Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Karhi Pakora: Can you dig it?


Everyone likes kababs. Naans are pretty internationally palatable. But there are some Indo-Pak dishes that may fit into the category of "acquired taste" for foreigners like gori wives. How 'bout some maghaz curry? That would be brain---they say eating it will build brain power. Or some pungent mixed pickle to scrape up with your delicious paratha? Hot, oily, sour, red, filled with unrecognizable preserved slivers of curious vegetables, desi achaars are not for every gora. I happen to like much of the "weirder" stuff...food being weird is subjective of course. I just mean stuff that might seem weird to the goras when they first have it. One dish which I think could be a challenge is also one of my favorites. Karhi pakora. It is SOOOO easy to make. But it is hot and sour and should ideally contain fresh curry leaves. These features make it fall into the "weird stuff" category. Anyway, here is my recipe:

The wet part:
1 cup older live yoghurt (the older it is, the more sour it will be)
5 cups water (add more later if it looks too thick for your taste once it boils)
1/2 cup chickpea flour (besan)

Mix these together with a whisk. If for some reason the besan goes lumpy, give the whole thing a whiz in the blender. You could alternatively pour the mixture through a strainer. Whatever works for you. The purpose of the besan is to prevent to yoghurt from curdling when cooked, which would be a distaster.

The seasonings:
2-3 tbs oil
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
3-4 whole red chilies
1/2 tsp to 1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
10 fenugreek seeds (methi daane)
1 heaping tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
1 heaping tsp dried mango powder (amchoor)
10 fresh curry leaves
1 onion chopped, small but not fine
pinch garam masala

fresh cilantro and chopped green chillies for garnish
lots of salt

The pakore:
You can use any recipe. I cheated this time and used the National Pakora mix doctored up with an extra splash of salt, some green onions, green chilies, and cilantro added in. Your recipe should yield a heavier pakora. If your pakore come out too light and airy, they will break apart in the karhi gravy. For the Nat'l Pakora Mix, I used 1 cup of water, not 1 and a half. One and a half cups of water would be good for the light tempura style veg pakoras, but will cause pakora break up in karhi gravy.

What to do: Have your yoghurt mix ready. Heat oil in deep pot. Add in whole cumin, whole dried red chilies, curry leaves, and fenugreek seeds, and let sizzle for a moment. Stir in your cumin and chili powder. Before this starts to burn, pour in your yoghurt mix. Now add in the rest of the seasonings and mix well (except the garnish). Allow to boil, then turn on low, cook until the onions are done and the gravy has thickened. It should be soupy but not runny. Taste for salt. For some reason, the besan flour sucks up all of the salt, so I always find that I have to add salt to achieve the correct saltiness. In the meanwhile, fry up your pakoras and set them aside. You could also use stale leftover from the night before pakoras...it is a good way to use up leftover plain pakoras. I usually make the pakoras for karhi a little large in size, though. Anyhow, about 10-15 minutes before serving, stick the pakoras in the karhi gravy and let them settle in and soften. At serving time, garnish with cilantro and chopped green chilies. Eat this dish with plain white rice, chappatis, or just eat it by itself. It is up to you. This stuff is highly addictive. It is heavy, so I would serve it with a veg dish or a small lentil made into a very thin daal, or possibly with fish. It kind of functions as a meat dish since it is so heavy, actually.

If you google this dish, you will find lots of recipes. Some recipes call for buttermilk instead of yoghurt, which I hear is the preferred dairy base for kadhi in the villages of Punjab. In Gujarat, it is made thin and has added sugar or jaggery. In Hyderbad, the gravy contains tomatoes, so the end result is pinkish curry. Some people don't add curry leaves, some must have mustard seeds (rai), some recipes instruct you to add the seasonings (tarka/baghaar) to the cooked curry at the end, etc., etc.  So this is yet another dish which you might have to tweak to get a certain style that will suit yourself or your family. I happen to like my own hot and extra sour recipe. Happy cooking!