Sunday, March 25, 2012

Healthier Pakoras

These pakoras are shallow fried in olive oil. Picking nutrition-rich colorful and organic vegetables adds to the appealing aspects of this recipe from my friend Shivani.


3/4 cup chickpea flour (also known as besan and as gram flour; available at some regular grocery stores, at Indian grocers, and on
1/2 cup water
1 sweet potato (Shivani recommends organic), peel on, rinsed
1 bread slice (Shivani recommends vegan or sprouted bread)
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. red chili powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
~2 Tbsp. olive oil

You'll Also Need:

mixing bowl, whisk, deep skillet or karahi, tongs, paper towels for blotting


1. Slice the sweet potatoes and the bread into thin even slices into whatever shape you like.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, cumin, chili powder, salt, and water.
3. Pour the olive oil into the skillet or karahi, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat on a low-medium to medium flame.
4. Dip the sliced potatoes and bread pieces into the chickpea flour batter, making sure to coat both sides.
5. In batches if necessary, shallow fry the battered potatoes and bread. Use tongs to place the items in the pan and let them fry for about four minutes on the first side. Then flip and fry about four minutes on the second side. I didn't move them around except to flip them. I'd recommend not crowding the skillet as much as I did. The batter ran in some cases causing multiple pakoras to stick together (though it was easy to pull them apart).
6. Line a plate with paper towels. Place the finished pakoras on towels. Place more paper towels on top and gently blot to remove excess oil.
7. Transfer to a serving plate and serve while hot.

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

The AHH Factor: You know how panko is so trendy? Any recipe that calls for breadcrumbs is suddenly being reinvented with these Japanese breadcrumbs to lighten its texture. Well, as much as I love panko (and I love it a lot), now that I've cooked with chickpea flour, I am Team Chickpea Flour. I so want it to be the next big thing in the category.

I can't speak for what makes panko so great (except for its texture), but I know what I love about chickpea flour. First is the smell. As soon as the pakoras were in the skillet for all of about 60 seconds, the nutty smell filled our kitchen. It reminded me of when my mom would make all sorts of bhajas (fried foods) when I was growing up. I always sort of wondered how she got that smell, since I sometimes coat items in regular flour and never noticed any smell resembling it, but now I realize it's straight-up coming from the besan (what chickpea flour is usually referred to as in Indian culture). I think I could have made these pakoras without any of the seasonings, and Nick and I still would have gobbled them up just because of the flavor of the chickpea flour. Second, it has impressive nutritional stats compared to other flours, including sizable amounts of protein, fiber, and iron. Third, it's even gluten free. What's not to love?

Pakoras are traditionally deep fried. When my friend Shivani Agarwal posted a photo on her Facebook page captioned "healthy pakoras", I had to ask her about them. Turns out she uses olive oil for the frying, commenting "pakoras don't soak up olive oil as much as other oils." She also uses organic vegetables. (She used regular potatoes to make hers, but since I'm not a fan of those, I substituted sweet potatoes. You can use any vegetables you like.)

I'm not sure how much olive oil she uses, but I thought shallow frying instead of deep frying would be a great way to safely use the oil. Olive oil has lower smoke and flame points than the oils typically used to make pakoras, so I didn't want to risk deep frying it and having it burst into flames. (If you insist on deep frying these, I'd recommend canola oil, which can withstand more heat than olive.) I still blotted them off at the end, though there wasn't much excess oil to remove.

Now off to make more recipes for Team Chickpea Flour.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Bombay Palace, Beverly Hills, Restaurant Review

A stunning design coupled with excellent made-to-order food makes this Beverly Hills veteran a must-visit.

9 out of 10 Peppers = Extra Spicy

The stunning white exterior of Bombay Palace caught our eyes weeks before when we were in the neighborhood. So when it came time to celebrate our "exclusive" anniversary, Nick and I decided to find out if the inside was an pretty as the outside. (Now that we're married, we have no idea what anniversary(s) to celebrate. We have our first date anniversary, the date we became "exclusive," our wedding anniversary, not to mention the date we first spoke virtually on eHarmony. Oddly, I think the first date anniversary holds the most sentimental value to me, because it was so hopeful yet uncertain, with all opportunities open at the time.)


