I don't fry things often.
I find that fried things, like most indulgent foods, taste best when savored occasionally. But even that isn't the main reason I shy away from frying.
The reason is ventilation. Every home kitchen I've called my own has lacked a hood fan. This is a problem for someone who not only likes to cook, but who makes a living doing it. I've found myself rigging up all kinds of absurd combinations of box fans and open windows and doors, trying to figure out which way the air flows and how to get the black cloud of smoke out of my kitchen.
This latest kitchen is no different. Well, it's smaller. I've actually grown to love my tiny kitchen. It forces me to be organized and clean, and no square foot of space is wasted. But when you realize that the side of your refrigerator is covered in grease and the wall behind your stove is shiny, you'd do just about anything for a hood.
But I've been thinking about pakoras for weeks now, and I finally had to give in.
If you've ever been to an Indian restaurant, you probably know about pakoras. Basically, they're just vegetable fritters, sometimes spiced up with turmeric, cumin, and other spices.
You can turn just about any vegetable into a pakora, but I wanted to use these fritters as a way to savor some of the last of the season's corn. If you've never made pakoras before, the process can be a little different from your typical fritter. For pakoras made with larger chunks of vegetables, you make a chickpea flour batter and dip the ingredients in it before frying. But for some vegetables--often those that will release a little moisture of their own or that would be very difficult to dip in batter--the "batter" is made by combining the vegetables in a bowl, then adding chickpea flour, salt, and spices directly to the bowl and maybe just a little bit of water to get things to hold together.
I like to serve these with a simple cilantro-mint chutney, but raita or even tamarind chutney would be lovely.
Note: I made this batter and used it over the course of two days. The second day, the vegetables had released more moisture. I was able to fry it without adding more flour, but you may find that adding more flour helps the fritters hold together on the second day.
Combine in a large bowl:
Kernels from 4 large ears of corn (about 3 1/2 cups kernels)
1 small onion (about 6 ounces) halved and very thinly sliced
2 hot peppers such as jalapeño or serrano, seeded and minced (leave the seeds in if you love spicy food)
1 tablespoon garam masala*
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups chickpea flour**
Toss together and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat to 350°F in a 10-inch pot:
3 inches vegetable oil
Check on the corn mixture, tossing it again. If it seems very loose, add up to 1/3 cup water a tablespoon at a time. You just want the mixture to stick together, but it shouldn't be runny.
When the oil is hot, drop spoonsful of the mixture into the oil. Make sure to drop the fritters very close to the surface of the oil to avoid splattering. Fry until deep golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, turning the fritters once to brown both sides.
Drain the cooked fritters on paper towels or newspaper.
Don't crowd the pan or the temperature of the oil will drop. You can keep the cooked fritters warm in a 200°F oven while you fry subsequent batches.
Sprinkle the fritters with:
Cilantro-mint chutney (see below)
Raita or yogurt sauce
*If you don't have garam masala and don't want to buy or make it, you may substitute a combination of toasted ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and black pepper--not exactly garam masala, but good enough in this application.
**You can buy chickpea flour at any Indian market. In a pinch, you can substitute all purpose flour.
Makes about 1/2 cup
Many Indian grocery stores carry ready-made cilantro and mint chutneys, but it's so simple to make at home that I've provided you with a recipe. Nothing is set in stone here--use more or less chile and citrus, and feel free to throw in a garlic clove or any spices you think would be appropriate.
Combine in a food processor until the mixture is very fine:
2 cups packed cilantro (about 2 bunches)--you can use tender stems as well as leaves
1/2 cup packed mint leaves
1 jalapeño, seeds left in
2 to 3 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
Salt to taste
You can make this well ahead of time.