I have a friend that insists upon ordering butter chicken whenever we stumble upon a new Indian restaurant, claiming that through this single dish, we can discern the quality of the restaurant as a whole. There is a truth to this, especially when your relationship with Indian food is complex and your taste buds carry with them memories of curries from another time and place.
For me though, the benchmark is onion bhaji. That spiced onion fritter that forms the backbone of any Indian starters menu. A perfect bhaji has lots of onion, crispy and sweet, with the perfect amount of batter to carry the flavours of cumin, turmeric, and coriander. They represent my own first memory of Indian cookery and I love them.
These are quick and simple. If you can make a latke, you can make a bhaji.
And if someone tells you that onion bhaji are basically Indian onion rings, go ahead and shove one of these in their mouth to keep them quiet.
1/2 cup (60g) chickpea flour
1/4 cup (30g) rice flour
1 tbsp ghee or butter, melted
Juice of ¼ lemon
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds, coarsely chopped
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1-2 hot green chillies (to taste), finely minced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Fistful of coriander, chopped
2 onions, halved, core removed and thinly sliced
Vegetable oil, for cooking
Cut onions in half, remove outer skin, keeping root end intact, and slice thinly. Set aside. Keeping the root end attached apparently helps with the whole crying thing. Fortunately, 2 onions is about the number of onions most humans can get through before the weeping really begins.
Combine the flours in a medium bowl. Add lemon juice, ghee or butter, and enough cold water to bring the consistency similar to yogurt. Stir in the spices, garlic, chillies, and herbs.
Add the onions and toss so that each and every sliver is coated with batter.
Pour vegetable oil into a heavy frying pan or Dutch oven to about 1/2 inch deep. Heat oil on high until a drop of cold water sizzles in the oil.
Using a scoop or two tablespoons, add batter to the oil. You could use cold, wet hands depending on your comfort level with frying.You do you; I’ll use a scoop. Don’t overcrowd the pan.
Cook for about five minutes, turning half way. Bhaji should be a lovely golden brown colour. Transfer cooked bhaji to a tray in a low heat oven until you are ready to serve. Or do like I do and eat one for every two that come out of the pan.
Serve with a mango chutney, sweet chilli sauce, or a smug grin that reveals just how clever you are.
Only slightly adapted from The Guardian, 2013.