Today, the children’s school were having a party in their classroom to celebrate Eid – and somewhere last week in a fit of madness, I’d enthusiastically offered to make something savoury for them to take in to share with their class, like samosas or something. That enthusiasm had wilted by half past seven this morning, as I realised I hadn’t done it, and there was no space in the morning uniform-teeth-breakfast flail to start mucking about stuffing tiny little triangles of filo pastry with whatever bits of veg were in the fridge. So. A quick root around in the bottom drawer yielded a world of onions, and a batch of little onion bhajis. These have no chilli in, as I was making them for a class of 4 and 5 year olds, but feel free to add one or two finely chopped red chillies for a bit of spice. I also used a mix of red and white onions, for extra sweetness. And Allegra tossed some cinnamon in at the eleventh hour, for even more sweetness. Most cooking exploits are a joint effort these days! Makes 30 mini bhajis:
100g gram flour
50g plain flour
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
A pinch of cinnamon
1 tbsp finely grated ginger
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter, melted
Juice of a lemon (or 3 tbsp bottled lemon juice)
2 tbsp mango chutney
3 large onions
Oil, for deep frying.
First weigh out your flour and tip into a large mixing bowl. (If you’re in a rush or don’t have scales, 1 rounded tbsp of flour is equal to around 15g, so you want about 7 rounded tbsp of gram flour and 4 rounded tbsp of plain.) Add the fennel, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin, grate in the ginger, and finely chop the garlic and add to the mix. Give it all a good stir to evenly distribute the spices so you don’t end up with one seriously interesting bhaji and 29 slightly boring ones…
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Melt the butter and pour into the middle, and squeeze in the lemon juice. Mix well, and add a splash of cold water to loosen the mixture until it resembles a thick batter – it should stick to your spoon but be loose enough to stir.
Peel and halve the onions, and slice very finely. Add them to the bowl with a couple of tablespoons of mango chutney and give it all a good stir, until the onions are coated in your spicy yellow batter. Take a teaspoon of it and dollop it into your palm – if you can form a loose ball with it, it’s good to go. If it’s too sloppy, add a tablespoon or two of flour, and if it’s too tight, add a small splash of water.
Fill a saucepan a third full with oil for frying, and place on a medium-high heat. When it starts to gently bubble (that’s little tiny bubbles sizzling to the surface, not great big rolling scary oil bubbles), drop a blob of batter in. If it sizzles and floats, turn the heat down a little so it doesn’t get carried a away, and you’re good to go. Dollop a teaspoon at a time into the oil, shaping with your hands if you want neat little rounds ones. Each mini bhaji takes around 4 minutes to cook, so keep an eye on them – when they’re golden brown and floating, lift them out with a slotted spoon and drain them on some kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. Repeat until all the batter is used up.
I let the oil cool on the back of the hob, then strained it through a mesh sieve, poured it into a bottle, and labelled it ‘Frying – Spicy!’ – I figured I could get another turn out of it. When I was writing my first cookbook I included this as a tip in one of my recipes, and was told by my publishers that for health and safety reasons they had to take it out. Obviously I’m not making any recommendations here about cooling and reusing oil, I’m just telling you what I did, wink wink. (And what most restaurants, fast food joints, and fish and chip shops that I’ve had the pleasure of working in do too. Honestly, the world has gone health and safety mad.)
Anyway. BHAJIS! Allow them to cool, then nosh on. Or send them into your children’s class in a Tupperware and wave them sadly goodbye…
Jack Monroe (with a starring role from Allegra McEvedy!)