Methi Pakora for Chalks and Chopsticks

Methi Pakora
The Spice BoxIf the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, why on earth is my Aditi still single?

Aayi had asked the question a million times in the last 10 years and at least a dozen times this morning.. Not once did she see Aditi wince, which she did each time.

Aayi almost made her regret the deft magic she could spin in the kitchen. The kind that left people scraping the bottoms of serving dishes and licking their fingers at the end of each meal.

Aditi tuned off and turned to scrubbing away the small but thick and gooey mess left behind by the pakora batter that she had just finished putting together for this evening’s visitors.  The drops of besan, prettily specked with red chili powder and green methi, clung stubbornly to the black soapstone kitchen platform.

Another Sunday about to go down the drain, she thought silently, pulling the loose end of her sari around her waist to tuck it in and out of the way. Another day of cooking one dish after another to lure some stranger and his family.

They would praise the food, smile politely, ask her a couple of questions, and then take off never to be seen again. Weeks later they would send word through Nadkarni, the matchmaker, that the girl was okay but it wouldn’t work…she was too dark.

Or too short. Or too tall.

Someone had even turned her down because, they said, she looked too intelligent.

“You should never have gotten that master’s degree,” Aayi would say after each missive rejecting the daughter she adored. “Who’s going to marry you if you’re more educated than the groom is? You even make more money than most of these men do! They have their pride, you know.”

Aditi could think of a million things to say to that, but she swallowed them all. Arguing with Aayi usually ended with the older woman crying a bucket, and that was too much for Aditi to deal with right now. She still had to put together the rest of the meal.

These matchmaking events, usually so momentous for a young woman, had turned for Aditi into routines that arrived with certain and unwelcome regularity. They had started 10 years ago, right after she turned 21. Each episode began with Nadkarni bustling unctuously through the door, smiling ear to ear. Panting visibly like a dog with even her tongue hanging out a little, except there was nothing cute about the square, eager face. Oil would have seeped out from her hair and onto her forehead, and over it the heat would have formed perfectly round beads of perspiration

“This is the boy– he’s the one.” That was usually the first sentence out Nadkarni’s mouth. The words would send Aayi into a frenzy of unjustified hope, but the other woman would wait until Aayi had placed in her hands a big cup of milky-thick Nescafe and a plate of sweet Glucose biscuits before giving out any other nuggets.

Soon, horoscopes would be whipped out, photographs traded, and information about castes, family deities, workplaces, salaries and relatives exchanged in a breathless rush.

“The boy isn’t non-veg, is he? You know Aditi would never touch meat…?”

Once Oil Drum (as Aditi thought of Nadkarni) had rolled away, on a mission to bring more hearts together and break others, Aayi would pick off right where the other woman had left.. “I have a gut feeling that this is it,” she would exult, never deterred by the fact that her gut had been wrong every single time in the past.

“He’s educated, good-looking, and he comes from a wonderful family. I think I met his aunt once back in Goa. She was really nice.” She’d thrust under Aditi’s nose the photograph Oil Drum had left behind, then show it to every friend, neighbor and relative who walked in the door.

Once the rejection had landed, she would backtrack without missing a beat. “He was rather ugly, really, I mean how could God put that big a nose on a man’s face? And his mother?” This was accompanied by an expressive, full-bodied shudder. “Now she would have made your life miserable. Thank goodness it didn’t work out!”

In the beginning Aditi had seized those moments to beg Aayi to stop looking for a match. I am so happy here with you, Aayi, she’d say. Aayi’s expression would transform instantly, reminding Aditi that she spent a good part of each day — after Aditi had taken off for work– watching melodramatic television serials.

“And let everyone say I kept my grown daughter at home so I could live off her? If only your father were alive now, we would have found a groom for you long ago– how well-respected he was!  Besides, who will be here to look after you when I’m gone?”

Eventually, Aditi learned to avoid every step she knew would be a pitfall. Instead, she just went along. She knew it was what Aayi wanted more than anything in the world. Besides, there was one aspect of these events that she did enjoy: the food.

Food was her friend. And with just her and Aayi at home, and Aayi’s long-suffering health, it was not too often that she could indulge in her love for cooking.

Her hands knew the exact measure of the spices, and the herbs, that could send people into raptures after biting into a simple, lacy dosa dunked into a green, coconutty chutney. Her fingers wallowed in the sensuous touch of the sticky, hard, golden lumps of jaggery as she chopped them into tiny pieces and added them to milky grated coconut to make a filling for her karanjis. Even the oil, sputtering and bubbling and spilling over the rim of the rounded, blackened kadhai, sang to her.

