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A Hot Plate Of Nostalgia

From regional recipes to family traditions, four chefs talk to Ainee Nizami Ahmedi about the humble monsoon staple

By Ainee Nizami Ahmedi  July 1st, 2021

It’s easy to picture what a rainy Sunday evening in most Indian households looks like—the TV is probably playing old classics from a YouTube playlist, while the family is gathered around the window, sipping on the warm cups of tea, accompanied by evening snacks. An uncle is reminiscing about the kind of monsoons they had back in the day and the kids are angling for the perfect Instagram story. The star of the evening is the plate of pakoras (fritters), served with chutney or fried green chillies peppered with salt. It’s the perfect monsoon routine.

Each region boasts a different name and variety for the pakoras (think potato, onion, spinach and so much more), but the end goal is the same—to enjoy the rains while you treat your palate. Stepping into the season of chai and pakoras, we catch up with chefs from different parts of the country as they familiarise us with their favourite version of the dish. Straight from childhood kitchens, here are the four varieties that will have your mouth watering.

Chef & Mentor Sabyasachi Gorai, Fabrica by Sabi

“My childhood kitchen was very interesting and greatly influenced by two cooking styles. My mother’s family came from East Bengal and my father’s from the hinterland of West Bengal. When I think back to this monsoon special, apart from the usual potato, onion and aubergine pakoras, we also made them with flowers. One was with pumpkin flowers and the other was the exotic sesbania Grandiflora (bok phool). The batter was a mix of besan with ajwain, and my mother made home-ground spice dust to go with it—toasted jeera, whole red chillies and rock salt, all ground together into a fine powder. My dad used to also make onion rolls and serve it with green mango flavoured Bengali mustard, aam kasundi.”

Chef Nilesh Limaye, All ‘Bout Cooking

“The windswept road, green pastures, picturesque waterfalls and a hot plate of bhaji—that’s bliss. I have numerous bhaji favourites in Maharashtra. From Mumbai and Pune, you can drive towards Malshej and pick up some courgettes from the local farmers. Simply slice, dip in the pakora batter and shallow-fry them. These juicy English cucumbers then become encased in the crisp outer skin. As you bite into this moistness, the crispy part melts in your mouth. If you are lucky, the natives will even let you have a few cucumber flower blooms. The bhaji made from these flowers is a speciality on its own. I recently came across green tomato fritters in Cozumel (Mexico) and was inspired to make green tomato bhaji. Green tomatoes aren’t ripened and carry less moisture in them, which helps maintain the crunchiness. Slice them a bit thick, marinate with salt, chilli powder and kasuri methi. Then coat with fresh breadcrumbs and fry them till they are golden.”

Executive Chef Madhumita Mohanta, The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata

“I belong to the land of tea, and the bikeler jolkhabar (evening hi-tea) is one of the most cherished meals for us. We love to visit parar telebhajar aar chayer dokan (the neighbourhood fritter and tea stall). While you get a variety of things here to snack on during the monsoon, my favourite has always been the echorer chop—green jackfruit fritters. The trick to getting these right is to remember that the jackfruit shouldn’t be completely ripe. Boil it till it’s soft, and then saute it with some spices, chopped coriander and lemon juice. Mix in freshly made breadcrumbs, fry it in hot oil and you are ready to serve.”

Chef Pranav, Author & TV Host

“Monsoons are incomplete in India without bhajia! As a child, I remember my mother preparing a batch of bhajia as soon as the first rains hit the parched city of Ahmedabad. We liked it a bit on the spicier side, so red chilli powder was a must in the batter. Our bhajia was made from a variety of vegetables such as potatoes, onions and aubergines. Back then, we relished it with the simple tomato ketchup, but I also enjoy them with a spicy garlic-chilli chutney. And this has to be served with a steaming cup of delicious masala chai steeped in ginger and mint leaves.”

Photographs: Shutterstock, Alamy Stock Photo, Getty Images

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