Last summer was the 2nd worst summer of my life. I’m not exaggerating. Between personal problems, illness and staying with my in-laws upstate who hate me, I felt like I was in the deepest level of Hell. I was lonely, mistreated and very depressed. The only bright spot was on the weekend when Tom and I would go to the Ithaca Farmers Market.
The Ithaca Farmers Market is the largest one I’ve ever been to. There are over 150 local vendors selling fruits, vegetables, baked goods, jams, pottery, flowers, gifts, clothes, jewelry and so much more. There were so many vendors selling organic vegetables that at first, it was hard to know who to buy from. Eventually, I found my favorites and I loved that I could buy vegetables from farmers who were vegan themselves like “The Unexpected Farm.”
There are also a lot of food vendors at the Market. There is Macro-Mama who sells healthy macrobiotic foods. This year there is a new vendor Save Animals Go Vegan Bistro selling vegan and gluten-free vegan cupcakes. All palm-oil free. I wish they had been there last year. But the saving grace of my summer came in the form of a woman named Dammi who runs Sri Lankan Curry in a Hurry.
Sri Lankan Curry in a Hurry prepares the most amazing food that is both vegan and gluten-free. Pakoras, rice, chutneys and so many other delicious treats. Tom and I would get our lunch there every weekend. And Dammi, who is the sweetest woman, began chatting with me and before long, she was my friend and confidante. She would give us extra food when we ordered and I would surprise her with flowers from one of the nearby stands. She even started calling me her “Farmers Market Daughter” and I called her “Mom.”
Dammi is an extraordinary woman. She came to the U.S. from Sri Lanka and worked hard juggling full-time employment, raising children, volunteering and working on her PhD. Dammi is now the Executive Director of the Women’s Opportunity Center in Ithaca, a not-for-profit organization that has helped displaced women for over 30 years.
As busy as Dammi was, and there was always a long line at her booth, she still found time to take me aside and talk to me. She shared family stories with me, gave me words of encouragement, prayed for me, listened to my woes and always left me with a smile and a hug. When she left for Sri Lanka to see her ailing mother, it felt like the longest 3 weeks of my life. And when we left Ithaca, I felt like I was leaving my own mother behind.
Of course I also missed her food. So I had to create my own versions of some of Dammi’s dishes. Now when I make these pakoras, I think about how blessed I was to have met Dammi last summer. If you believe, as I do, that angels walk the Earth in the guise of ordinary people, entering your life when you need them most, then Dammi was surely an angel sent to me. I will always cherish being her “Farmers Market Daughter.”
These vegetable pakoras are fast and easy to make. Have all your vegetables cut into bite-size pieces and ready for coating and frying. I used spinach, green beans, eggplant, cauliflower, kale, carrots, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and onions to try a little bit of everything. My favorites were the spinach leaves, eggplant, butternut squash and the onions but the spinach leaves were the most incredible of all of them.
Using a combination of chickpea flour and white rice flour (I don’t normally use white rice flour but Dammi said it would make them more crispy), these pakora have a light and crunchy coating with tender veggies inside, some crunchy and some creamy.
The Cucumber Raita is a great dipping sauce for the pakora, cool and refreshing with hints of aromatic spices. Part 2 will cover the Spiced Rice and Indian Cole Slaw. Enjoy!
1 block silken tofu
3 Tbs. grapeseed oil
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. brown rice vinegar
3/4 tsp. Kosher or sea salt
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp. dried coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbs. fresh cilantro
Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined but still a bit chunky. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup chickpea flour
½ cup white rice flour
½ tsp. baking powder
1 Tbs. arrowroot or cornstarch
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. paprika
2 Tbs. curry powder
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 cup cold water
Vegetables of your choice, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Kosher salt for sprinkling
Heat about 3-4 inches of oil in a deep pot over medium-high heat. If you use a thermometer, it should reach 350 degrees. Or you can stick a wooden spoon in the oil and when bubbles form around it, the oil is hot enough.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the oil and the water, mixing until you have a thick, smooth paste. You may need to add more water to achieve the right thickness of the batter.
Dip the veggies into the batter, drain off any excess batter and carefully place them in the oil. Do not overload the pot or the temperature of the oil will decrease too much. You will have to fry the veggies in batches. Fry for several minutes, turning the veggies with a spoon or a spider so they brown on all sides. Remove with the spider (or slotted spoon) and place on a paper-towel lined plate. Sprinkle with Kosher salt. Serve while hot. If you are not serving right away, keep the pakoras crisp in a 200 degree oven.
The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.