This is it. This is when we bring out the big guns. I don’t do a lot of deep frying, partly because of the healthy eating angel on my shoulder, and partly because I’m secretly a little scared of the whole process.
I mean a vat of hot, spluttering oil that you drop cold, wet things into? And once you drop each one in, you snatch your hand away from the hot popping droplets, only to go back for more?
It all seems a bit terrifying to me. Like extreme sports for cooks.
As it happens, the bone-chilling, toe-freezing, stay-in-bed weather we’ve had in Sydney lately drove me towards the very thing I feared most in the kitchen. When wrapping myself in a blanket and donning my fluffy slippers didn’t quite rectify the chill factor, I craved hot, spicy, deep-fried foods with a cup of tea to wash it all down.
Pakodas are a type of Indian fritter traditionally made with vegetables such as sliced potato or onion, or even pieces of chicken, coated in a spiced batter and deep-fried. The pungent saltiness of feta cheese, and as it turns out, makes it an excellent pakoda filling. For those of us turning into icicles, a plate of these with a hot drink is just the right medicine. If you are up in the Northern Hemisphere and are lucky enough to be enjoying some warm weather, these pakodas work just as well alongside a cold bear or soft drink. Use firm feta, like Greek or Australian varieties, as the softer Danish feta doesn’t seem to hold its own and makes the batter a little soggy.
They are best served a few minutes after cooking, so that they are still hot. If you are anything like me though, the fun is in biting into them while they are still shiny with oil, cheesy innards scalding your tongue as you desperately blow at the burn on the roof of your mouth. Spitting out the ball of fire would be the sensible thing to do. You know it would be. But the crisp, spicy batter embedded with sweet tender onions and filled with the salty-tang of the feta is somehow worth enduring the intense burn. Honestly, just wait a couple of minutes, ok?
150g firm feta cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
1 medium red onion
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chick pea flour (besan)
3 tbsp rice flour
Small handful coriander, finely chopped
2-3 cups vegetable, sunflower or canola oil
A deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan
A heat-proof slotted spoon
A food processor
Cut the onion in half. Cut one half into rough pieces and place in the food processor with the ginger, green chilli and 3 tbsp water. Blitz on high until you have a thin puree. Do not wash the bowl of the food processor yet.
Finely chop the other half of the onion and the coriander.
In a bowl, stir the flours, onion puree, salt and chilli powder. You should have quite a thick paste. Place 2 tablespoons of water into the unwashed food processor bowl and blitz again. Add half of this liquid into the flour mixture and stir. You should have a fairly thick batter that it is easy to move your spoon through, but it shouldn’t be runny. Add the chopped onions and coriander and stir through.
Set up another bowl or plate lined with paper towels next to the stove.
Place enough oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan so that it is at least 5-6 cm deep. Heat on medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. You could start this process before you mix the batter, however it should be watched closely. You can test whether the oil is hot by dropping a little of the batter into it- if it is sufficiently heater, the batter will start to fry immediately and rise to the surface. If the oil is too hot, the batter will cook and brown very quickly. In this case, turn the heat down to really low for a few mins then test again. If the oil is smoking, take it off the heat completely until it cools, then start again on low heat.
When the oil is at the right temperature, add a teaspoon of it to your batter and stir through.
Pat dry the feta cubes and drop 4 or 5 at a time into the batter. With clean fingers, toss the feta cubes through the batter, making sure they are well coated. If the batter is too thick for coating, add a little more water from the food processor. Scoop up the feta cubes with surrounding batter and drop carefully, one by one, into the hot oil. With the slotted spoon, turn over the pakodas every minute or so, until they are a darkish brown (but not black!). If they are darkening very quickly, reduce the flame and wait a few minutes before trying again. When the pakodas are done, use the slotted spoon to carefully lift them out of the oil. Allow the excess oil to drip into the saucepan before lifting them out completely and placing them in the paper lined dish.
Continue to coat and fry the feta in batches of 4 or 5, adjusting the oil temperature as needed.
Serve hot plain, with tomato sauce or this mint yoghurt sauce.