My BFF recently got married.
The wedding was beautiful, the day was perfect, and everything went so smoothly it almost didn’t feel real. It was an outdoor wedding, and the weather stayed hot, but tolerable all day. Even late into the night everything continued to go smoothly. It was one of those unicorn weddings where everything just goes PERFECT, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them.
The day after the wedding, my friends mom hosted a get together at her house with traditional Guyanese food for everyone. Guyanese cooking shares many similarities to Indian food, but it is most defiantly it’s own cuisine, with it’s own techniques and flavor profiles. Being the amazing people that they are, I was greeted with my own plate of aloo and chickpea curry when I arrived, kept in a separate place, safe from the other, meat-centric, curries. It was delicious – filling with just the right level of spice and perfect spooned over a bowl of steaming rice. I ate more of it than I feel comfortable revealing – and then had it again for lunch the next day!
But by far, my favorite thing served that day was the bara. Crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy, with just the tiniest bit of chew on the inside, bara are one of those snacks that I could literally eat all day. Dipped in some tamarind, or green mango chutney, they are the perfect balance of savory and sweet, soft and crunchy, spicy and refreshing. I’ve had them several times, but I’d never actually looked into making them any more than to know that they are made with dal flour as one of the ingredients.
I finally buckled down and did some research the other night and learned that bara are actually ridiculously simple to throw together. Like so many good things, the ingredient list is short and sweet, it’s the quality of your ingredients that makes the biggest difference.
The flour in bara is a blend of chickpea, or dal flour, and regular all purpose. This may sound a little over the top, but I actually ground my own dal flour. The reason behind that the first time, was that I had no pre-ground flour, and I was craving bara. After having ground it fresh the first time though, I got hooked. The fresh flour really does make a huge difference in the flavor of the finished product. Of course, if you don’t have a means to grind your own flour, you don’t have to. Regular old dal flour (may be called chickpea, or garbanzo flour depending on where you get it) will work just fine.
What you DO want to make sure you do though is roast and grind your own cumin. I have a coffee grinder that I use for this and it works great. It barely takes any more time, and the difference in flavor is SO WORTH IT. Don’t skip this step, I promise, it makes a difference.
When it comes to heat levels, I prefer a lot. I actually used three Serrano chilies, 3 jalapenos and 2 dried red Thai chilies when I made these the first time. They still weren’t hot enough. If you’re not sure where to start, I’d recommend two green Thai chilies and one dried red. This will give you a tiny bit of bite that is pleasantly diluted by the batter. After you’ve made these the first time and have a feeling for your spice tolerance, you can start playing with the ratios of chilies some more. The one thing that is important to remember is to grind the 10 cloves of garlic in with the chilies, making sure that everything is as smooth as possible. I had to add about a 1/2 cup of water with my chilies and garlic to make it puree well, this will probably vary for you depending on the size and depth of your blender.
VERY IMPORTANT! Turmeric turns things yellow. I’m sure you already knew that, but I feel, as a public service, I need to reiterate it. The first time I made these I had my nails beautifully frenched, fresh from being in my besties wedding. After I was done making these, the hand that had done the stirring looking like I had been smoking for 50 years. My nails were completely yellow! If you don’t have nail polish on, it won’t stain your actual nails, but consider yourself warned – turmeric is one heck of a strong dye!
One last thing, the whipping of the dough may seem a bit odd at first, but think about how you knead a yeasted loaf of bread to develop the gluten. Bara have a similar need, however the batter is too soft to actually knead it. So instead you have to whip it. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to hold the bowl with one hand and then quickly bring your hand down along the bottom center of the bowl, lift up the dough, turn it over onto itself, either to the right or left, and then repeat. About ever 30 seconds of this I used my hand to scrape down the inside of the bowl and bring the batter back into the middle, rotate the bowl a quarter turn, and then repeat the process. After about 3 – 4 minutes you will notice that the dough has gotten slightly more elastic. It won’t be a huge difference, but it does happen. At this point it’s time to rest it. For your first couple of times making these it’s probably safest to just set a timer and whip the dough for the 3- 4 minutes.
This dough smells AMAZING while you’re stirring and frying it, and the fritters taste just as good once they’re cooked as well. They’ll stay crispy for about an hour, but they’re still delicious the next day, they just won’t be as crispy. Throw them in the fridge, making sure to wait to cover them until they are completely cooled, and they’ll be a delicious mid work day snack. I hope you enjoy making these guys as much as I did! 🙂
- 1/3 cup Dal Flour
- 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
- 2 tsp Active Dry Yeast
- 1 tsp Baking Powder
- 2 tsp Turmeric
- 1 tsp Freshly Roasted and Ground Cumin
- 2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 cup Finely Chopped Spinach or Kale
- 2 small Green Thai Chillies
- 1 small Red Thai Chili, dried
- 10 cloves Garlic
- 2 cups Water
- Vegetable Oil
In a blender combine the green and red chilies and garlic and process until they form a smooth paste, adding water as necessary to keep the blender going.
Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the pepper blend and kale or spinach and rub it in with your fingers until well dispersed.
Slowly add water, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing it in fully before adding more. Keep doing this just until the batter has reached a thick but pour-able consistency. I typically add between 1 and 1 1/2 cups, depending on the consistency and water content of the pepper puree and spinach.
Cup your hand slightly and begin quickly 'whipping' the dough by hand. The idea is to knead and incorporate some air into the dough to help the gluten develop by using a slightly cupped hand to quickly fold the dough over itself repeatedly. This step is very important to ensure the bara have the proper texture when they come out of the oil.
Continue to beat the dough with your hand, turning the bowl 90 degrees every 30 seconds or so, scraping down the sides with your hand when necessary, for about 3 - 4 minutes. At this point cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for an hour.
When the dough has about 15 minutes left to rise add 1 and a half quarts of vegetable oil to a 3 or 4 quart saucepan and heat over medium high heat until it is shimmering. Once it has started shimmering reduce the heat to medium.
Put some more oil in a small bowl. Dip your fingers into this oil to coat them well, then scoop out a chunk of the bara dough with your fingertips, I like to do about 1/4 - 1/3 cup portions. Stretch it out a little so that it cooks evenly and drop it into the hot oil. The dough should sink to the bottom briefly before returning to the top. If the dough stays at the bottom of the pot your oil is not hot enough.
Let the bara cook for about 1 - 1 1/2 minutes on the first side, and then flip them over and cook the other side to a golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove them to a paper-towel lined bowl.
Continue making bara in this manner, adjusting the heat of the oil as necessary, until all of the bara dough is used up. Bara are best if eaten within 30 minutes of cooking, as they are still crunchy, however they can be covered after they are completely cooled and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.