It’s that time of year again! Ramadan started about a week ago (Ramadan Mubarak to those that celebrate!), and that means snack foods during the evenings to open fasts. Unfortunately, I have never been able to participating in fasting since I take medications, but I still try to be an active participant in other aspects. Fasting is done not only to remind of us how there are people who are less fortunate than us whose everyday reality is not having food to eat, but also as a time to cleanse yourself inside and out. But, I’m still naming this Ramadan mini-series “Bayfood Fasts” since that’s a lot of what Ramadan food-related things center around.
As a family, we always make sure we’re home in time for iftar, which is the time to break one’s fast. I really like that aspect, especially in the past couple of years, since everyone started to have their own schedules between school and work, so it’s nice to have a bit of time where we all sit together. Now that Ramadan has moved into the summers (we go by a lunar calendar, so it moves up 10 days every year), the fasts are longer, so iftar often becomes the “appetizer” before dinner.
In the Pakistani culture, that means a lot of fried snack foods! Usually, it consists of samosas and/or pakoras (fried fritters with vegetables in chickpea flour) that are accompanied with chutneys. The dark brown sauce is tamarind chutney, which is sweet, and can be commonly found in Indian grocery stores. The green one is the spicy chutney, which is made of cilantro. These are easily found in grocery stores, but we just make it at home. Another integral part of iftar are the dates. You will see dates at almost every iftar regardless of culture or background since we believe it to be Sunnah, which are things the Prophet did, so therefore it’s extra good. Just a little lesson for y’all. 🙂 I, personally, have yet to acclimate myself to the taste of dates, but I’m making it my goal this year since it’s one of the few non-fried things on our table spread, lol.
To make a pakora, you start out with 1 cup besan* (gram flour) and add in water to create a mixture. You’ll have to play around with the amount of water, but you should put in enough that the mixture isn’t pasty but like the consistency of a cake batter. You can add a pinch of baking powder to help the puffs rise more. From here, it is essentially up to your taste buds. In my house, we usually put in some cayenne pepper, salt, and serrano chiles. The options are pretty much unlimited as to what you mix into your pakora batter. I’ve had spinach and onion, eggplant, basil, potatoes, and just plain pakoras. People even make pakoras out of bread – although I think that’s a bit overkill since you’re already eating fried foods! Once you put in the chopped vegetables into your batter, you just fry them up in a saucepan until brown.
I wouldn’t recommend using a tomato or cucumber, for example, since they’ll get soggy when frying. Try to avoid “watery” vegetables! You can even break out of the vegetable mold, and use soft cheeses – like paneer – in a pakora.
For the particular batch above, my mom wanted to finish random vegetable leftovers we had, so she mixed in some potatoes and peas. They turned out pretty well. Pakoras are best served with sweet and/or spicy chutneys and even ketchup! I just try not to eat too many since I still have dinner to look forward to. 😉
*You can find besan/gram flour at an Indian/South Asian market. I’m not sure if it’s more widely available since that’s where I get my goods!