Do you partake in spring cleaning? Does the sight of sunshine, albeit weak and passing, compel you to bust out dusting cloths and cleaning supplies? Or perhaps you lean in a different direction when it comes to satisfying the urge to clean things out and start anew. That direction, in this case, being the refrigerator.
It’s no secret that I like to hoard leftover bits of this and that in the refrigerator, but it should be pointed out that I definitely have my limits when it comes to how long something sits in my fridge. The Kitchn recently ran a good article about a helpful way to manage your refrigerator leftovers by utilizing the 2:4 rule, dictating that food left out at room temperature for 2 hours is still good to pack up and save, and food left in the refrigerator for 4 days is still good to eat. Some might find these rules of thumb a little strict (I have been known to leave leftovers in the refrigerator for much, much longer than that and suffer no ill effects after subsequently eating them), and instead err on the side of this train of thought examined a couple of years ago on NPR, which proposes that refrigerated food, regardless of when you might be told it will expire, lasts much, much longer than most people think it will.
Still, it is not difficult to tell when most foods are nearing the end of their lives. Just seeing the weak and slumping appearance of a container filled with abandoned chicken is enough to give me the chills. And if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to pour a lump of expired milk into your hotly anticipated first cup of morning coffee, well, I feel your pain.
Over the years I have become quite adept at last minute ideas for utilizing foods that seem to be hobbling about on their last legs (though it bears mentioning that if you do actually happen to see your old and haggard refrigerator contents literally move on their own, it would, of course, be in everyone’s best interest that you just dispose of said items immediately). While it’s rare for me to meet a frittata or quiche I don’t like, I have to admit that my all time favorite way to rid my crisper drawer of errant vegetables is by whipping up a batch of pakoras.
Cauliflower, zucchini, potatoes, spinach, peas, root vegetables, leeks, onions—you can make pakoras out of nearly everything and they will taste absolutely wonderful. The mélange of spices that perk up the savory besan batter have the ability to meld with pretty much anything you throw at them, and then everything comes together into one heavenly bite, you’ll be hard pressed to recall that, just a few moments ago, the very vegetables that made up your pakora were sitting untouched in your fridge and looking borderline scary. My latest batch included shredded zucchini, finely chopped cauliflower, and thin slices of red onion. I threw in a handful of leftover cilantro for good measure, and everything came together beautifully. Later on I discovered a lonely little jalapeno pepper hiding at the bottom of the crisper, and I cursed myself for not finding it earlier. Thinly sliced into crisp ribs and folded in amongst the milder vegetables, it would have made my pakoras just that much more punchy and exciting. Not that I had any trouble finishing off these pakoras without them. Needless to say, there were absolutely no leftovers of my leftovers.
Check the archives for more Indian dishes.
Also, time machine! I’ve been doing this for a year now. Check this post from exactly one year ago today: Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread.
Vegetable Pakoras Recipe
1 ½ cups besan (chickpea flour)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on how spicy you like things
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup cold water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 cups finely chopped or grated vegetables (cauliflower, potatoes, zucchini, spinach, onions, etc.)
lemon slices, for serving
optional: pinch of baking powder
In a large bowl, whisk together chickpea flour, spices, salt, and ginger. If you like puffier pakoras, now would be the time to add in the optional pinch of baking powder. Using a fork, slowly mix in the vegetable oil, lemon juice, and cold water. Mix until the batter is thick, but not stiff (if the batter is unreasonably stiff at this point, mix in another 2 tablespoons of water to loosen it up). Set batter aside while you prep the vegetables.
Fold the chopped vegetables into the batter, coating all the vegetables as best as you can without overworking the batter or bruising the vegetables.
In a large skillet, heat ¼ to ½ cup of vegetable oil (how much will depend on the size of your skillet, a larger skillet will need more oil, and vice versa) over medium heat until it just begins to shimmer and a pinch of the batter dropped into the oil sizzles immediately.
Carefully place 1 heaping tablespoon of batter at a time into the hot oil. The pakoras should sizzle nicely, but not violently (if the oil is too hot, the pakoras will cook too fast on the outside and remain raw in the middle). Cook four or five pakoras at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan. Cook for roughly 3 minutes on each side, until the outsides are dark golden brown and the middles are cooked. Drain pakoras on a layer of paper towels set upon a wire cooling rack (this will keep the pakoras from getting soggy).
Serve warm, with fresh lemon slices for squeezing over the pakoras.
Makes about 3 dozen pakoras, depending on how heaping your tablespoons are.