GUEST FEATURE: Salma Foy's Bhajias — Spinach & Onion fritters
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Bhajias (aka bhajis, fritters) are typically eaten at tea-time or as a starter. Normally I avoid fried food but Salma Foy's deep fried vegetable fritters are a notable exception.
I redeveloped a love for them on my last trip to Mauritius. I stay at her dad's house whenever I visit and I remember one evening she popped by with homemade bhajias and chutney. It's a memory I find so comforting: the whole family crowded around the kitchen table, sipping strong leaf tea and devouring the whole lot on the spot.
On a totally unrelated note, "foy" is the Gujarati title for father's sister. The North Indian language of Gujarati has a dedicated word for a substantial number of family relations, way more than English. Check them out here! It's a great way to immediately know how everyone is related to everyone else.
NB: Pronunciation guide for bhajias: "budge-yahs."
•gram flour (besan)
Make the batter first: in a bowl, add one cup of gram flour (aka besan), one cup of self-raising flour, an egg, and a teaspoon of salt. Gradually whisk in cold water (about 150ml in total) or until the batter is uniformly combined.
NB: Batter consistency is key to bhajias being light and fluffy and ensuring it doesn't spread all over the the oil when frying. I would say the batter should be like thick pancake batter: not runny or watery, not spoon-standing dense.
Let the batter rest while chopping the veggies so the self-raising flour has a few minutes to create some fluffiness. (This is also a good time to make the chutney, see below!)
Roughly chop a small bunch of fresh spinach (100g) and roughly dice a large white onion. Add them to the batter and mix well with a spoon. Heat a high-sided pan with about 3cm of sunflower oil. Test the oil is hot by dropping in a tiny bit of batter. If the batter puffs up, the oil is ready.
Right before frying, stir in a half-teaspoon of baking powder to the batter for extra oomph.
Carefully spoon the batter into the oil and fry for about 2 minutes on each side. They are done when they're puffed up and golden brown on all sides.
Dry them a paper towel and serve warm with the accompanying dipping chutney.
TOMATO AND CILANTRO CHUTNEY
Using a stick blender or food processor, blitz a whole tin of canned tomatoes (400g), a small bunch of cilantro including the stalks (20g), half-teaspoon of salt, and a small green chili (or adjust the heat according to your taste).
Serve with the bhajias. This will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.
Once you perfect the thickness of the batter, the opportunities are endless. Try dipping sliced eggplant (aka aubergine) or maybe thinly sliced potatoes. Other options might be carrot, sweet potato or even chopped zucchini (aka courgette).
IMPORTANT NOTE ON WATER CONTENT
Squeeze out watery veggies to remove excess water before adding to the batter. A watery batter will cause the bhajias to spread in the oil rather than hold their shape.