Over the last few days, we’ve been experimenting with perfecting a batter to make pakora – a deep-fried snack from the Indian sub-continent. After testing a few recipes we’ve hit on a formula that can be used to coat a variety of vegetables from cauliflowers to carrots, parsnips to peas, and also cheese!
While on a recent visit to the UK, we came across battered halloumi on many menus – the squeaky cheese from Cyprus that stays firm when cooked. We’ve discovered that it makes a perfect partner for our pakora batter when deep-fried. We recommend you try it with this spicy Yemini sauce, zhug.
But you’ll need to be quick, as halloumi has been a victim of its own success. Severe global shortages of this versatile cheese are predicted as demand far outstrips supply. Luckily for us here in Kazakhstan, a local producer has started making a version of this cheese. We’re pleased to report that it tastes pretty good, so for now the crisis has been averted in our winter base.
Ingredients (makes enough batter for a sliced up 250 g block of halloumi)
100 g chickpea flour (also known as gram flour or besan)
One small onion
1 cm knob of ginger
One garlic clove
One teaspoon red chilli flakes
One tablespoon of fresh coriander
50-100 ml cold water
Mix all the ingredients together with a fork or a whisk, adding water until you get a smooth consistency that is neither too runny not too thick with no lumps. Cover the batter with clingfilm and let it stand for an hour or so before using.
Heat a litre of cooking oil, we used sunflower oil but any will do, in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat until it reaches 180 c. To test the temperature, dip a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil – if the oil starts to bubble vigorously, then it is at the right temperature.
Slice a 250 g block of halloumi into eight pieces. Coat the halloumi slices in the pakora batter and drop into the oil. When the pakora rise to the surface and are a golden-brown colour, remove with a slotted metal spoon and drain on kitchen towel.
Serve hot with potato wedges or roast potatoes and minted peas. The pakora goes well with a coriander and coconut chutney – this site has a good recipe for this sauce, or with our zhugsauce.
On a recent flying visit to Glasgow, KCC dropped into Ox and Finchin the city’s West End for a bite to eat. This Sauchiehall Street eatery offers a range of tapas-style sharing plates – we opted for the giant couscous with grilled halloumi, a plate of braised leeks, beetroot hummus, grilled baby gem lettuce and, with this being Glasgow, chips of course.
This time round, we’ll be recreating the giant couscous dish, made with ptitim, toasted pearls of wheat and semolina, first cooked up in Israel in the 1950’s when rice was in short supply in the early days of the Israeli state. This couscous relative was dubbed Ben-Gurion rice after Israel’s first prime minister. After scouring our local supermarkets, ptitim proved to be in short supply so we’ve replaced them with mung beans!
Key to this salad is the dressing, a piquant sauce called zhug, which was brought to Israel by emigrées fleeing persecution in Yemen in the late 1940s. This spicy cousin of Italy’s milder pesto and Mexico’s equally fiery salsa verde, is served often alongside falafel and hummus. The name is said to be derived from mas-chag, the name of the grinding stone traditionally used to crush the spices and herbs into a paste.
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
100 g mung beans
125 g halloumi
Sprinkling of pomegranate seeds
Sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds
For the zhug sauce:
One bunch fresh coriander
One bunch fresh parsley
One garlic clove
Two teaspoons red chilli flakes
One teaspoon black peppercorns
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon coriander seeds
One teaspoon cardamom seeds
Juice of half a lemon
25 ml olive oil
To make the zhug sauce, put all the ingredients except for the olive oil in a blender and give it quick blitz. Don’t overdo the blending as you want a slightly chunky texture. Now slowly add the olive oil, blitzing until it is mixed in with the other ingredients. Put in a glass jar – it should keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
Cook the mung beans until tender. While the mung beans are cooling, grill the halloumi until a golden-brown colour. Then mix the cooled mung beans with a tablespoon of zhug, arrange the grilled halloumi on top, sprinkle with pumpkin and pomegranate seeds and serve with a selection of your favourite meze dishes.