When we arrived there was only one occupied table on a Sunday night, but the place seems built for parties. There are long, connected deep red banquettes.

The interior design is memorable and modern. The palette is whites with warm yellows and browns with open shadow boxes housing Indian-themed figurines. There's Indian music playing in the background, but no flashy TVs.

The service was terrific. The owner was actually our primary server, and she joked with us throughout our meal. "You didn't memorize the menu?" she joked when I had to re-open mine to tell her my order. "OK, we'll let you cheat."


The menu is extensive. The breads page alone seemed to go on forever, plus there is a huge variety of meats and a whole page of vegetarian options. However, to my chagrin, there's no brown rice. "We're not American," the owner said with a laugh. "We only serve Basmati." Nick, of course thought this was hilarious and agreed with her. (Nick and I have an ongoing white rice v. brown rice debate. One point for him.)

We got a free batch of Papadum, then when we finished it before our meal was ready and got a free refill. The first batch was burnt and a little over-seasoned, but the second batch was better.

We ordered the Chicken Pakoras as an appetizer, and the server warned us the wait might be longer than we were used to because "everything is made fresh to order." It was worth the wait. Unlike typical pakoras that are ball-shaped, these were strips, which meant more chicken in every bite. It reminded Nick of the excellent Chicken 65 served at our wedding. We said yes when the server asked if we wanted Mango Chutney to go with it but didn't realize until we got the bill that it was $3.50 extra.

Poori is one of Nick's favorite foods, and it's not served at that many Indian restaurants. But with the long bread menu here, poori was excitedly included. It was so delightfully poofy when it was served. (It deflated a bit before I snapped this photo.) Supposedly, the poofier the poori, the hungrier is the person you're serving it too. According to that logic, we were starving.

A house specialty is the Chicken Keema. I highly recommend it. It's ground chicken with spices, and the spices tasted so fresh. I tried to make a version of chicken keema few weeks later at home to recreate this dish, but my version was just OK. I want to go back to Bombay Palace soon to get its version again. (Our "proposal anniversary," perhaps? ;) )

Though I lost the battle over the rice, Nick did agree for us to share a veggie dish. We got the Navratan Korma, which even liked. It was a great mix of veggies.

The smell of the Peas Palou (the rice dish we settled on) was intoxicating as I was snapping the photos. The hint of saffron was just amazing.

I got a Mango Lassi. There were also sweet and salty options. It was great and smooth, generous on the yogurt and with a refreshing mango flavor.

Nick ordered a Taj Mahal beer. The presentation was nice as an employee poured it into a glass for him. (Though maybe a little too nice as it was $12 for one beer.)

Not sure how we got a freebie, but the server brought us a complimentary Gulab Jamun. It was served warm. Yum.

The owner-server asked us how we found Bombay Palace. The honest truth is we were across the street at Nirvana the week before for a friend's birthday party and noticed it. But when I started telling her that we were at its nearest competitor, Nick's eyes started shooting me daggers. However, the owner-server realized what I was about to say and then said...drum roll, please...that Nirvana is her husband's restaurant. Apparently, a lease issue about 10 years ago caused them to open a new restaurant (Nirvana) across the street, but then they kept Bombay Palace's location after all, so now they compete with each other. I haven't eaten at Nirvana yet (though Nick bought a Bud Light for $11 there at that party; yes you are paying for the atmosphere and the location), but the atmosphere of Nirvana is totally different. It's more colorful and whimsical.

Street parking for both is free at the meters on Sundays, and I think it may have been free that Saturday night of the party too. The location is both good and bad. It's convenient and on a well-paved, luxurious Beverly Hills street, but I'm guessing that parking is bad on most nights.

Bombay Palace has been in this same location with the same chef for 27 years. I hope it stays here for at least 27 more. I highly recommend it.

Bombay Palace, 8690 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills 90211. (310) 659-9944.

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