In lonely moments, all she had to do was open up the round spice box and breathe.

Earthy cumin. Sweet cardamom. Sassy cinnamon.

They offered steady, silent comfort as they looked up at her from round, open steel containers ringed inside the box.

It was past three in the afternoon now, and Aayi sprang to attention, grabbing the spice box from Aditi’s reluctant hands and putting it away in the kitchen cabinet, right between the tea leaves and the salt.

“Leave this to me, Aditi, you go and get ready. They will be here soon!” Aayi had already put out a sari for her. Aditi saw, without surprise, that it was the purple one with the wide gold border. The one Aayi said made her look fairer. The damn thing had practically turned into a uniform for these occasions.

Aayi then clasped on gold necklace after necklace around her neck, until Aditi thought it would snap under the weight. “I’m not getting married today, you know,” she grumbled softly. “Aayi shook her head. “Yes, but let them see what you will bring with you– we have to impress them, you know.”

As Aditi handed over cups of masala tea to the guests, who were an hour late, she could feel their curious, scrutinizing eyes on her. She felt supremely detached, yet made her own observations.

Eager, curious, lips pursed in eternal disapproval. The Mother.

All nostrils and pride. The Father.

A face not unhandsome, but not one anyone would remember in a day’s time. The Boy.

Would they be the 49th family to say No?

Odds were, they would. But for now Aditi answered their questions, her eyes fixed on the upside-down magazine in front of  the Father. Aayi had warned her, again and again, not to look into people’s eyes when she replied.

“You don’t want them to think you’re too forward,” she’d say.

Where do you work?  What are your hobbies? Do you like to cook?

How tall are you?

And then, as if she was not even in the room, the Mother remarked: “Her eyes are too small, aren’t they? You need to wear some kaajal, my dear, to make them look bigger.”

The Boy was unusually quiet, never raising his eyes to look at her or anyone else. He is either really shy or really hostile, Aditi thought with some amusement. Aayi picked up the cup of tea in front of the Boy and offered it again. “Drink it before it gets cold,” she said with far too much concern for someone she had just met.

Everyone watched in silence as he raised it to his lips and took a sip. Then, completely out of the blue, he made a face and exclaimed, the first words out of his mouth:  “It’s too sweet!”

Aditi’s head snapped up, and Aayi quickly looked at her, a slight raising of the eyebrows warning her to remain quiet. She knew her daughter well. Aditi rarely spoke, rarely complained, but she did not take criticism about her cooking well. Especially from strangers.

“Aditi, go, get the pakoras. And make some more tea– this time with less sugar,” Aayi was smiling ingratiatingly at the Mother. “Aditi makes the best pakoras in the whole world, you know. Wait till you try them.”

Aditi was glad to escape into the sanctuary of her kitchen. Her ears were tipped with red, still smarting from the sweet tea remark.  Who did this guy think he was? No one, NO ONE, had ever criticized anything she’d ever cooked.

She put water on the stove for more tea, then pulled out the pakora batter from the refrigerator. A devil danced in her eyes. Aditi had never been indecisive in the kitchen, but she had never felt as resolute as she did right now.

She tucked the pallu of her heavy silk sari into her waist and turned to the cabinet where Aayi had put away her prized spice box. The round, transparent lid rimmed with steel clattered onto the platform. She picked up the little container right in the middle. She had refilled it this morning and it brimmed with scarlet spice.

Angry, assertive chilli.

She was smiling a little as she upturned the container into the pakora batter, then smoothly mixed it in. The smile widened as she watched the Boy pick up a beautifully golden pakora, and bite into it.

Aayi would never forgive her. Oil Drum would spread the story far and wide. And maybe no Boy and his family would ever step through her door again to “see” her.

She didn’t care. This was her life. And she was taking it back.

Indian spice box
 

***
Methi Pakora
I was tempted, once again, to send something in to Chalk and Chopsticks, a marriage of food and fiction arranged by the lovely Aquadaze and hosted this month by Sra.

Arranged marriages are part of India’s mystique for the rest of the world, not unlike elephants walking on the streets and snakes dancing in baskets. But just like the elephants and snakes, the stories behind the amusing facades can be — at least sometimes — of heartbreak and cruelty.

Before I go on, let me make this clear: I am not against arranged marriages, as my story might have led you to believe. I think they do work exceptionally well in many cases. And they have evolved today to where they really aren’t very different, at least logistically, from a blind date set up by friends or relatives or online dating services here in the West.

