pakoras and chicken tandoori – a taste of India

pakoras & chicken tandoori with cilantro dipping sauceMr. S recently came back from India and while he was there, he taunted me with photos of the food he was eating.  He’s been to India numerous times for work and I have yet to go.  His trip was the inspiration for pakoras and chicken tandoori skewers.

The first time I ate Indian food we were living in Toronto back in 1996. A couple of my co-workers were Indian and they would bring a packed lunch made by their spouses. Out of curiosity and because the aromas were so inviting, I asked what they were eating. Both asked if I wanted to try the food and I couldn’t resist. From there Hitesh and Sanjay would bring extras for me to sample – they were the best friends/co-workers!  It wasn’t until we moved to Singapore (4 years later) that I began my quest for Indian food and how to prepare it.

Singapore is a melting pot of ethnicities (Malays, Indonesians, Indians, Sri Lankans, Chinese, Arab, etc) and with these demographics comes delicious food!  Singapore has its own little India and it was there I ate a meal with my fingers.  It was a delight and an awkward sensation eating from a banana leaf.  Even though a newbie, I was very mindful not to eat with both hands; that is a no-no.  The right hand is used (sorry, lefties) and the other remains dry so as to pass dishes or drink water.

For me, cooking food that I did not grow up with was a bit daunting.  I wasn’t sure how to use the spices properly nor did I have the cooking vessels needed to pull off the real deal.  Having said that, though, one doesn’t need a tandoori oven to achieve the tandoori taste.  My first purchase to aid in my Indian cooking was a pestle and mortar which I bought at little India from a sidewalk vendor.  It’s rustic, heavy and I use it frequently for sauces, pesto, and pastes (curry, Thai, garlic). Cooking classes in Singapore are very popular among the expats and I was eager to take my first Indian lesson.  It all seems a bit surreal to me now as I look back at what I learned over a dozen years in Asia.  Living there opened a whole new world to me, my husband and my children.  Our senses were tickled every waking day and we loved it!

vegetable pakora
1 potato, scrubbed and diced (about 1 cup)
cauliflower florets (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
handful coriander, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
sunflower oil for frying

chicken tandoori
4 to 6 chicken thighs (skinless, boneless), cut into strips
1 1/2 cups yogurt
1 tablespoon chili paste
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
red food coloring or paprika (optional)

coriander dipping sauce
2 handfuls of fresh coriander (leaves and if possible, roots)
1 handful of fresh mint (leaves only)
bit of tamarind or juice of 1 lime
1 green chili (seeds removed), roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic, chopped

Begin with the tandoori.  In a bowl add tandoori ingredients and mix well.  Then add chicken and cover to coat.  Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least one hour.

To make the dipping sauce, add all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Season with sea salt and pepper.  Add more coriander if needed and, if you like, add 1/4 cup of yogurt to the sauce.

To make the pakoras, add chickpea flour to a bowl.  Pour in about 3/4 cup of water and stir.  If too thick, add more water until the consistency is that of a pancake batter.  In another bowl add the vegetables and spices.  Pour the chickpea flour batter over the vegetables and mix to combine.  It should coat the veggies enough to hold together when added to the hot oil.  If you don’t have enough chickpea flour batter, make some more.

Remove chicken from refrigerator. Use skewers and thread meat.

To cook pakoras, heat sunflower oil in a deep heavy-based frying pan and carefully lower tablespoons of the batter mixture in batches into the oil and fry for 5 minutes, or until the pakoras are crisp and golden-brown and the vegetables have cooked through.  Remove with a slotted spoon onto paper towel.  While these are cooking, grab a large non-stick frying pan.  Over medium-high heat, add skewered chicken.  Cook 4 minutes or until golden brown before flipping over.

Serve pakoras with dipping sauce.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Make sure the pakora veggies are similar in size for even cooking.  A typical pakora will have one or two vegetables such as potato, cauliflower, eggplant, paneer, plantain.  Pakoras are traditionally vegetarian but you can also find some with fish or chicken; never beef as a cow is sacred in India.  Enjoy!