Tuesday 8 February 2011

Onion Bhajees and other stories

I have just looked in the fridge and I have a glut of onions.  This is often the way when you have an organic vegetable box delivery.  There is often a glut of something, and this time it is onions.  Last time a made a batch of Onion Marmalade, which is delicious with fresh bread and cheese. 

I am tempted to make a classic gratinated French Onion soup but I know that my stock of stock in the freezer is currently very much depleted and although I don't think stock is always necessary for soup, for a really good French Onion soup you really need a beef or ox-tail stock as a base. 

Then I remember a huge bag of Gram flour that I bought, firstly because it came in a very beautiful bag and secondly because I had intended to make some Rotis, only to discover that Rotis use chapatti flour.  Gram flour is make of ground chickpeas (chana dhal) and is therefore gluten free, which is great for Celiacs, but not for Rotis.  Anyway, I remembered that I had seen a recipe on the back of the packet for Onion Bhajees.  The recipe, it turns out, apparently comes from their acclaimed cookery book "The Flavours of Gujarat" by Jane Breddy for Virani Foods, so I thought it was definitely worth a try.  Unfortunately it called for, amongst other things, rice flour, which I did not have. 

And then I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to accompany my onion Bhajees with some poppadums and homemade Indian chutneys. I had a craving for a delicious sour and spicy lime pickle, a sweet and aromatic mango chutney and cool and fresh cucumber and mint raita. So I decided to set off to Tooting, where I know there is a large Indian community, so there was bound to be exciting shops waiting to be found, and stock up on Indian goodies. 
I had not been to Tooting for many years, as when I lived in Shepherds Bush, Southall so abundantly satisfied all my Indian cookery shopping requirements. However, Tooting did not disappoint.  I found numerous shops selling every spice, herb, pulse or types of flour you could ever require.  Plus lots of lovely vegetables and fruit at great prices.  I picked up my limes, for my lime pickle, (5 for a £1) and mangos for my mango chutney (4 for £1), which I thought was quite a bargain.  I bought a selection of Poppadoms to fry at home. I have never made my own yet and I have heard it is not easy but the bought ones are great and come in a huge selection.  I particularly like the little baby ones which are great for a snack or canapé when entertaining.  I also like the large ones with either cumin (Jeera) of black pepper.

I also found some Panch Puran, affectionately known as Bengali 5-Spice, which is a combination of Fennel seeds, Mustard seeds, Cumin seeds, Fenugreek seeds and Nigella seeds which I am quite excited about, as they all flavours I love and I only recently discovered that there was a specific mix, which is apparently used in many traditional Indian dishes.  I decided to add some to my Raita to spice it up. I also bought some bunches of coriander (2 for £1.20) and mint (2 for £1) and finally found the dried Kashmiri chillis which I had been searching for, for weeks. 
The Onion Bhajees were delicious and lovely dipped in Raita or with a dollop of spicy, sweet mango chutney.  Unfortunately my lime pickle is not quite ready.  I will let you know how it turns out in 5 weeks or so.  Not much sunshine in England at this time of year!

Onion Bhajees
8 oz pure gram flour
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tbsp turmeric
1 - 2 tsp salt
2 large onions, cut in half and sliced finely
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
7 fl oz water
Oil for deep frying

Sieve the gram flour into a large bowl then mix in all the remaining dry ingredients together with the onion slices and chopped coriander. Gradually add some water, mixing thoroughly until a thick batter is formed and the onions are well coated.
Heat the oil to a depth of 2" to 3" in a wok, karhai or deep-fat frying pan over a medium heat. When it is the correct temperature a drop of batter will rise immediately to the surface without turning brown.

Drop heaped teaspoons of the onion batter into the oil (take care not to make the Bhajees too large otherwise the centre will not cook). Fry a few at a time, turning if necessary, for about 5-6 minutes until golden brown. Repeat until all the Bhajees are cooked allowing time for the oil to reheat between each batch. Once finished deep frying drain the onions Bhajees on absorbent paper.  Deep frying the onion batter in sunflower oil is the healthiest option.

I got this recipe from a website on the net http://limepickle.com/chutneys-pickles/lime-pickle-recipe.html and it contains loads more information so check it out.

Lime Pickle

16 Limes
5 tbsp salt
3 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp white vinegar
250 grams mustard seeds
50 grams crushed fenugreek seeds
10 tbsp red chilli powder.
1 tsp asafetida powder
2 cups vegetable oil

If you can, put the lime pickle in a room where it will catch the sunlight or is near a radiator. This lime pickle recipe can be made all year round!
Cut limes into small pieces or quarters. Add salt, turmeric and white vinegar. Stir well making sure that every piece of Lime is covered. Then set aside in your storage jar.
Stir the marinade every alternate day for 4 weeks or longer until the pieces of Lime are quite soft and tender. Remember to seal the container when you have finished!
Add the crushed mustard, asafetida, red chilli powder, vegetable and mustard oil.
Mix well and wait for 1 additional week before using the Lime Pickle.

This mango chutney is really delicious.  It has more of a kick, is much more flavourful and less gloopy than the readymade varieties.  It is really worth the effort.

Mango Chutney

1.5kg (3lb) mangoes, peeled and diced
2 large red chillis, de-seeded and chopped
60g (2oz) fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated
juice and finely grated rind of 1 lemon
500ml (1 pint) white wine or cider vinegar
750g brown sugar
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon allspice powder
1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

Place all ingredients in a pot and bring to the boil, stirring often. Cook for 1 hour or until mixture is thick.  If necessary drain the mango and return the liquid to reduce until really thick.  Adjust the seasoning.  I added more salt and chilli. Bottle and seal.

Raita Recipe

Raita also sometimes referred to as Raitha, is yogurt based and eaten as a sauce or dip. The raita recipe described below is a very popular side dish that goes well with hot and spicy Indian food.

250ml natural yogurt
½ cucumber, finely chopped
handful Mint leaves, washed and finely chopped
pinch of salt (add as required)
Panch Puran, toasted and finely ground
Coriander to garnish the raita
Mix all the ingredients together and adjust seasoning to taste.  When making this Lime Pickle recipe, note that setting aside should be at a comfortable room temperature, not cold.


  1. Onion Bhaji recipe..... brilliant. I've wanted to cook my own for years and this recipe is it!
    One criticism though - is 1 tbspn of salt a mistake? I tried that and it was way to salty. Binned it and started again with 1 tsp salt and it was perfect.


  2. Thanks for that. I have changed the recipe and I am so pleased that that they worked out so well for you.

  3. Love this recipe!!

  4. Yes. They are delicious. You have just reminded me to make them again soon.


I love to hear from you. Thank you so much for any messages.