But arranged marriages in India can have a pernicious side. In the past especially, and perhaps to a large extent even today, they force the woman into accepting the lower hand. It is not at all uncommon, for instance, for a dowry to exchange hands. Dowry, for anyone who doesn’t know, is  the horrible custom of giving large amounts of cash or gifts to the groom’s family. And women are often forced into rushed unions because parents fear they might not be able to make a good match if they wait too long.

My own marriage was not arranged, but I’ve seen dozens of such matches happen both within my family and in my circle of friends. I’ve known a few Aditis, although I’ve never seen anyone with her sense of humor. I wish I did.

And now for the pakoras. Enjoy, all!
Methi Pakora

Methi Pakora
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 bunch methi leaves, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped into small pieces
  • ½ cup chickpea or garbanzo bean flour
  • ¼ cup rice flour
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, slightly crushed
  • 1 tsp aamchoor (mango powder), optional
  • Salt to taste
  • Water to make a batter
  • Oil for deep frying
Instructions
  1. Place all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and then add enough water to make a thick batter that clumps together.
  2. Heat the oil in a cast-iron pan or kadhai or other frying pan. You want it to get to a point where the batter bubbles and rises immediately when dropped in the oil. If you have a frying thermometer, this should be around 350 degrees. Food fried at this temperature absorbs almost no oil.
  3. Drop small lumps of the batter into the oil and fry each side until golden-brown and really crispy.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

40 thoughts on “Methi Pakora for Chalks and Chopsticks

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Allyson

    July 29, 2010 at 2:24am

    I love your site- and I never comment, but I had to say that this story was just wonderful! Thank you for posting this. :)

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    RV

    July 29, 2010 at 3:22am

    It is sad to know that there are thousands of Adithi in India. Whole arranged marriage system is like a gamble, you seldom hit a jackpot. (This is my opinion and I am not against this sysytem) I truly loved how you related these yumm pakoras with the fiction. Brilliant!!!

  3. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Satya

    July 29, 2010 at 3:28am

    hi vaishali,

    i feel marraige is like a coin, there is always two sides to it.. how do we know if love or arranged marriage will work..one think for sure a girl should not get married until she is really matured…i have seen love marriages break and arranged too and successful marriages in both too..

    so the proof of the pudding is the girl and boy should be matured enough to lead a life together…this is the secret of all happy marriages

    hey ur methi pakodas looks awesome, u have wonderful space with beautiful clicks and recipes…and i love to read ur posts…

    if u get do visit my blog

    Satya
    http://www.superyummyrecipes.com

  4. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Jaya Wagle

    July 29, 2010 at 3:33am

    Beautiful story Vaishali and though you haven’t met any Aditi’s you certainly know one, me!
    Mine was an arranged marriage but never once did I go through what Aditi did. It was always casual, at an Aunt’s or cousin’s place and more often than not at the boy’s place. The theory being that’s where the girl has to live so we might as well see their house.
    You are right about the boy’s specifications — too short, too tall, too dark and even no specs or contact lenses! Like God made them perfect.
    It is a forced match sometimes but I have to tell you, things have changed a lot, at least in the Maharashtrian community.
    There is pressure on the girls, especially if there is a younger sister involved but the parents in most cases respect the girl’s wishes. At least my parents did. It took me almost four years and about 25-30 boys before I liked Tushar. :)
    As to the sense of humor, I have a story, but that is for the next chalks and chopsticks. :)

  5. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Mints!

    July 29, 2010 at 4:29am

    I liked the story. I could actually ‘see’ the story happening right in front of me.
    Recipe is great too.

  6. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Kanchan

    July 29, 2010 at 6:04am

    Lovely write up… quite true for many even today.
    But I guess in cities around here esp all for most of my friends its more of blind date funda.

  7. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    jayasree

    July 29, 2010 at 8:22am

    Loved your story very much…well written. Many such Aditis still exist.

    Pakoras are tempting, ready to be picked off the screen

  8. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    sra

    July 29, 2010 at 9:41am

    This is really a very well-written story and one after my own heart, Vaishali! I’m glad she did that.

    My gran would laugh about these bride-viewing ceremonies, you know – typical questions would be can you sing/dance, and there was a cartoon/joke about some contrary bride who asked the prospective bridegroom if he could cook, because if she was busy singing/dancing, who’d do the cooking? Of course, this was a joke from over 30 years ago – thankfully, now more men cook and it’s not such an unusual thing.

