x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Deep-fried desi food put to the air-fryer test

I had my reservations about the air-fryer being able to handle pakoras. It was hard to picture the batter and veggies coming together in anything but several inches of smoking-hot oil.

With Ramadan just around the corner, there are things we all need to take care of. For some, it’s making sure that there are enough copies/translations of the Quran around the house, or that the prayer timings are put up in a convenient location for all to see. The women in one of my favourite Facebook groups have rallied around one such focal point these past few weeks – that one aspect of Ramadan that all desi housewives put above and before anything else: deep-fried savoury foods for iftar.

We’re talking about samosas, pakoras (deep-fried fritters made of sliced vegetables and coated with chickpea batter), spring rolls and falafels.

For the past several weeks, most of our Facebook discussions have revolved around what I came to believe no desi kitchen – and no self-respecting, pakora-cooking desi – should be without this Ramadan: the air-fryer.

It all started when one member (let’s call her M) of our closed Facebook group, consisting mostly of desi ladies dedicated to home-cooking, bought an air-fryer and started sharing her culinary experiments. If you are wondering what an air-fryer is, then imagine a deep-fryer, but without the oil. Now imagine the amount of oil the average desi consumes in the form of deep-fried goods during Ramadan and you will realise why the air-fryer had practically all of us doing jubilant backflips.

Since the gadget was steeply priced, we decided to follow M’s experiments before we invested in one.

M started out with some basic items. Her French fries, spring rolls, chicken nuggets and samosas made us drool. Then she tried fried fish and shish kebabs. More drooling, because all the cooked items retained their integrity – without any of the oil. So far, so good.

It wasn’t until M tried pakoras that things went downhill.

To be honest, I had my reservations about the air-fryer being able to handle pakoras. It was hard to picture the batter and veggies coming together in anything but several inches of smoking-hot oil.

Sure enough, M (who documents everything beautifully with step-by-step photographs) posted an album of raw vegetables and batter that had dripped down to the base of the air-fryer, which she had pre-emptively covered with foil.

The day that went up was a sad day for our Facebook group. Until then, we had all been sold on the air-fryer. And then the pakora-disaster happened. It shattered everyone’s dreams of a Ramadan filled with satisfying (yet non-artery-clogging) iftars.

Of course, we could still buy the air-fryer and use it for everything except pakoras, but these deep-fried goodies were the main reason everyone wanted the air-fryer in the first place. Pakoras soak up oil like nobody’s business. If we're not able to cook them, our air-fryers are white elephants.

All of us realised we have two options now: pakora-free iftars or heart-attack inducing ones. It’s a no-brainer which one we’ll go for.

M, in the meanwhile, is writing to the air-fryer manufacturer about how disappointed desi ladies are with their product and is suggesting they start work on an updated version that’s suitable for pakoras. ASAP.

The writer is a an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai