Thursday, November 2, 2006

indian-spiced vegetable fritters

tucking in loose ends

As you may have noticed, I’m not the kind of person who just throws together things in the kitchen without a map, compass, 637 glowing reviews on Epicurious or a friend’s sworn assurance, sometimes written, that a specific recipe is a guaranteed to blow the ennui right out of your taste buds. Sure, I’ll make small adjustments while I work on something to accommodate our personal preferences, but aside from pasta sauces, eggs and salad dressings, I rarely go it on my own intuition.

You see, my intuition has led me to all sort of unsavory places, in and out of the kitchen, though I’ll save the latter for another time, or say, encyclopedia volume. As for cooking, one time, my homemade oatmeal made me so violently ill, I had to cancel a date. (Though perhaps, that was some conniving intuition, after all, as it was not with Alex. Cue: swoon or nausea.) The milk, as it turned out, was not past is expiration date but most-definitely rancid. (The sniff test on all dairy products, from those from a friend’s fridge to restaurants with $40-entrees, has since been instituted, offended sensibilities be damned.) Another time, I tried to bread and pan-fry tofu – because how hard could that be – and created a dish that was so foul, just the memory of it has killed my hunger pains for lunch. So, as you see, these days I use recipes to anchor my cooking urges to a safe harbor.

draining, cooling

Last year, I came across a recipe for Indian potato pancakes on Epicurious. The reviews were far from glowing; the recipe has its share of flaws but the idea of an Indian-spiced fritter rooted so firmly in my taste bud’s anticipations, I knew I had to find a way to make it right or I’d never get it out of my mind. I exchanged potatoes for a mix of vegetables, doubled some and tripled other spices, added enough egg that the patties would hold together, reduced their oiliness and sweetened up the too-tangy yogurt, landing on a creation that Alex and I fell upon like a pack of wild dogs that had been denied whatever it is that makes them wild for months beforehand. The next day, I brought some into work, where even the most unadventurous coworkers fell prey to the fritters’ charm.

And, unexpectedly, I followed that whole “gut” thing far enough that I ended up with something almost as far from the original as one can get, and accidentally landed on one of the first recipes I can call even halfway my own. I hope you like it as much as we do.

dinner at last

Indian-Spiced Vegetable Fritters with Curry-Lime Yogurt

Makes about 24 pancakes.

1/2 cup frozen peas
1 medium onion, peeled
1 large russet or Idaho potato, peeled
1 yam or sweet potato, peeled
1 large or 2 thin carrots, peeled
1 zucchini
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Curry-Lime Yogurt
2 cups plain yogurt (we love the Fage fat-free stuff)
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon sugar
A squeeze or two of fresh lime juice, to taste
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200°F. Place two nonstick baking sheets in oven.

In small saucepan, bring salted water to boil. Add peas and cook, uncovered, until heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, then rinse in colander under cool, running water. Set aside in colander to drain completely.

Using box grater or food processor² fitted with grating disc, coarsely grate onion, potatoes, carrot and zucchini and place in colander set in sink, setting aside to drain.

In large mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs. Whisk in flour, coriander, turmeric, and cumin. Mix in ginger, cilantro, and peas.

Press potatoes and onion to extract as much liquid as possible, then add to bowl. Season mixture with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Using wooden spoon or hands, mix well, but do not overwork.

In heavy-bottomed, 12-inch non-stick³ skillet over moderately high heat, heat 1-2 tablespoons oil (I used an extra-virgin olive oil spray I’d found to lightly coat the pan); until hot but not smoking. Drop 4 scant 1/4-cup portions of potato mixture into pan and flatten with spatula to form four 3-inch pancakes.

Fry until bottoms are golden-brown (the color really counts on this; the darker you let it go, the more the pancake holds together – this goes for both sides.), 4 to 5 minutes, then turn over and fry until golden-brown and crisp, an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain; season immediately with salt and pepper. Keep warm on baking sheets in oven while making remaining pancakes.

Using paper towels, carefully wipe out pan. And 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and fry 4 more pancakes. Repeat with remaining batter, wiping out pan and adding 1 to 2 tablespoons oil before each batch.

Serve pancakes hot with Curry-Lime Yogurt.

¹Or, you could do this step in the microwave, and save yourself a good bit of effort.

²Yet another recipe that yes, if you have a food processor, it takes no time at all to put this together. That said, it makes for more coarsely-grated vegetables than doing it by hand, so they are slightly harder to assemble into pancakes.

³I know there is a lot of head-shaking at nonstick these days, and I, too, try to avoid it when possible. Still, pancakes like this are much, much more difficult to make without non-stick, as you’ll end up using tablespoon after tablespoon of oil to keep the fritters from sticking.


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