Air Fryer: Veggie-Quinoa Pakoras

July 09, 2023 1 Comment

Air Fryer: Veggie-Quinoa Pakoras

I was introduced to the 'double fry' technique on pakoras visiting my mother's childhood home in Chandigarh (Punjab, India) a few years back. My massi and mamiji (aunts) stood in the kitchen towards the back of the house and quickly mixed and fried up veggie fritters for guests that had dropped in unexpectedly. It's one of the things that I love and admire most about our home there and our Indian sense of hospitality. Everyone is welcome and fawned over no matter when they stop by - even unannounced. My aunts showed me how after they deep fried the balls of spiced chickpea flour veggie fritters they took them out and with the flat side of a small, round katori or stainless steel bowl, they would gently press them down, flattening them a touch before throwing them back into the hot oil for a few more seconds. It was so critical for me to see this visual and it made all of the difference. Chickpea flour is delicious, but medium to large-sized pakoras do not always cook completely through on the first fry. That always made me nervous serving them and I'd end up over frying them. In this recipe below, I give you an even better version - Air Fried - made that much better by incorporating this small technique. You will see what a difference it truly makes.

If you are not familiar with besan or chickpea flour, it's a good one to get to know. In Indian cuisine we use many naturally gluten-free flours including this one made from dry black chickpeas - or besan. This flour is starting to make its mark on mainstream shelves in the US and its benefits are clear as a high-protein, naturally gluten-free option with more nutrition than a rice flour. There are a couple things to keep in mind. Most western products that I've tested are made from white chickpeas rather than black, giving the flour a slightly different texture, color, and feel. But, that's okay if you are gluten free for medical reasons. The flours sold in Indian grocers, while tastier, cannot always confirm they are made in gluten-free facilities. Also, chickpea flour while absolutely delicious, does have a distinct taste profile. It is not possible to replace it entirely in recipes that require a blander taste profile, but give it a try and see for yourself.  

For pakoras, it also makes a difference to get the spice right. While you can make these without the ajwain, carom seeds, if you do have it, you'll capture that restaurant-quality element. I will talk more about this important spice later this week. In this recipe you'll see I also added some quinoa. Why not add an ingredient that will up the protein even more - critical to our Indian vegetarian diets? It didn't change the flavor or texture, which was actually my hope. I love 'sneaking' it in wherever I can without altering our traditional tasting profiles. On top of it, this recipe gives you full flavor without the drama or calories of deep frying in oil. Meaning, it's a recipe that I will make over and over again. And, adding it to my Kadi (yogurt curry) that I made last week was pure heaven. 

Air Fryer: Veggie-Quinoa Pakora
Makes 12 pieces

1 cup besan (chickpea flour)
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon ajwain (carom seeds)
1 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon vegetable oil plus more for spraying, divided
1 cup green cabbage, minced
2 tablespoons red or yellow onion, minced
1-4 Thai or serrano chiles, stems removed and thinly sliced
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, grated or finely minced
2 tablespoons cooked quinoa (optional)
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons water, divided

1. In a roomy bowl, add the besan, turmeric, ajwain, red chile, salt, and 2 teaspoons of oil. Stir. In a separate bowl, add the cabbage, onion, chiles, ginger, quinoa, and cilantro. Stir.

2. When you are ready to cook, add the veggies to the flour mixture and stir. You will have a crumbly mixture. The vegetables release natural moisture, why you don’t want to do this too early, as the mixture can get soggy and then the pakoras won’t crisp up when you cook them. Some recipes call to squeeze out and dry the moisture from the veggies. I don’t because any slight amount of moisture will be incorporated into the flour when you mix the two together. You just add slightly less water in the next step.

3. Slowly add the water 2 tablespoons at a time and then 1 teaspoon at a time. Stir until the batter just comes together. It should look like chunky cookie batter and not be runny. The amount of water used will also depend on the consistency of the besan. If it’s from an Indian grocer it usually uses a touch more water, but from a mainstream grocer, you may need less. Again, add the water slowly and jot down the amount you use for next time.

4. Line your Air Fryer with parchment paper. Using a medium-sized spoon, drop nuggets of batter onto the paper – I cook six pakoras at a time. Be careful not to overcrowd the basket. It's better to start with parchment paper or the pakoras often get stuck to the bottom. 

5. Cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) for 10 minutes. Once cooked, carefully transfer the pakoras to a plate or baking tray. With a spatula, press them down and flatten slightly. Remove the parchment paper from the Air Fryer and put the pakoras back into the basket turned over. At this point they won't stick and removing the parchment paper really allows them to crisp up. Spray them lightly with oil and cook at 350 degrees for another 5 minutes. Remove and enjoy in kadi or as a snack with a side of our tamarind chutney and a cup of hot chai. I often use these as veggie nuggets and turn them into burgers topped with ketchup, tamarind chutney, slices of onion and tomato, and pickle - my family loves pakora sliders! 

Still to come - tips on baking in the oven. For now, I would suggest 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) for 15 minutes, remove and press, flip over, spray with oil, and cook another 15 minutes for a total of 30 minutes. I need to make them this way a few times before giving you my final guidelines. 

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1 Response


July 19, 2023

Tastes great! I ran out of ajwain (more likely just couldn’t find it in my cupboard!) so substituted with Italian seasoning since oregano is a distant cousin…. The oven directions were great and worked well although since I used the lower rack reduced to 10 minutes on each side. I used Brussels sprouts instead of cabbage since that’s what I had on hand… I just misjudged how much shredded vegetable I would have and so had a greater vegetable to besan ratio than intended… but it held together and the taste was quite good

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