How I use Onions:
I lived in London for a number of years and during that time I did a short course on Indian cookery. Our mantra was: “its all in the onions”, signifying the crucial part the cutting and cooking of the onions played in the flavour and texture of our finished curries. When making curries it was usual to finely cut (as fine as you can) the onions and then fry until a deep golden brown before other ingredients are added. Onions used in this manner added flavour and colour to the dish as well as acting as a thickening agent for the sauce as they broke down and were incorporated into it. In most curries the onions are crucial but hidden, in onion bhaji’s though they are the star of the show.
My teacher at curry school was of Gujarati background via Kenya and her cooking was influenced by that history. During the course we played with a number of different core pakora and bhaji ingredients (cauliflower was good, pumpkin less so) but onion was always my favourite. There are probably as many slight variations to bhaji recipes as there are cooks in India or indeed people cooking Indian style food the world over. This is my version, cooked in Australia – which owes a lot to a recipe which began in Gujarat, travelling via Kenya and the UK to get here.
I like to make Onion Bhaji’s by feel so be prepared to get your hands dirty.
- 100g besam (otherwise known as Gram or Chickpea Flour)
- 1tsp garam masala*
- ½ tsp chilli powder or 2 hot chillies (vary according to taste)
- 2 large onions sliced (I slice mine down the onion rather than into rings)
- About 100mls of water.
- Oil for deep frying (Canola oil is great or any other neutral oil suitable for deep frying).
Place the onions , garam masala, chilli and salt (about ½ tsp or more to taste) into a mixing bowl. Sift in the flour and mix with your hand until the onions are coated. Gradually add the water mixing as you go until the onions are thoroughly coated in a soft thick batter.
Heat the oil and test it by dropping a small amount of batter in to see if it floats without browning. You don’t want the oil to be too hot as you want the onion to cook before the bhaji’s are too brown.
Pick up clumps of the bhaji mixture and place into the oil. Cook until golden. I serve mine with a mint chutney which is simply mint, salt and yoghurt blitzed together.
*To make Garam Masala:
I like my garam masala with a bit of cumin and coriander in it – I find it easier to use than the stronger versions which tend to omit these ingredients (and are a lot heavier on the black pepper). You can choose to omit the cumin and coriander from this recipe if you prefer.
- 1 tblspn cumin seeds.
- 1 tblspn coriander seeds
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 tspn cloves
- ¼ of a whole nutmeg grated
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon seed from green cardamom pods
- 1 tspn black peppercorns
Heat a frypan on the top of the stove and add all the spices except the nutmeg and cloves. Dry fry the spices until fragrant. Allow them to cool. Grind all spices together in a spice grinder.
This mixture will keep its flavour for about 3 months (although the fresher the better).