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Asparagus Pakoras | saveur

Asparagus Pakoras

Our test kitchen manager and all-round recipe tester Fatima Khawaja writes a weekly column about preparing the fresh produce, with simple ideas for a weeknight meal and useful tips, such as storing and preparing those heirloom tomatoes so that they really shine. Letting the season dictate what’s on her plate, Fatima heads to the local farmers’ market every week to find a star ingredient—rather than one that plays second fiddle to a meaty main course. With an emphasis on pantry staples, minimum ingredients count, and cook times of less than an hour, this column is your go-to for plant-forward meals.

Colourful, fresh produce has always inspired me, whether I’m shopping in Pakistan for turnips and okra with my mother or looking at the mercados of Mexico for chillies, tomatillos and hoja santa. So of course, if The Farmers Markets of New York City Coming to life with spring and summer produce, writing a vegetable-focused column is particularly exciting. It also feels important for the times we live in: for those of us trying to eat more fruits and vegetables – not just for our health, but for the planet’s – I bring you In good season your new go-to source for delicious, no-nonsense and easy recipes.

The inaugural star of the column is asparagus, one of the first vegetables to pop up when spring arrives. You can find the stems thick and blunt or long and slender, green or white or even purple – they are all delightful on their own. You should be sure to use fresh asparagus within a day or two of purchase as the tips can get slimy, but it shouldn’t be difficult as the only real prep work is trimming the fibrous root tips. I like to do this by simply bending the stems to see where the hard end meets the soft top – which is where I cut down. I love plain sautéed asparagus, and since I wanted to keep them whole, crisp and barely cooked, for this recipe I took them a step further by coating them in a light chickpea batter, seasoned with some of my favorite spices and herbs for a market. -inspired take on South Asian pakoras.

I grew up eating pakoras, a much loved street food in Pakistan, either just outside the markets with my mother after a night of shopping or at home during the month of Ramadan where they show up as a reward for the fast. To make them, vegetables such as potatoes, aubergines or spinach and onion are dredged in batter and then fried in bubbling oil. The batter encases the vegetables in a crisp, crunchy shell that keeps the star ingredients moist and al dente. Served with tamarind or coriander chutney, a squeeze of lemon or even ketchup, these savory treats are irresistible, impossible to stop at one, or two, or even three. I must have eaten an entire dish myself.

Enjoy these asparagus pakoras with friends while entertaining, as a tea snack, or just because. Feel free to swap the asparagus for other vegetables that like to be baked, such as onions, aubergines, or my mother-in-law’s favorite green peppers.


Asparagus Pakoras

A springtime favorite gets South Asian flair in this crowd-pleasing recipe.

Yield: serves 6

Time:

20 minutes

ingredients

  • 1½ cups chickpea flour (also known as gram flour or besan)

  • 2 tsp. cumin seed

  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling

  • 1¼ tsp. medium-hot red chili powder, such as Kashmiri, plus more to taste

  • ⅛ tsp. baking powder

  • ½ cup coarsely chopped coriander

  • Vegetable oil, for frying

  • 1 pound asparagus, stringy ends discarded

  • Lemon wedges, to serve with it

  • Tamarind chutney, for dipping (optional)

instructions:

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, cumin, salt, and chili powder. Slowly whisk in 1¼ cups of lukewarm water, adding an additional ¼ cup of water as needed until mixture is well blended, has air bubbles and resembles thin pancake batter. Beat in the coriander.

  2. Pour the oil into a large saucepan over medium heat to a depth of 2 inches and attach a deep-fry thermometer. When the temperature reads 350°F, dip an asparagus spear into the batter, let the excess drip back into the bowl, then carefully lower it into the oil. Repeat with the remaining spears, working in batches if necessary. Bake, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, sprinkle with salt and serve warm with lemon wedges and chutney if desired.