I Fried Bhajias

paneer bhajias

Have I said often enough that “I don’t fry?” Ok, I take that back. When you live in one of the most overcast, drizzly, damp cities, sometimes you need to fry just to have some fun and warm you up. Once in a while an exception is ok, if you eat in moderation and don’t go crazy! In India we fry bhajias during monsoon. I only wish that every time we fry, it could recreate the charm of monsoon!

I tried to recreate monsoon in my head as I fried these bhajias, but it isn’t really like monsoon here in Seattle. Monsoon means really heavy showers but with warm temperatures. In monsoon, it was warm enough that we would run up to the terrace on top of our building and enjoy getting soaked :) Then we would quickly come down, dry off, and have a warm cup of chai with freshly fried bhajias made by mom. What can I say, it’s an Indian thing — rain=> bhajias + chai — ask any Indian :)

For me, the best part of frying was learning how to fry from my mom, because it brought back that nostalgia — hers and mine! I learnt about her quirky techniques, and she remembered learning to fry when she was growing up, or remembered stories from when my brother and I were young.

bhajias

We talked about “Mohan’s bhajias,” the one-man business in my hometown whose thinly-sliced potato bhajias were simply the best! Mohan had a small hand cart which he parked a few blocks away from our home. Whenever some of my out-of-town cousins would visit us, we’d wait in long lines to get Mohan’s potato bhajias, because that’s all our guests wanted.

My mom remembered how it was her dad who taught her to fry, and she was so afraid of making mistakes. She made the same mistake I was making when she taught me; then she’d say — you get the hang of it as you do more, it’s all about practice. For me, it’s not quite the case because I don’t fry often. For me, frying has always been associated with scary things.

There is something scary about hot oil flying all over, like the first time I decided to make corn fritters. Mostly though, the fear I have of frying is because I’ve lost a lot of my family to serious cholesterol and heart problems. I’d hate to see more fall victim to eating too much fried food.
On the other hand, I admit that fried foods bring out the fun & cheer in everyone. We act like we are all happy five year olds :) When I made these bhajias, my husband put a little music on and did a dance! and we made some chai, and pretended like it was monsoon, and we just enjoyed. Bhajias are like a lot of common food wherever you go — cheap and what the majority enjoy, whether in fast food chains or off the street from a little hand cart. They can take you back home, wherever you are and wherever you are from!

So once in a blue moon, we fry like it’s monsoon in cold, rainy Seattle, filling up our home with freshly fried fritters of many different kinds. Since I’m only doing it rarely, I pretty much slice up everything I can — potatoes, onions, zucchini, mushrooms, paneer, cheddar, tofu, chilies, bananas, and the list can go on.

Yes, paneer — as in the Indian cottage cheese. I have a local supplier whose paneer comes very close to the great home-made paneer we’re used to eating in India. There it’s made with fresh, raw, whole milk, straight from the guy who milks the cows every day, and delivered to your doorstep every day, too. Paneer-making will be another post someday, but right now Appel Farms in Washington State have done the job of supplying good quality paneer to our local grocery stores, so that is what you see here.

This is the basic bhajia batter recipe I learnt from my mother. I hope you enjoy and make it your own, to share smiles and stories with your family in the kitchen and over the dining table!

paneer slices

I used:
1.5 cups chana flour (chickpea flour)
3 teaspoons rice flour
1 tablsepoon wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of chili powder
pinch of amja (carom seeds)
1 tablespoon oil
1.25 cups cold water

My method:
1. Mix all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
2. Add the oil, and mix it in with your hand, making sure all the lumps are broken down.
3. Slowly add the water 1/4 cup at a time, while you mix the batter with your other hand to make sure you don’t get any lumps.
4. Once all the water is combined, and smoothed nicely with your hand, you should have a smooth batter. It should be just thick enough to coat any of the vegetables and other ingredients mentioned above while they are dipped and fried.
5. Make sure you have vegetable oil or other good, light oil to fry on medium-high heat. Fry as you please without crowding up the frying pan too much. I like using a small, but deep pot to fry, in which I can only put a few bhajias at a time. After you’ve dropped one in, check in a minute or so. As one side gets lightly browned, flip them over to do the same with the other side. Drain off the oil by holding them with a slotted spoon or a spider, then set them on a plate lined with a few paper towels, to soak up excess oil.
6. Sprinkle with some chaat masala or flavored salt and enjoy with a cup of chai!