves) and season with the salt and pepper. Cover and set aside in the fridge for the flavours to mix.
- Put all the dry batter ingredients into a bowl and whisk a little to remove any lumps and mingle the spices.
- Begin heating the oil in a large frying pan.
- Continue whisking the flour and spices as you add the cold water.
- When the batter is smooth, fold in the onion mixture. (You may have sliced too much, you want enough batter to hold the onions together; any leftover onions are the start of a great stir fry.)
- When the oil is hot, put tablespoonfuls of the batter in to fry and turn them when golden. They’ll need 2-3 minutes on each side.
- Drain on kitchen paper.
- Sprinkle with sliced cilantro (coriander) to serve, with a bowl of the yogurt raita for dipping, and mango chutney if you like. If you are feeding he-men, add lime pickle on the side too, then they can add more heat to your carefully nuanced spices.
- Freeze any leftovers, they reheat well from frozen in a medium oven. You’ll find them slightly crumblier but still excellent.