Spicy French-Fried Egg and Besan Pakoras
Pakoras, vadas, bhajjis, bondas—the variety and number of fried street foods in India fairly boggles the mind.
One of my fondest childhood food memories is of the woman who had a fried food cart near our house. She and her husband manned the stall in all kinds of weather, but, through a perverse trick of appetites, the siren call of freshly fried bhajjis and pakoras was always strongest in the middle of a rain storm.
Every time there was a storm, my sister and I would run down the street in the driving rain to pick up a parcel of miscellaneous fried snacks. We’d arrive at the stall drenched and, leaning into the tiny bit of shelter under the wooden canopy, we’d place our order. Deftly, the woman would gather up scoops of fried masala vada—little patties of coarsely ground lentils mixed with green chilli, dill, onion, and spices—and pack them into newspaper cones, folding and tamping the tops down tightly.
We’d inevitably also get packages of aloo bondas, balls of spiced potato dipped in a gram-flour batter and deep fried. There were a variety of other snacks—fried chillies, onion pakoras, but by far my favorite were the egg bondas: boiled eggs dipped in a seasoned gram-flour batter and deep fried. Though these may sound fairly ordinary, it’s a testament to the alchemical power of combining things in just the right proportions, and of knowing just the right way to make the simplest ingredients come alive, that they were truly otherworldy in their deliciousness. The crust on the egg was crisp and craggy and flecked with spice. But it was the finishing touch that truly made these little morsels so special. Working quickly with the piping hot bondas, the woman would cut them in half and sandwich the halves around a mixture of thinly sliced raw onions, green chilli, and a piquant cilantro chutney. The crunchy, nutty gram-flour crust, the creamy yolk, the herbal heat of the garnish were the stuff of dreams. We’d run home with our packages held close to our chests, each oil-slicked parcel radiating heat and the warm aroma of spices and fried onion. Every now and then we'd stop in the shelter of a roadside tree to sample the contents of the packet of fried vadas that the woman inevitably sneaked to us just as we were leaving, giving us a complicit smile as she sent us on our way.
Though this version is neither truly a bhajji nor a pakora (nor a bonda for that matter), it satisfies my craving for all three of those things. The egg in the batter adds a certain welcome heft to these so that, if you wished, you could even have a stack of them for a light lunch with a salad.
For me, though, I wait till I know there’s rain coming, and I make them then, to eat by a window while they’re still hot and crisp—they're perfect with a hot cup of tea and a view over the rain splashing down outside.
Spicy French-Fried Egg and Besan Pakoras
Makes approximately 72 French fry–sized pakoras
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced through the root
1 tbsp ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 tbsp garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 cup washed Tuscan kale, finely chopped
2 green chillies, stems removed, finely chopped (or to taste)
½ bunch washed dill, finely chopped (approximately ½ cup)
8 large eggs
¾ cup besan (gram flour)
½ tsp ground turmeric
Freshly ground black pepper
Ghee for cooking
Canola oil for deep frying
Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the center.
Grease (with softened butter) a 12”x9” pan that’s at least 1” deep. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper that’s been lightly greased. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp of ghee in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat until the ghee has melted and begins to shimmer.
Add the onions to the pan and sauté till they become limp.
Add the ginger, garlic, green chillies, and 1 tsp salt, and continue to cook, stirring often, until the onions have reduced in bulk considerably, and have begun to turn a light gold, 5–10 minutes.
Add the kale and cook, stirring often, till it is tender and cooked through, another 5–10 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if at any point the kale or onions begin to stick.
Turn off the heat and set the pan aside to let the contents cool.
Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat together with a whisk, along with 1 ½ tsp salt, the turmeric, and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper.
When the eggs are well combined, gently sprinkle the besan over them, whisking as you do, to avoid lumps as much as possible.
Finally, stir in the chopped dill.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and cook on the middle rack of the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until cooked through and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of the mixture comes out clean.
Set aside to cool.
Once cool, turn the besan-egg cake (basically what it is) out onto a cutting board.
Remove the parchment paper and, using a sharp serrated knife, cut into 3-inch-long pieces that are half an inch wide. You should end up with approximately 72 pieces.
Heat 1 1/2 inches of canola oil in a round-bottomed wok or kadhai over medium-high heat. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of the oil.
While the oil is getting hot, line a half sheet pan with paper towels and keep it handy to receive the hot pakoras as they come out of the oil.
When the oil reaches 350°F, start gently adding the pakoras, making sure not to let the oil splash—it is excruciatingly hot—and adding no more at a time than comfortably fit side-by-side in the hot oil.
Use a slotted spoon to carefully turn the pakoras as they get browned on each side.
When the pakoras are uniformly golden brown on all sides—which should take no more than a minute—remove them with the slotted spoon onto the paper towel–lined sheet pan and sprinkle with fine sea salt.
Repeat until all the pakoras are fried.
Serve hot with cilantro chutney or all on their own.