It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m at Shvetha and Adam Gohn’s home in Cape Girardeau. As their two dogs Darwin and Bretta welcome me, and Bretta curls into the couch beside me, Shvetha tells me about her love of food and her travels to places as close as St. Louis and Chicago where she’s traveled to eat some of her favorite meals, as well as places as distant as Peru where she’s experienced memorable food. Traveling in search of their next delicious meal is one of Shvetha and her husband’s favorite pursuits, as is welcoming friends into their home to sit around the table and share a meal of their own making. On this day, I’m grateful to be one of those people.
In light of her love of food, it seems fitting I’m at Shvetha’s home preparing to learn how to make pakodi, an Indian dish made out of onions coated with chickpea and rice flour, mint, chili powder and more that are then fried. Shvetha grew up in Chennai in Tamil Nadu in India and came to Cape Girardeau in 2006 to earn her Master’s of Business Administration degree. Now, as the assistant director of international admissions at Southeast Missouri State University, she is passionate about using her own experience as an international student to help others move to America to attend the university; for her job before the pandemic, she often traveled to recruit students to Southeast, a part of her job she hopes to resume soon.
On this afternoon, she and Adam have prepared other dishes for us in addition to the pakodi that I help make, including paalak daal, spinach and lentils; butter chicken; rice with cumin and saffron; and naan. Indian food is my favorite, and the meal is incredible, especially eaten in the company of good people. Shvetha says she loves sharing the food she grew up with, teaching others about it. It’s to our benefit, and it reminds me how food has the power to transport us to different places, to connect, to teach us.
Here, Shvetha shares her recipe for pakodi, which she taught me how to make. It’s a comfort food she says people in Chennai often eat when it’s raining outside. And, yep, although it wasn’t raining when we ate the result of our labors, it’s true: it is delicious.
Try your hand at making Shvetha’s recipe, too.
- 1 medium onion (Sliced thin; I use red onion.)
- 1 tablespoon cilantro (Finely chopped)
- 1 teaspoon mint (Finely chopped)
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup besan (Chickpea flour)
- 1 or 2 tablespoons rice flour
- 2 green chilis (Finely chopped; adjust to spice level.)
- 1 tablespoon dry red chili powder (Adjust to spice level.)
- 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt (Optional; skip if keeping it vegan.)
- ¼ cup water (Or use less to make it crispy.)
- Canola or vegetable oil for frying
- Mix all ingredients to make a thick batter. (It should have an almost dough-like consistency if you want to make it crispy.)
- Heat oil on medium flame. (You will be deep-frying these, so ensure it is a deep dish like a Dutch oven.)
- Add small portions of the batter into the oil. (Carefully!)
- Fry until golden brown. Remove/drain.
- Serve with mint chutney, cilantro chutney or ketchup!
Other Notes: You can skip any of the herbs listed here, or add herbs you prefer, such as finely-chopped ginger and/or garlic. You can also use other vegetables of your choice, such as potatoes, carrots, etc. Corn flour can be used instead of rice flour.