A Favorite Holiday Dish from My Childhood: Pakoras

What is it about favorite childhood foods? Somehow they live deep inside our minds and hearts. Foods we learn to eat as adults don't have the same kind of emotional hold on us, don't provide the same comfort. Perhaps this is because they are associated with that simpler time in our lives, those memories of being loved and protected and taken care of unconditionally, of diving headlong into life without worrying about consequences.

My mother used to make this snack on rainy monsoon afternoons in Kolkata, when the weather was just chilly enough to cuddle up under a quilt with my favorite book. She served it with mint-coriander chutney, and hot tea on the side. I've continued the tradition (adding spinach, which I love). I pass it on to you, my holiday gift.


1 cup besan flour (lentil flour--buy from an Indian grocery. You may substitute whole wheat flour, but the taste isn't the same)
1/2 c water
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 t finely chopped ginger
1/2 t red chili powder (more or less, depending on how spicy you want it)
1/4 t each: coriander and cumin powder
1/4 t ajwain, crushed (optional; get from Indian store. Ajwain is a digestive spice)
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, or 1 c chopped spinach leaves, fresh
salt to taste

Mix the besan and water to make a thick paste (similar to pancake batter--you might need to add a bit more water or besan). Add in all other ingredients.Mix well.

In a pan, heat vegetable or canola oil, enough to deep fry. (I know, I know, not the healthiest. But hey. We all have to live it up once in a while. Plus you'll be getting some spinach.) Drop the mix by spoonfuls into the hot oil. Turn over when one side is done. Remove when golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels & serve hot.

1 bunch cilantro or coriander leaf
a few sprigs mint leaf
a few T water
To taste: salt, green chilies (serrano or jalapeno), sugar, lime juice
Blend in food processor until it's a smooth paste, a little thinner than a dip.
Serve on the side with pakoras

If you're short on time, ketchup works almost as well as the chutney. (Sorry, Mom!)