Pakoras are small, savory fried snacks which are a central part of South Asian cuisine. They typically consist of chopped or shredded vegetables, cheese, or poultry coated in a batter made from chickpea flour and then deep-fried. Beyond this basic definition, there are a great many varieties of pakora, and some regions of India and other South Asian countries have their own pakora specialties. While pakoras originated in South Asia, they have gained some popularity in parts of the United States and Europe as well.
Perhaps the unifying feature of all pakoras is their deep-fried coating, made from chickpea flour, which is usually referred to in South Asian cooking as gram flour. This type of flour is made by slow-baking, cooling, and then finely grinding chickpeas. To prepare pakora batter, gram flour is blended with water and, in some cases, seasonings such as cumin and salt. Often, this batter is mixed rapidly for several minutes, resulting in a coating that is light and fluffy.
The fillings used in pakoras vary widely. Occasionally poultry such as chicken is used, but as vegetarianism is widespread in South Asia, vegetables and cheese are perhaps the most popular fillings. Commonly used vegetables include potatoes, onions, cauliflower, tomatoes, and spinach. In many cases these ingredients are used in combination with each other. When preparing pakoras, the chosen fillings are finely chopped or shredded and then mixed with seasonings or chilies.
Once the filling has been prepared, it is tossed with the gram flour batter mixture and then added in spoonfuls to a preheated deep fryer. When each spoonful hits the hot oil, its exterior becomes crisp and golden. Depending on the frying time, its inside may remain crunchy, or may soften slightly.
Some regions of India claim their own pakora specialties. For instance, Rajasthan, a state in India’s northwest, is known for its spicy mirchi bada pakoras, which consist of deep-fried potato-stuffed chilies. Residents of Tamil Nadu, on the country’s southern coast, enjoy pakoras filled with banana.
The popularity of the pakora stretches far beyond South Asia. As South Asian peoples have immigrated to countries such as England, Scotland, and the United States, they have introduced Westerners to the specialties of their native cuisine, and these crispy snacks are commonly found on menus at Indian and fusion restaurants abroad. In the UK, pakoras are even sometimes sold at fast-food restaurants alongside more familiar side dishes, such as French fries.