At their best, onion bhajis (or bhajia or pakoras or vadai) are crispy and light; at their worst, they are stodgy and greasy. The trick lies in the batter. Too thick, the globby mix makes fritters difficult to cook through without burning. Too thin, the batter runs off the onions, and they separate into strands in the cooking oil. Just right, the mixture is like heavy cream and clings to the onions to create a craggy, bronzed exterior with a centre that’s nutty, tender, and light.
⅛ teaspoon asafoetida (Hing) OR a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
60ml (¼ cup) finely chopped coriander leaf
2 teaspoons finely minced or grated garlic
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1-2 fresh green chillies, finely sliced, to taste (optional)
2-3 fresh curry leaves, minced (optional | see notes)
14 g (1 tablespoon) melted butter OR ghee
Water, as needed
3-4 medium (approx. 400 g total weight) onions, thinly sliced (see notes)
Oil for frying
Heat the oil in a fryer or a high-sided pot until hot enough for deep fat frying (180C/375F). Take the usual safety precautions when deep-fat frying.
Sift the flours with the dry spices. Mix together the coriander, garlic, ginger, chillies (if using), curry leaves (if using), ghee and lemon juice (if using) and add to the spiced flour. Stir in enough water to bring it to the consistency of heavy cream. Coat the onions in the batter. The batter shouldn’t be clumpy and it shouldn’t run off, but cling to the strands.
Once the oil is up to temperature, scoop a tablespoon of the mixture and carefully drop it into the oil, being careful to not overcrowd the pan. Turn them a couple of times in the oil and cook until crisp and copper-coloured and bob to the surface—about 3-4 minutes.
Remove from the oil, drain the onion bhajis on a paper towel-lined plate, then put on a cake cooling rack set over a cookie tray, and keep in the oven as you cook the rest of the batches.
Serve warm, with chutney or Indian pickle.
Leftovers (if any) can be reheated in a warm oven for a few minutes to recover their crispness.
The asafoetida’s garlicky-oniony tartness mellows when the batter hits the oil. It’s the sourish tang I’m after, which is why I suggest lemon juice as its substitute.
Fresh curry leaves can be hard to find, so no worries if you leave them out. Don’t substitute with dry leaves, bay leaves or curry powder.
Use the onions you have on hand. Personally, I like a mix of red (for sweetness) and yellow (for pungency).
Be sure to let the oil climb back to temp before adding the next batch. If you don’t, the fritters can absorb oil and become heavy.
If you want to turn this into the bhajis’ puffier cousin, the ulli vadai, add a good pinch of bicarb (baking soda) to the mix.