Impromptu bhajia

My flatmate is on a sort of elimination diet at the moment, part of which involves avoiding wheat and gluten. As even the corn tortillas you can buy in the shops generally contain wheatflour, he was on a mission to find masa harina, the treated corn flour that’s used to make them. But, despite the astonishing rate of gentrification that’s occurred in Balham in recent years, including its very own organic food store, it hasn’t yet developed a Little Mexico, and none was to be had.

We did, however, find gram flour and thought we’d give it a go. It worked surprisingly well, but as I am in desperate need of a new frying pan that isn’t bowed in the middle, full size ‘pancakes’ weren’t really feasible, so we settled for little ones made in the bottom of a milk pan. They were kind of like giant blinis, rather than small tortillas, in terms of size and consistency, but they were good and were fit for purpose (which is to say: to have guacamole and refried beans and steak stuck on top).

The side of the gram flour packet also had an onion bhajia recipe. As I had an bag of onions and an enormous bunch of coriander, plus all the other ingredients to hand, it seemed right to make them, plus the *must. cook. something* urge was quite strong. (I’d also been making endless batches of guacamole, hence the coriander, but mashing isn’t cooking.)

Once again, I cursed my lack of a proper deep fryer, but a milk pan full of corn oil did in a pinch. They turned out like this:


Not bad for a first attempt, I think. They came out a tiny bit too spicy, so I think I’d go for mild, rather than hot, chilli powder in future, and the first few I tried to cook while the oil wasn’t hot enough, but that’s that lesson learned. It’s another thing for the repertoire, anyway.


I love gyoza. Little savoury parcels of just … goodness. Which if done right are both juicy and crispy (assuming you’re eating fried ones, that is). (And I generally am. I’m kind of the belief that there’s not much that can’t be improved by frying.)

There’s a Japanese place I often go to, and I’m always entirely predictable in what I have. Spicy chicken teriyaki don, and chicken gyoza. I kind of hate myself for not venturing off into the uncharted territories of the menu, but equally it’s a place I go to when I want to grab something quickly and not think too hard, so I don’t think it’s too much of a crime to stick to what I know.

Anyway, as is my wont, I thought I’d try to make some of my own. There was a first utterly disastrous attempt of which we shall not speak, in which I somehow managed to convince myself that rice paper wrappers for Vietnamese summer rolls would be adequate dumpling wrappers. Spoiler: they weren’t.

Incidentally, I enjoyed this ‘so near, yet so far’ packaging in the Chinese supermarket when I was on my errand to buy actual dumpling skins.

I’ve got the filling mastered, though. It’s a combination of pork mince, prawns (I use raw ones, chopped finely), coriander, sesame oil and rice wine, with a tiny pinch of sugar.  I just combine it all with my hands, then add a heaped teaspoon to each dumpling skin. 300g pork and 150g prawns, plus the other ingredients to taste (I’m a bit slapdash about these things) was plenty to fill around twenty dumpling skins.

I found the best way to seal them was just to run a moistened fingertip around half the inside edge and then fold it up to form a half-moon and pinch it tightly closed. Then, in theory, you can choose whether to boil or steam them. Or at least, that was what I heard claimed. But boiling was … not a great idea. Some split, they stuck together, and so on and so forth. The taste was good, but they weren’t the most presentable.

Steaming worked much, much better. I gave them around ten minutes. They held their shape, and still had a little bite. And then I finished them off in the frying pan, because as we’ve established, fried = better.

I had noble intentions about having a couple, then maybe taking them to work to share out, or keep and eat over a day or two. Instead I ate 18 in one sitting. For dipping, I used chilli paste, and soy sauce combined with lime juice. But I’m telling myself that that’s a good thing, because it meant they tasted good.


(Incidentally, that weird soft focus effect is, I think, steam on the lens. I wasn’t getting all Greta Garbo and putting Vaseline on an attempt to make them prettier.)