ICC: Punjabi Kadi Pakoras


It’s that time again–time for us to go tripping over ourselves in the pursuit of success in the Indian Cooking Challenge! And it’s finally something I recognize… sorta.

Punjabi Kadi Pakoras

Punjabi Kadi Pakoras

When we go out to our favorite Indian restaurant we generally order the sampler appetizer to split, so we’ve had pakoras before–several versions of them, too. Granted, they usually come without the Kadi (yogurt sauce) and, at leas the onion variety, resemble more of a hush puppy, but at least we knew what we were shooting for this time around.

My version of the recipe below is based upon the recipe provided by Simran of Bombay Foodie, though the main changes are adjustments required to the measurements. (US cups and British/Imperial cups are NOT the same thing–only took me  a few rounds to remember that little fact!)


1 medium Onion, sliced lengthwise
5/8 c Besan/Gram Flour
2 t Salt

3/4 tsp Chili Powder
1/3-1/2 c Water
Oil for deep frying

1 1/2 c Plain Yogurt
1/3 (heaping) cups Besan/Gram Flour
3-4 cups Water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 1/2 tsp Ajwain (Carom or Oregano) Seeds

1 1/2 tsp Methi (Fenugreek)
1 large Onion, diced
1 pinch Turmeric
3/4 tsp Chili Powder
Salt to taste
3/4 tsp Garam Masala powder
1 1/2 tsp Amchur (Dried Mango) powder
Slicing onions lengthwise The first step is to slice the onions lengthwise.

Now, I don’t know about your onions, by my onions are usually pretty round so slicing them lengthwise is a neat trick. Based on that whole concentric circles thing, I’m betting you could slice them diagonally and still be fine.

Luckily I did have one onion that was more oval than round. Though I still think lengthwise is anyone’s guess.

Batter Ingredients Start heating your frying oil while you mix up the batter. I set my electric fryer to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and that seems to work well for this sort of light item.

Combine the dry ingredients (besan, salt and chili powder) and mix together, well, before stirring in the water.

Go a little at a time with the water–you want something that’s thinner than paste but thicker than soup–something that will stick to the onion strips!

Battering up the Onion slices As always, depending on how wet your flour is (or how much humidity you’ve got) you may need more or less flour for your batter.

My batter was a little on the thin side, in hindsight–it’s just something you have to get a feel for, I suppose!

Toss your onion slices into the batter and give them several good turns until coated. If you’re still waiting for your oil to come to temperature, they can hang out in the bowl while you prepare the ingredients for the sauce.

Onion Pakoras Fry the battered onions until crispy, then drain on paper towels while you make the sauce.

Since I’m used to these being similar to fritters, I dropped the onion strips into the oil in small clumps. They cook fast, so they will stick together but they’ll also stick to the bundles you drop in nearby. No worries, though: you can always do some separating after they cool off a little bit.

If you stop right here and eat all the onions up, I wouldn’t blame you! I’m impressed that there were enough left for the sauce as Todd and I kept stealing tastes. This is now my official onion-ring recipe and, hey, it’s gluten free!

Kadi paste For the sauce (Kadi), combine the yogurt and besan into a paste, then whisk in water for a very thin batter.

Now, the recipe suggests that what makes this Punjabi is the thick sauce that the pakora are served in, and that a thin, watery sauce is actually a hallmark of Gujarti style dish.

With that in mind, 2 cups seems like more than enough to get a “very thin batter” but, take it from me, you want at least 3 cups of water in there.

Spices and a hot pan Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan (larger than I have here, hint!) and add the mustard, cumin, carom and methi seeds.

The instructions said to let “sputter” for a few seconds.

Folks, if you’ve got one of those splatter screens handy I’d use it at this point. Those little seeds (I’m looking at you, mustard) did NOT like being in the heated oil and took their revenge out on me like popcorn. But without the fluffy white puffs.

It was duck-and-cover mode for those few seconds.

Adding the onions to the spices Seriously, though, heating the spices does bring out the flavors, so it’s worth it–just be prepared.

Next, add in the diced onion (cooling down the pan a bit in the process) and cook until nice and golden brown.

Once golden add in the turmeric, salt and chili powder, give it a good stir before adding the besan and yogurt mixture.

This is when I realized that 2 cups of water wasn’t enough. Once in contact with the heat it immediately firmed up and I ended up whisking in another cup of water, slowly. This was also when I discovered the pan I’d chosen wasn’t really big enough.

The finishing spices--amchur and garam masala Messes were made. It’s not the end of the world.

Let this simmer for 30 minutes and don’t skimp on the time! The seeds need time to soften and impart their savory goodness. Don’t believe me? Taste the mixture after 5 minutes (but tread carefully so an not to bread a tooth on a fenugreek seed) and then after 30–exactly!

Finish the sauce by stirring in the amchur and garam masala powders.

Adding the pakoras Now stir in the reserved pakoras (or what’s left of them–seriously, those onions were amazing!) and cook just long enough to heat them through.

Serve with rice, naan or whatever else you like. It was Todd’s night to cook so we had this as an additional side dish with kebabs that night.

The next day we made sandwiches out of the leftovers in naan with a little drizzle of olive oil and some kosher salt on top. It makes for an amazing lunch.

The test.

So, we’d had pakoras before, but not the sauce. While shopping for ingredients we came upon a heat-and-eat packaged version of Punjabi Kadi Pakoras and thought it would be interesting to try them side by side to see how mine compared.

Purchased and Homemade Punjabi Kadi Pakoras

Purchased and Homemade Punjabi Kadi Pakoras

Right off we could see that the sauce in the packaged dish was deeper-colored and thinner. The purchased pakoras were small, tight dumplings and the fact that they contained spinach and quite a lot of heat were not the only differences. They had a peculiar texture that rang a distant bell. It took several small bites before I figured out what they reminded me of: the meatballs in canned Chef Boyardee Spaghetti. It was the mealy texture that just didn’t suit our palates, and I was very glad that no other pakora I’d ever had had tasted like that!

The only thing I would change about this recipe, if I were to make this Kadi again, would be to leave out the ajwain (oregano) seeds. As I opened each of the spice packets we’d picked up that afternoon I gave each a good sniff. What we discovered was the fenugreek was a major source of that comfort feeling we get from the curries that make us melt into our chairs. And that ajwain has a somewhat antiseptic smell that I did not like. It was less prevalent in the finished sauce but I could still detect it and I think the dish (for me) would be better served without it in the future.

Can’t wait to see what comes up to try next month!

Update: The rest of this month’s participants can be found at the Link-Up over on Spice Your Life.