By: Rinku Bhattacharya
When the weather outside turns cold and chilly, I reach for chickpea flour to make Kadhi Pakora in all its comforting glory. Kadhi is a slow, simmered chickpea soup often made with chickpea fritters, called pakoras, that are simmered in the fragrant, saucy broth. The resulting meal is a comforting dish akin to a chicken stew with dumplings, except this version is vegetarian.
It is amazing how much nutrition can be packed into a few humble ingredients, but make no mistake — this is a comforting, nourishing dish that will help you chase away the winter blues. In Northern India, kadhi pakora is essentially a way to use up extra fritters or pakoras, which in itself is a mystery to me, as in my house we never have leftovers. We’ve never met a pakora we did not like, and we prefer to consume them hot and crisp. In fact, even when making the pakoras for this dish, at least a few get consumed as pick-me-ups by me or anyone who might be passing through the kitchen while I cook.
Being Bengali from eastern India, it has taken me some time to understand what the fuss over kadhi is all about. It took even more time to understand why and how to get the silky, smooth consistency my mother-in-law prides herself on and finally adapting the dish to make it my own. As with all heirloom Indian dishes, the heart and soul rests in the spicing, so I would never meddle with that. However, when making the fritters I add sweet potatoes and kale, giving them the necessary seasonal accent and completeness as a one-pot meal.
Something about kadhi is simple and soulful, transporting me to a place where life is comforting and peaceful and time is not as rushed as our routines sometime demand. When I first saw kadhi being made, I did not understand the logic of adding so much water and slowly cooking it to thicken the sauce. Now I realize that a slow and gentle simmer gives the dish its silky, smooth consistency and taste. Gently simmering the chickpea flour-based sauce thickens it and removes any aftertaste.
Northern Indian kadhi is distinctly tart, because it is usually made with day-old natural yogurt. When I have time, I leave the yogurt out for at least 36 hours; if not, I work with a little sour cream to give the recipe its obligatory tart taste.
Many variations of this dish exist in different parts of India, and it is amazing how much difference can result just from varying the seasoning. My version notches up the turmeric, giving the dish a lovely bright yellow color. I finish my dish with cilantro, something I later learned my mother-in-law did differently than the traditional recipe because of my husband’s love for cilantro. We generally love cilantro in our household, so the cilantro stays. These simple nuances are what make a recipe personal and distinct.
India’s vegetarian and gluten-free solution to chicken stew with dumplings, this dish served with steaming hot rice is comfort food in Northern India.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
For the pakora:
1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated sweet potatoes
1 cup chopped kale leaves
1 medium-sized red onion, thinly sliced
Oil for frying
For the kadhi:
2 cups yogurt
4 cups water
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon asafetida
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
15 to 20 curry leaves
1 teaspoon ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the chickpea flour, cumin seeds, cayenne pepper and salt. Mix well to remove any lumps.
2. Mix in the sweet potatoes, kale and red onion with about 1/2 cup of water to form a thick batter.
3. Heat the oil and drop in spoonfuls of the batter. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side until the fritters are crisp. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
4. While the fritters are cooking, place the yogurt, water, chickpea flour, turmeric, salt and ginger in a large mixing bowl and mix well, preferably using a whisk. Set aside for 20 minutes.
5. Heat the oil for the kadhi in a large wok, add in the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, asafetida and fenugreek seeds. Cook until the seeds darken and get fragrant, about 30 seconds.
6. Add in the curry leaves, then add in the yogurt mixture.
7. At this point the mixture will be very thin, let it simmer low and slow for 20 minutes.
8. Add in the pakoras and simmer for 20 minutes. The sauce should still be thin, smooth and silky. It will thicken further when the heat is turned off, so make sure it is still relatively thin before turning off the heat.
9. In a small pan, heat the ghee and add in the remaining cumin seeds and cayenne pepper and cook for about 20 seconds.
10. Pour the hot ghee over the kadhi.
11. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.