  9. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    T

    July 29, 2010 at 9:58am

    Great story and great recipe! Can’t wait to give it a try to ward off my unwanted suitors… :)

  10. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    BangaloreBaker

    July 29, 2010 at 11:56am

    I was grinning towards the end of the story. Having 3 older daughters who went through this to get married and having gone through this torture three times myself, I can relate to this story very well. Yes, mine is an arranged marriage too. Third time was a charm and I couldn’t keep dressing up and sitting like a doll in front of more men to be honest. I almost hated the arrange marriage then. Very nice write up as usual Vaishali.

  11. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Stephanie

    July 29, 2010 at 1:21pm

    Great story, Viashali…I loved reading it, thanks for sharing. Peace, Stephanie

  12. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Deepika

    July 29, 2010 at 2:15pm

    I loved your write up Vaishali, and I could actually relate to it; having gone through the ritual, just as you describe, not that long ago. Things may be changing, but some things never change. I’m really glad your story ended the way it did!!

    Your click is incredible, as always. And methi pakoras…yum!!

  13. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Manasi

    July 29, 2010 at 3:13pm

    Nice story Vaishali, and so true!
    Though the dowry part is out, I believe that the girl’s side make ALL the arrangements and pick all tabs ( they call it ‘salankrut kanya daan’)

    Reminds me of Charlotte’s words in Pride & Prejudice, ” Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
    Love the pakoras, wish I could indulge myself, pakoras, hot masala tea and old hindi movie songs playing, sigh!

  14. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Preeti @ heart and mind

    July 29, 2010 at 4:51pm

    Vaishali,

    Oh, I wanted to know more..what happens when that boy eats spicy pakora….? You are master writer and amazing cook!

    I see your readers are happy to have you back, including me. I am craving Methi Pakora !

  15. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Priya

    July 30, 2010 at 12:12am

    Vaishali, I’ve got to tell you, I simply love your website and your recipes! When I am bored, this is all I do. I goto your website, pick out some recipe that I want to try and try to put in a twist of my own to it :) (Will post my comments on whatever I’ve tried so far on the respective page(s)). Your recipes are so delicious and mouth-watering to just read and the clicks are way too appetizing and inviting.
    This story abt Aditi was such an enjoyable read, I am glad Aditi is who she is :) I am sure she’ll find the perfect life-partner, without much effort on her side!
    And now I’ve got to try ur yummy looking and sounding methi pakoras :D

  16. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Joyful

    July 30, 2010 at 4:29am

    Your story had me entranced. Wonderfully told tale of this sad plight for women, though let me be quick to say I know there are arranged marriages that do work. It would be nice if those women that didn’t want to marry could choose not to.

  17. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    aqua

    July 30, 2010 at 8:19am

    A beautiful story and I am delighted that Aditi did what she did!

    My younger sister had an arranged marriage but it was (thankfully) a fry cry from the setting in your story. Jaya is right, things have changed quite a lot in some parts of the country.

  18. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Vaishali

    July 30, 2010 at 5:53pm

    Allyson, thanks for your kind words!

    RV, thanks– and you’re right. It definitely seems like a gamble at times. Which is not to say they don’t work or that people who enter such unions don’t fall in love and have long, meaningful relationships. They often do.

    Satya, Thanks! I agree with you that in the end it is always about the people involved, whether it’s a love marriage or an arranged one.

    Jaya, thanks, and I can’t wait to read that story! :) I am glad you didn’t settle on anyone less than your Prince Charming.

    Mints, Kanchan, Jayasree, Simply Food: Thank you!

    Sra, Cute anecdote–it made me laugh :).

    T: Thanks! You are one funny lady! :)

    BangaloreBaker: Yeah, those bride-viewing events are really something, aren’t they? I am glad you liked the story– I remember sitting in the back, agape, at some of these events for my aunts and cousins. I was always so happy I wasn’t the one on display!

    Stephanie, Deepika, Thanks!

    Manasi, lovely quote from a great book. Bronte puts it so wittily and well and it is so true: a lot of arranged marriages work because there is so little expectation on either side. I am not sure it’s a good thing, but it is probably not bad either to begin a union in that spirit. People who are deeply in love with each other before marriage perhaps put each other on too-high pedestals and when reality sets in, it can be — at least in some cases– devastating.

    Preeti, thanks! I am going to leave it to you to imagine the Boy’s reaction. :) As for Aditi, I think she showed us all that she’s strong enough to make it on her own or find her partner when she’s ready.

