For nearly ten years I based my opinions on Indian food on a frozen meal I had in the 6th grade. I think it was some sort of saag paneer, although I’m not too sure if it was really paneer or tofu. Needless to say I did not enjoy it, and from then on I hated Indian food. Or, at least I thought I did.
Fast forward to my college days going to school in Cincinnati. I was studying photojournalism and had to create some short videos for international students to help them feel more welcome and prepared as they started school in a foreign country. In order to create these videos, my classmates and I were assigned international students who had already been attending school in Cincinnati for a while. We asked them a variety of questions about what campus life was like, why they chose to come to Cincinnati, what they thought about America, and most importantly, what their favorite places to eat were 😉
Of the two students I spoke to, a young woman from Russia and a young man from India, they were both inspiring people working towards doctorates in different areas. They had jumped out of their comfort zones to study in a country thousands of miles away from their friends and family and create a better future for themselves. And, funny enough, when asked what their favorite places to eat were, they both answered Indian.
This is one of the things I love most about food: it unites people. No matter who you are or where you’re from, good food is good food. I have never been a picky eater, and it has always been difficult to categorize my style of cooking because I love trying new things. One of the hardest things about starting this blog was the fact that I was going to have to start making recipes more than once.
So, when my two new international friends told me their favorite Indian restaurant, they each gave a different response. (Just so you know, there are a lot of Indian restaurants in Cincinnati. There’s Krishna, Elephant Walk, Dusmesh and Amol just to name a few.) She said Ambar and he said Adeep. Ambar is probably the most popular Indian restaurant in Cincinnati and it is very good.
However, Adeep is the best.
No offense to my Russian friend, but if I was going to take someone’s advice on what the best Indian restaurant in Cincinnati was, I was going to go with the person with firsthand experience of real Indian cooking. Two years later, I asked another Indian international student I worked with what his favorite place was and his answer was the same. Not only that, but he said it was better than most of the restaurants he has been to in India.
Adeep is like a little hole in the wall…literally. My boyfriend Colton and I have eaten inside multiple times, but there are only maybe five tables and there is no air conditioner. You can see huge pots of curries simmering away behind the counter and it smells amazing. They have a notoriously bad delivery service, but every time we’ve eaten in or picked it up the service was great. Anyway, my curiosity for food won out over my long-held memory of that frozen saag paneer (more like sad paneer), and I decided to give Indian another go. I am happy to say it is honestly one of my favorite cuisines ever, and Adeep will always have a special place in my heart.
Now, I am in constant search of great Indian recipes and the secrets to Indian cooking because I feel like they are hard to come by. My theory is that these are cherished family recipes and techniques that are passed down through the generations, so as a white girl in Texas you’ve got to work to get your hands on this knowhow.
I love watching Chetna Makan, a semi-finalist on the UK’s Great British Bake-Off (binge watch this on Netflix immediately, you won’t regret it), on YouTube. She has wonderful videos teaching traditional Indian recipes, and every single one I have made has turned out amazing.
I also bought my first Indian cookbook Made in India by Meera Sodha, which I highly recommend. She combines wonderful recipes with stories from her life to create a book I would genuinely sit down to read just for fun.
So, I by no means claim to be an expert on Indian cooking, but I have learned enough to create my first Indian-inspired recipe. These are baked pakoras, which also happen to be both vegan and gluten-free. Traditional pakoras are fried, which is completely delicious, but if you don’t know already I truly hate frying things and avoid it at all costs. To me, it is just a hassle that is rarely worth the effort.
Other than being easier, baking is also healthier, which makes these pakoras super healthy. These are guilt-free crispy bites of goodness that you can eat a million of by yourself or share with friends, if you feel the need 😉
I highly recommend making this Cilantro Chutney to go along or just to put on everything. I see a lot of recipes for “magic green sauces,” but this is honestly THE magic green sauce. It’s sweet, salty, spicy, and you will want to eat it all the time.
Try it out and let me know what you think in the comments! And if you know of any Indian cookbooks or blogs or YouTube channels that I’m seriously missing out on, then PLEASE let me know!
Baked Cauliflower Pakoras
This baked version of a traditional Indian fried snack is packed with flavor. Naturally vegan and gluten-free, these baked pakoras are crispy, savory, heavenly-spiced balls of goodness that you can eat by yourself or with a few friends, guilt-free 😉
- 1 tsp cumin seeds*
- ½ medium onion diced finely
- 1 small chile deseeded and minced (such as a jalapeño or serrano)
- 1 in. ginger peeled and minced (use the back of a metal spoon to peel it, the easiest method by far!)
- 2 c cauliflower chopped into small pieces, from about ¼ of a head of cauliflower
- 1 c fresh spinach roughly chopped
- ¾ c chickpea flour**
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ¼ tsp hot chile powder (such as cayenne)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ¼ c water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. If you’re not trying to keep these vegan, then feel free to add a little butter to the oil, or you can eliminate the oil and just use ghee (clarified butter).
Add the cumin seeds to the oil and allow them fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant before adding the onion, chile, ginger and salt. Fry until the onions have turned a deep golden brown, about 10-15 minutes, but do not burn. If necessary, add a little water to the pan to prevent the mixture from burning.
While the onions sauté, prep the cauliflower and spinach, and begin mixing together the batter.
Mix the flour, baking powder, spices and salt in medium bowl. Pour in the lemon juice and water until a thick batter forms. If the batter is too thick, you can add additional water a tablespoon at a time until you’ve reached the right consistency. The batter should be thin enough to coat the vegetables but thick enough to hold them together.
Once cooled, add the onion mixture to the batter, along with the cauliflower and spinach. Fold together until all of the vegetables have been evenly coated.
Line a baking sheet*** with parchment paper and dollop heaping spoonfuls of the batter onto the sheet; you should end up with about 12 pakoras. These will be very loose, but I promise they will hold together once baked.
Bake 15 – 20 minutes, flipping after 10 minutes. Remove from the oven when golden brown and serve immediately with Cilantro Chutney or some Cucumber Mint Raita.
You can use gluten-free all-purpose flour if you don’t have chickpea flour, it will still work and be delicious but chickpea flour has a unique taste. It is very inexpensive and really healthy for you, too. You might find it in the international aisle marked as besan or gram flour. I have used Bob’s Red Mill before, which you can buy on Amazon here.
If you don’t have cumin seeds or can’t find them, you can substitute an equal amount of ground cumin. I would definitely recommend getting some, though, if you can find them because toasting the seeds really makes a difference in the flavor.
I prefer parchment paper over aluminum foil because nothing ever sticks, which I can’t say the same for foil. I have also tried this in a muffin tin, but I wouldn’t recommend it. They tend to stick to the pan and never get crispy the way they do on a baking sheet.