As flavorful as Indian food is, even more flavorful, if possible, is that wild smorgasbord collectively known as Indian street food.
Part of the appeal of street food lies in the fact that it is so badass, with an aura of unhygienic unhealthiness that -- instead of sending the eater running a mile off -- makes him or her crave it almost as if it were the proverbial forbidden fruit.
Mom always told you not to eat it because you never knew where the vendor's hands had been, and you could see -- although you might have preferred to turn the blind eye -- that the dishes were all being washed all day by being dunked into that same bucket of water standing by the vendor's knee (although disposable styrofoam plates and glasses have replaced those ceramic ones now, creating a whole new environmental conundrum).
But no matter how heavily the ozone hole weighs on your conscience, or how badly you want to fit into those jeans that have been hanging in your closet, untouched, for the last 10 years (I'm not even going to think about the vendor's hands here), street food is impossible to resist. Because under its renegade reputation is deliciousness such as you cannot find in any haute restaurant meal and not even in mom's cooking.
This is a mishmash of some of the boldest flavors and textures you can imagine. It usually starts out with a rather healthy base of veggies or sprouts or chickpea flour or puffed rice crispies. In go lots of spices or chutneys-- still good. And finally, in a fell swoop, all of that healthiness is either dunked into boiling oil, or it is smothered in more deep-fried stuff -- a step that transforms food that's good into food that's sublime.
This Bread Pakora or Bread Pakoda, which I have for you today, is a perfect example of Indian street food at its best, because it encompasses all of the above. It's not Paula-Deen-level unhealthy but you can be pretty sure Gwyneth Paltrow isn't going to be putting it on her meal plan any time soon. At least not openly. 😉
There are all kinds of bread pakoras on India's streets, most vegetarian, although you'll find some versions with chicken stuffed inside them. The vegetarian versions often contain paneer, an Indian cheese. But who needs meat or cheese when you can eat potatoes?
This is a pretty easy recipe to make, like most street food is. You start out with bread -- usually white, although I used white whole wheat for a few health points -- and potatoes. Neither is necessarily bad, at least not for someone who isn't afraid of carbs.
In go a couple of zingy chutneys -- a green, herby one and a sweet-tangy-spicy tamarind-date one -- and then all of it is dunked in a traditional pakora batter made primarily of chickpea flour or besan. The whole darn thing is then deep-fried, although I rather shallow-fry it in a quarter-inch or so of oil. If you do it at the right temperature, your bread pakora will not be greasy at all. In fact, it will be fluffy and crunchy, as it should be.
How to make the perfect bread pakora:
- First find yourself some sturdy white sandwich bread. I bought and used a great white whole wheat sandwich bread -- you can find these at many supermarkets now and certainly at Whole Foods.
- Boil some potatoes. Then mash them coarsely so you have some lumps for texture in your filling. If you want some protein in your pakora, add grated tofu -- a half a cup or so.
- Don't skimp on the chutneys. The filling of this bread pakora is uniquely mine, but it still borrows heavily from the beloved flavors of Indian street food. The tamarind-date chutney, famously used to dunk samosas in, adds a lovely sweet-salty-spicy wallop to the potato filling, and the leafy green coriander chutney adds freshness and a touch of heat.
- You don't need a big pot of oil to fry these -- a quarter inch of oil is more than enough. Make sure you bring your oil up to a temperature of 350 degrees before you fry your bread pakoras because at that temperature, they will hardly absorb any oil.
- Tell yourself, today, I'm going to eat this. I'm not going to stuff myself silly but I'm going to enjoy every bite of this amazing food before me. There will be no pangs of guilt, because why add a cloud to the silver lining? Tomorrow, I go back to being good.
You certainly can, and it would be delicious, but it won't be as crispy as the fried version. In the oven, coat the baking sheet with oil, place the pakoras in a single layer, spray on more oil, and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, flipping over halfway through.
You can, and in fact the version of this my parents sometimes made at home did not have a stuffing. Just coat the bread with the pakora and fry. You can add more spices to the pakora batter if you're not using a stuffing, like crushed cumin seeds.
You should preferably eat them rightaway because the longer they stand, the pakora will lose some of their crunch. If you want to divide the recipe over several meals, get all of the ingredients ready and then put the pakora together, stuffing and dunking and frying and all, just before serving.
If you do end up making them in advance, warm them in an oven before serving.
Ingredients for Bread Pakora:
- Whole wheat white bread or regular white bread. Find a sturdy bread that holds its shape -- a soft bread would fall apart from the stuffing and deep frying. I would rather you didn't use whole wheat bread because its nutty flavor would be an interruption, but if that's what you still want to use, you can.
- Chickpea flour (besan)
- Chaat masala
- Tamarind pulp
- Cumin seeds
- Green chili pepper like jalapeno
- Oil for frying
Looking for more Indian street food recipes?
- Vegetable Pakora
- Punjabi Samosa
- Misal, the ultimate Bombay street food
- Chana Jor Garam
- Pav Bhaji
- Vegan Cutting Chai
- Aloo Tikki
Bread Pakora Recipe
- Cast iron or nonstick skillet
- 1.5 pounds potatoes (yellow or red)
- 8 slices sandwich bread (I used whole wheat white bread, but regular white bread would be fine and is what is traditionally used)
- ¾ cup chickpea flour (besan)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon chaat masala
- Salt to taste
- ¼ to ½ cup vegetable oil (for frying)
For the date-tamarind chutney:
- 15 dates (make sure they're pitted)
- 1 tablespoon tamarind pulp (this is the thick concentrate you get in a jar, and not the pulp extracted from tamarind pods. If you do use tamarind pods because they're all you have, make sure you don't make the pulp too watery)
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon cumin (lightly toasted)
- Salt to taste
- ½ cup water
For the green chutney:
- ¼ cup cilantro
- ¼ cup mint leaves
- ½ small jalapeno pepper (deseeded)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2-3 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- Cook the potatoes in the microwave in a bowl of water, or on the stovetop by covering with water, until they are fork-tender. When cool enough to handle, drain the potatoes and coarsely mash them with a fork.
Make the tamarind chutney:
- Place all the ingredients in a blender with ¼ cup water and blend into a smooth paste. If the paste is too thick, add a little more water.
Make the green chutney:
- Place all ingredients in the blender with 2 tablespoon water and blend into a smooth paste. Again, add more water if too thick, a teaspoon at a time.
Make the bread pakora:
- Place the chickpea flour in a bowl along with the cayenne, turmeric and salt. Use a whisk to mix as you drizzle in enough water to make a runny batter that should coat the back of a spoon.
- Heat the oil for frying in a flat-bottomed skillet. I use a skillet just large enough to hold the sandwich, so I can use less oil.
- To the mashed potatoes, add a couple of tablespoons of the tamarind chutney, the chaat masala, and salt to taste. Mix well.
- Smear some green chutney on a slice of bread, and some tamarind chutney on the other slice. Place a thick layer of potato stuffing on one of the slices and cover with the other. The potato will help glue them together.
- Dip the prepared sandwich into the chickpea batter, making sure you coat it thoroughly. Shake off the excess batter and place in the hot oil. Fry on each side until golden-brown. Repeat for the remaining three sandwiches.
- Remove to a cutting board and cut the pakora diagonally into two triangles. You can also cut it into rectangles or squares.
- Serve with any remaining green chutney drizzled on top.