Small fry, big fry

Chitra Balasubramaniam | Updated on January 10, 2020 Published on January 09, 2020

A cookbook on pakodas — the favourite Indian snack — opens up a world of flavours

Pakoda, pakodi, bajka, bhajji, bhaja, bora, vadai, badi... call it by any name and the all-time favourite will get you drooling. Such is the versatility of the humble fritter that it can be relished at breakfast, lunch or dinner — dunked in curries, or had with tea. Along with it comes memories of childhood, of rain-soaked afternoons and of the inventiveness of grannies, mothers and home cooks in making the snack stand out.

Dehradun resident Sangeeta Khanna’s decision to write a book on pakodas was not based on just nostalgia or love for the snack. A microbiologist and nutrition consultant to the hospitality industry, the 49-year-old’s latest cookbook — Pakodas: The snack for all seasons — seeks to redeem the image of the deep-fried and fattening Indian fritter. “There is a huge variety of pakodas that are steamed and shallow fried. We must enjoy those with an open heart.” Khanna says.

Pakodas: The snack for all seasons; Sangeeta Khanna; Westland; Non-fiction; ₹399


Launched in September 2019, the book introduces us to 32 “genres” of pakodas with an exhaustive collection of over 200 recipes, divided into vegetarian and non-vegetarian sections. The bajka from Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has a soft, squishy centre — due to the choice of vegetables such as bottle gourd. Kaap from Maharashtra is made with yam, which is soaked in kokum or tamarind pulp. It is then coated in either rice flour or semolina before being shallow fried. Jharkhand’s dhuska, made with chana and urad dal, is a deep-fried favourite while besan and onions are the stars of the Sindhi sane pakodi.

Khanna’s collection of pakoda recipes is the result of a long-time obsession with the snack. It took her more than three years to put them together in the form of a cookbook. The book also has the recipes for over 50 chutneys — the sidekick that is vital to the overall appeal of the pakoda.

The recipes, adds Khanna, have come from various sources. Some were taught by friends. Others came from Khanna’s travels and interactions with families across the country. Among those mentioned in the book, her top favourite is the jute leaf fritter — paat saager bora — from Bengal. The leaf is coated with rice flour (known as chaaler guro in Bengali) and fried to a crisp. “Jute leaves are not easily available [outside Bengal]. Luckily, my friend, Sneh Yadav, grows them in her farm in Tijara and I could source it for trials,” Khanna says.

Crunch it: Sangeeta Khanna spent three years in compiling the 200-plus recipes in the book


Her other favourite is the karela na khalwa from Gujarat. This recipe combines the bitterness from karela with the sweetness of jaggery, the heat of the red chilli and the sourness of lime juice.

Khanna recalls the challenges she faced while trying to find a recipe for the khatte ras ke bade. She discovered that only a few elderly women remember it and there were disagreements over the ingredients of the khatta ras, the tangy syrup in the which the fritters are soaked. While some chose to use tamarind pulp, others vouched for raw mango panna or jal jeera, both summer coolers.

Khanna also dedicates pages to vessels used in the making of pakodas — the cast-iron vessel for kuzhi paniyaram, for instance, which almost always made with leftover idli or dosa batter. She also dwells on the popular batters for pakodas: Besan, rice flour, lentils and even millets. The section on pakodas made with peels, leaves, shoots, flowers and even fruits — moringa, amaranth, spinach, banana flower, amaltas, parijat (Indian night jasmine), cannabis and so on — comes across as the most innovative and interesting. This section is also an acknowledgement to the thriftiness of the Indian home cook, who likes to use every scrap in the kitchen. This is evident from the recipes on pakodas made with leftovers. “These recipes show that an Indian household treated food as sacred and nothing would go to waste,” the author says.

Khanna is quick to point out that street vendors are a storehouse of information on snacks such as pakodas. She recalls a meeting with one such vendor in Himachal, who told her about fritters made with the leaves and shoots of the mulberry plant. The vendors are also an authority on chutneys.

Despite the exhaustive list of recipes, Khanna regrets that she hasn’t been able to source a few that she has, so far, only heard of. One of them is a fritter in the shape of a sausage, made with hot dog buns stuffed with chillies. “This is a recipe from Himachal Pradesh,” Khanna says. “I have also heard of recipes that use tea leaves and the [leaves of] skunk vines. But I could not find a person who could tell me more about these,” she rues.

Chitra Balasubramaniam is a Delhi-based food, textiles and travel writer

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Published on January 09, 2020
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