    DJ, Thanks!

    Priya, You are very kind. I am very glad you have been trying out the recipes and I’ll be eager to hear your feedback. As for Aditi– you figured her out just right :)

    Joyful, thanks and yes– it would be nice if families sometimes backed off a little. I’ve had friends rush into unions with their own choices– not always the best– because they couldn’t deal with the haranguing at home.

    Aqua, thanks! And yes, I agree things have changed in some places and I hope they will continue to in others. Thanks, by the way, for creating this charming event. I, for one, am really loving it.

  19. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Red Chillies

    July 31, 2010 at 2:18pm

    Enjoyed reading the story Vaishali and you have a knack for writing it. Nadkarni is my maiden name and no we are not oil drummers :-)
    methi pakoras look so good and DH loves them with more chilli, spicer the better :-)

  20. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Vaishali

    July 31, 2010 at 2:31pm

    Red Chillies, the Nadkarni in my story is actually a real person — a matchmaker who lived in our neighborhood. I recreated her almost exactly as I remember her from my childhood– the perspiration and all :) Even the name is real. She is the only non-fictional part of this piece of fiction.
    Glad you enjoyed reading it :)

  21. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Bri

    July 31, 2010 at 10:51pm

    Thanks for inspiring me to take the leap and also for such amazing stories and recipes!! This one is wonderful…..will definitely be trying it.

  22. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Miri

    August 2, 2010 at 4:41pm

    Lovely writing Vaishali :) Thanks! and great pakoras!

  23. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Aparna

    August 4, 2010 at 2:29am

    Great piece of writing, Vaishali. An apt setting for those lovely pakoras.

  24. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Shantee'

    August 4, 2010 at 3:42pm

    great story, and great recipe! glad to see that you’re still writing!

  25. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    s

    August 4, 2010 at 4:50pm

    Brilliant piece of storytelling ..and yet so poignant.

  26. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    jodye @ 'scend food

    August 4, 2010 at 8:04pm

    This is a wonderful story, and very enlightening. Thank you for sharing this with us. Thank you, as well, for the wonderful recipe for pakoras, they look delicious!

  27. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Vaishali

    August 5, 2010 at 2:57pm

    Bri, Miri, Aparna, Sharmilee, Shantee, S, Jodye, Veggie Belly: Thanks, all! :)

  28. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    SS blogs here

    August 5, 2010 at 8:07pm

    Hey Vaishali.. nice piece of story telling! Perhaps we could have a sequel about the later adventures of Aditi, the amazon who flares ill-suited suitors. :D

  29. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Usha

    August 5, 2010 at 10:40pm

    Great story Vaishali and very well written. I was grinning at the end there when she reaches for the chili powder :-)

    The pakoras look very inviting especially because it looks like it is going to pour any moment here and nothing tastes as great as pakoras when it is raining :-)

  30. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Jaya

    August 6, 2010 at 12:25pm

    A lovely read..marriage is itself a gamble and it’s not a question of love or arranged..it’s the understanding of the relationship and respect for each other..many parts specially metros things have changed but things should be changed in remote villages also.Young men these days are much understanding than our fathers or grads were perhaps.
    and your pakoras are making me feel so hungry..
    hugs and smiles

  31. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Srivalli

    August 7, 2010 at 10:37am

    Thats a great story Vaishali..and pakodas are looking so tempting!

  32. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Kylie

    August 8, 2010 at 3:19pm

    Wonderful story and recipe. Very thought provoking, particularly in regard to the nature of relationships, power dynamics, and .. of course..food.

  33. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Bong Mom

    August 9, 2010 at 6:46pm

    That really was a very well written story. The chance to pour in all that chili powder into the pakoda batter, and to get a chance to see those faces afterward…boy, I would give up a non-arranged marriage for that ;-)

  34. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Radha Rayasam

    August 17, 2010 at 3:26am

    Nice story, tempting pakoras. You write well. Nice reading your story and all the comments that followed.

  35. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    GKB

    September 1, 2010 at 9:16pm

    Ha ha..funny story but it is true..I remember one prospective groom’s dad asking me to stand up so he could confirm my height..gee I felt like cattle..Marriages have to be worked on to make them work-arranged or otherwise..

  36. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    radha

    February 12, 2012 at 4:16pm

    Came here blog hopping. And to this particular post. Loved the story and the pictures of the pakoras. I am on a methi trip right now and this is something I will attempt.

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