I've seen many recipes for onion bhajis in my time, and I have eaten many takes on the iconic Indian fried dish. Some were just plain wonderful, others just plain or just plain awful! I've had efforts which were oil-soaked, cardiac-arrest inducing fat fests, or soggy, overly battered damp-squibs. All decent bhaji recipes should use gram flour – the creamy yellow flour gained from milling chick peas. Anything else will smack of a lack of authenticity! I've even seen recipes involving eggy batter – unthinkable in Indian cooking; eggs are much too valuable a commodity to be used for batter alone when simple judicious batter recipes will bind themselves to their intended target.
After much reading, experimenting and some obligatory mess-ups, I think I have gotten there. This is my recipe. Any suggestions for improvement will be welcomed.
You could deep fry these bhajis, but it will make a fattier, less healthy result and you will only be able to re-use the oil for a similarly spicy or oniony dish. I think it's outrageous to use lots of oil only once to throw it all away. I saw a recipe for these bhajis once which used over a litre of oil – what a terrible waste! In these days of rising food prices and the fact so many are starving, wasting food of any descriptions seems to me to be crime. So shallow fry and be content that you are making them in an authentic way with minimum waste and maximum taste. Serve with your favourite Indian food as you wish, but my recommendation is with dahl and rice (basmati, of course!).
1 large red onion (will give a sweeter result than white onions)
1 tsp of finely grated/mashed ginger
1 green chili (optional)
½ tsp whole coriander seeds
½ tsp whole black mustard seeds
½ tsp whole ajwan/nigella seeds
½ tsp salt
35g or thereabouts gram flour (chick pea flour/besan)
2-3 tbsp groundnut oil
- Top, tail and peel the onion, cut in half vertically, then cut into fairly fine half moon slices (about 4 mm thick).
- Toast the seeds in a dry pan until you can smell their spiciness (only about 3 mins). Do not allow to burn.
Transfer to mortar and pestle and crush into a spice mix.
- Mix chopped onion with the salt, spice mix and ginger into a bowl (not a metal one, please). Leave for at least 5 mins. Stir a couple of times to allow the onion to marinate.
- Add the chick pea flour slowly, mixing as you go. I have given a rough amount, but what you are looking for is only enough of the flour to bring the mixture together.
- Heat the groundnut oil in a pan until hot. The oil must be hot to prevent the bhajis from becoming too greasy. Don't go to all this effort to make oily, greasy bhajis!
- Form the bhajis into round patties, fry until brown. Serve immediately.