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Bhajia-Inspired Onion Rings with Chili Dip


A perfectly deep fried onion ring that is featured in this recipe has just been pulled out of the pot of boiling oil in the background

Crispy and perfectly spiced, these onion rings are an AfriCali twist on an East African classic, paired with a spicy Calabrian chili aioli for an extra kick. 


The batter, inspired by Kenyan bhajias, is made from spiced chickpea flour, ensuring each ring is crunchy and bursting with flavor. 


In Kenya, finely chopped fresh herbs, especially cilantro (called "dania" in Swahili), are typically mixed into the batter. I used what I had available, but you can substitute dried herbs for fresh ones or use whatever herbs you have in your fridge and pantry! And if you prefer to skip the beer, sparkling water or club soda will do the trick, though beer adds a richer flavor to the batter.


If you don’t have an oil thermometer, simply dip the end of a wooden cooking spoon into the oil — if it starts bubbling immediately, the oil is ready. 


A Little History…


These onion rings draw inspiration from Kenyan bhajias, a beloved street food that is the East African cousin to Indian pakoras. In Kenya, bhajias are typically made with sliced potatoes that are coated in spiced chickpea flour and deep-fried to perfection. 


The dish is a testament to the fusion of Indian and East African culinary traditions, brought together through centuries of trade and migration. By incorporating elements of bhajias into this American-style onion ring recipe, you get a deliciously crunchy and flavorful snack that honors its cross-cultural heritage. 


 

1 large white onion 

Oil for frying 


For the batter: 

1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup (35 grams) chickpea flour 

2 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch 

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika 

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt or 3/4 teaspoon sea salt 

1 lager beer


For the dipping sauce: 

1 tablespoon Calabrian chili paste

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons thick plain whole milk yogurt

1 garlic clove

Salt to taste


For the onion rings: 

  1. Fill a medium heavy-bottom pot with 3 inches of oil, and heat over medium-high until the oil reaches 350°F (180°C). Line a plate or wire rack with paper towels and place it beside the stove.

  2. While the oil heats, peel the onion, then slice into 1/2-inch thick slices. Separate the layers so you have a selection of rings. The large and medium pieces are best for onion rings; save the smaller rings for cooking other dishes.

  3. Add all-purpose flour, chickpea flour, cornstarch, baking powder, onion powder, oregano, smoked paprika, and salt to a medium bowl. Whisk everything together. 

  4. While continuing to whisk, pour in the beer, adding a bit at a time, until you have a thick but slightly runny consistency. You will not need to use the whole beer. Be careful not to add too much beer or the batter will become too runny; if this happens, add extra flour, a teaspoon at a time, until the batter thickens again.

  5. When the oil has reached 350°F (180°C), dip one ring in the batter at a time and shake off the excess before carefully lowering the ring into the oil. Cook in batches to not overcrowd the pan, and frequently turn the rings until they are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Monitor the temperature of the oil as you’re frying; cooking onion rings in oil above 365°F (185°C) runs the risk of the outside browning too quickly, leaving you with a raw onion on the inside.

  6. Remove the fried rings, place them on the paper towel-lined plate, and immediately season with salt flakes. 


For the dipping sauce:

  1. Add the Calabrian chilis to a small bowl, along with the mayo and yogurt. Grate or finely chop the garlic and stir well to create a sauce. 

  2. Season with salt, then taste and adjust the ingredients accordingly. 


 

Heritage Highlight…


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