This is a classic rice dish from India, inspired by the Moghul cuisine. Originally, the dish came from Iran, where it was named pollou or pillau (from pollo, rice). This dish was taken to India, where it became pullao, or pulao, one of the most important rice dishes of the sub-continent. Westwards, this most famous Persian dish became the basis of pilav or pilaf in Turkey and Armenia, the pilafi dishes of Greece and the paellas of Spain. It's even the origin of the famous Russian rice dish plov.
Pakoras are popular spiced, batter-dipped, deep-fried, vegetables that make perfect snacks or hors d'oeuvres. Ghee is the preferred medium for frying pakoras, although you can use nut or vegetable oil.
The tradition of frying things in batter is popular throughout the culinary world. In Italy, there’s the delicious Neapolitan fritters known as pasta cresciuta, comprising of things like sun-dried tomato halves, zucchini flowers, and sage leaves dipped in a yeasted batter and fried in olive oil. The Japanese dip all sorts of things, including zucchini, eggplant and carrot into a light thin batter and serve the tempura with dipping sauce.
In India, pakoras (pronounced pak-OR-as) are almost a national passion. Cooked on bustling street corners, in snack houses, and at home, the fritters are always served piping hot, usually with an accompanying sauce or chutney. The vegetables can be cut into rounds, sticks, fan shapes, or slices. The varieties are endless.
Tamarind is the fruit contained in the hanging pods of the tamarind tree, Tamarindus indica. The pods themselves are between 10-15cm (4-6 inches) long, cinnamon-brown coloured with a fuzzy coating. The pulp from inside the pods is piquant with a sour, date/apricot flavour.
There are some interesting etymological origins of the word 'tamarind'. The Arabic tamr hindi simply means “date of India” ('date' being a general name for the fruits of various palm trees); needless to say, tamarind neither stems from India nor is it related to palm trees. It is a native of Africa.
Dried tamarind is available at all Indian and Asian grocers in three main forms - hard, pressed blocks, packets of softer pulp and jars of puree, or concentrate. The dried pulp, which needs to be reconstituted by soaking it in water, varies immensely from source to source. The stuff in jars also varies from liquid to jam-like.
Some pulp appears full of fibre, and others are relatively fibre-free. But this is not an indication of quality; some of the best tasting tamarind puree I have tasted comes from soaking very unappealing looking rock-hard dried tamarind. Shop around, and choose your favourite brand.
There are innumerable variations on this classic chutney. This one is sauce-like and sweetened predominantly with dates. It is very versatile and popular, and especially suited as an accompaniment for fried dishes, such as samosas, kofta, pakoras and vadai. Makes about 2 cups