A perfectly crispy onion bhaji was my first introduction to Indian food when I was little. I think my mom made them quite different though and got the dough to onion ratio a little confused – they should ALWAYS be more onion than dough. Given I wasn’t the greatest lover of curry growing up, I can understand why she tried to mask the flavours with a perfect golden dough. This humble and simple snack is well worth the effort and once you have the onion kind down, you’ll be moving away from the classics and start experimenting with your own flavours and fillings. Typically bhajis are meant to be light and crispy with lots of flavours, but what you’ll often be tempted by in a supermarket is a premix, using this will usually result in stodgy and bland bhajis, and why go through the effort of frying if you’re not going to try and get the best results.
To make sure you get the bhaji possible we suggest sourcing the best ingredients, and know your basics before trying anything else. The most important part of a bhaji is the onion, as I’ve already mentioned, there should always be more onion than dough, but what you can experiment with is the type of onion you use. White onions have a milder flavour while red onions tend to be slightly sweeter while the white onion has a more pungent taste. I love the taste of onion, so I tend to stick to white onions. – Actually, you could even try to combine the two and maybe you’ll get a little match made in heaven. Make sure to cut your onion as thin as possible, this is to make sure your onions cook all the way through before the batter starts to burn.
An ingredient we often use, either because our mothers did, or because we’re so used to adding it to the food we never stopped to consider it as a wealth of nutrition and flavour. Even though onions are readily available, they are actually seasonal. Yes, onions. are. seasonal. Their colouring and flavour changes depending on the season – during warmer summer months the outer layers of an onion are thinner and lighter in colour with a mild and sweet flavour, while in winter the skins grow thicker and have a deeper hue with flavour ranging from mild to pungent. Onions contain small amounts of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium and the antioxidants, quercetin, but are high in vitamin C and sulphuric compounds, flavonoids and phytochemicals. These all help in preventing diseases and in some studies have proven to fight cancer.
While the onion might be the main hero ingredient of this humble snack, the batter comes in a close second. This is where a lot of recipes may vary, and it is purely based on preference and health tolerances. You can choose to add some rice flour if you want a crispier bhaji or you can stick to chickpea flour. I like experimenting with both, so make sure you alternate to decide on your preference. Another variant is consistency, we try and use as little batter as possible purely because we prefer the onion crisping with the batter there to help it along and our general rule has been; enough batter to coat the onion slices, but not enough to create clumps of batter separate from the bhajis. Once you start frying your bhajis make sure your oil is hot enough and you have some paper towels handy, it’s actually really sad when you’ve made this incredibly crispy bhaji only to have the oil make it all soggy because you had nothing to absorb the oil.
Making the perfectly golden and crispy bhaji is not a tall order, but it does require a little patience and attention. Frying when the oil is just right, and keeping a close eye to keep them from burning, but once you’ve had that light and crispy onion fritter as a snack, you’ll be making them over and over again. You could even progress to adding them to curry as a main meal or make enough to snack on them while cooking your curry, we won’t judge.
Little sneaky tip: the sulphuric compounds are what causes your eyes to burn and make you cry when slicing them, store your onions in the fridge so that they’re cool when you slice them and problem avoided – theres nothing left to cry about.
- 2 White Onions sliced
- 3/4 cup Chickpea Flour
- 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
- 1 tsp Ground Turmeric
- 1 tsp Ground Cumin
- 1 Chilli deseeded and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup Flat Leaf Parsley roughly chopped
- 1/2 Lemon juiced
- 6 tbsp Water
- 1/4 cup Vegetable for frying
In a large mixing bowl place your flour, baking powder, salt, cumin, turmeric, chilli, parsley and lemon juice, whisk to combine and aerate.
Add the water and whisk again until you have a thick batter. Add the onion slices and use a fork to coat, it's even easier if you just use your hands.
Heat a large frying pan on a medium heat and add 1-2 centimetres of oil. Use your hands, or a fork to be safe and add +- a tablespoon of the onions to the frying pan, frying 3-4 at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry for a minute on each side, or until golden.
Remove the bhaji from the frying pan and transfer onto a paper towel to drain any excess oil. Repeat until all your batter is gone.
Serve immediately with some mint raita, enjoy!