Creamy, tangy, and full of spice, this kadhi pakora is a super comforting Indian-inspired meal with unique flavors and textures.
Kadhi is a traditional South Asian dish featuring a creamy, tangy gravy thickened with chickpea flour (known as besan).
The recipe, presented here, is inspired by the Punjabi version, kadhi pakora, which has a thick, rich gravy and onion pakoras (crispy fried onion fritters). It’s an ideal winter meal, both nourishing and full of spice, served with hot rice or roti. I consulted several online sources, and I chatted with my mom extensively to ensure my kadhi recipe came out as smooth and velvety as hers did!
A Short History of Kadhi
What is Kadhi?
As I mentioned earlier, there are so many variations of kadhi, so there isn’t a one-size fits all definition of this dish. However, all kadhis do include either yogurt or buttermilk simmered on the stove with spices and a thickening agent. In modern times, besan (or chickpea flour) is used to thicken and emulsify the liquid while preventing curdling.
The Origins of Kadhi
I looked into the earliest history of kadhi, and according to chef Kunal Kapur, food historians point to Rajasthan as the origins of the dish. Home cooks would use up excess milk by separating it into butter and buttermilk — and the buttermilk was then used to make kadhi. Over time, kadhi traveled to Gujarat and Sindh regions of South Asia. Interestingly makki ka atta (corn flour) was the original thickening agent for the dish; but besan is now the most popular.
Modern Variations of Kadhi
Nowadays, kadhi can be made from buttermilk or yogurt. There are many regional variations across South Asia, differing in flavor, ingredients, and consistency. For example, my mom makes a Maharashtrian version, which has a thin consistency, a bit of sweetness, curry leaves, and notes of ginger. Some other versions within Maharashtra use amchur (dry mango powder) to create a more sour flavor or kokum (a sour fruit in the mangosteen family).
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Let’s talk through key ingredients.
This is the base, “soup-like” mixture of thickened yogurt, chickpea flour, and spices. You can keep it simple and just make the kadhi, or serve it with pakoras like I have!
- Full-Fat Plain Yogurt: Yogurt and chickpea flour are *the* most important ingredients in this recipe. I highly recommend using full-fat yogurt as it reduces the risk of curdling. The yogurt needs to be at room temperature, again, to reduce curdling. Finally, it’s most delicious when it’s sat out for a few hours (up to 8 hours) at room temperature to give the yogurt a nice, sharp, sour flavor. Important: Use an Indian dahi or plain full-fat yogurt here. Do not use skyr, which can curdle when heated.
- Chickpea Flour: Chickpea flour acts as a thickener and helps emulsify the kadhi while offering a nice, earthy note to the soup. Note: Why does curdling happen? Yogurt curdles when heated unless it’s stabilized (or emulsified) by other ingredients, namely, the chickpea flour. By blending the chickpea flour with the yogurt into a smooth texture that is slowly heated, you create a creamy, thickened emulsion.
- Water: Water both thins out the liquid and also helps form the emulsion.
- Aromatics: Spices, like turmeric and cumin seeds, and a serrano pepper add a spiced flavor to this dish.
These are crispy onion fritters coated in chickpea flour and spices, then deep-fried until browned and crispy.
- Onion: I love onion pakoras! They’re crispy and full of lots of allium flavor. I grew up calling them kanda bhajis, which is the Maharashtrian term for them. Here, I use a red onion because I love its sweetness and sharp flavor.
- Spices: We’re also adding a bit of turmeric and garam masala here to flavor the pakoras.
- Chickpea Flour: Chickpea flour is a traditional ingredient that helps form a crispy base for these pakoras.
- Oil: We’re deep-frying the pakoras, so you’ll need a good amount of a neutral oil, like canola oil or peanut oil.
This is a hot spiced oil topping that is poured over the kadhi pakora. You can omit this if you don’t want something too spicy, but I feel it really elevates the whole dish!
- Oil: Use a neutral oil here!
- Dried Red Chili: You can use any kind of dried red chili you have (just be aware of its spice level). I recommend a dried red arbol chile!
- Mild Chili Powder: I always have mild Kashmiri chili powder on hand. Don’t have this? Use a 50/50 mix of cayenne powder and (non-smoked) paprika.
Tips and Tricks
- Use Room Temperature Ingredients. Using room temperature ingredients will minimize any risk of curdling.
- Heat the Mixture Slowly, Whisking Constantly. For the smoothest, creamiest kadhi, slowly heat the mixture and whisk constantly until it comes to a boil. Continue whisking for 1 minute, then simmer for a good 15-20 minutes. Once the mixture has boiled for 1 minute, you’re in the clear and you don’t need to keep whisking constantly during the simmering process!
- Change Up the Spices If You Like! Feel free to add some garlic or ginger to saute with the cumin seeds for even more flavor.
How to Make Kadhi Pakora
- Blend the kadhi base: In a blender, blend yogurt, chickpea flour, turmeric, sugar, and 1 cup of water until nice and smooth!
- Cook the aromatics: Sizzle your cumin seeds in a bit of oil and saute with some chilies.
- Cook the kadhi: Okay, this is the most labor intensive part of the process, but once you get the hang of this it’s not so bad! On low heat, you’re going to add in 2 1/4 cups water into the pan. Then, stir in the kadhi base. Over the course of several minutes, you’ll slowly increase the heat, whisking constantly, until everything comes to a boil. Let it boil for one minute, stirring constantly. After this minute, you can stop stirring (whew!), and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture is slightly thick and coats the back of the wooden spoon.
- Prep the pakoras: While the kadhi cooks, make the pakoras.
- Fry the pakoras: Heat a heavy-bottomed pot with 1-inch of oil. When the oil is preheated, lightly pack about 3 to 4 tablespoons of the onion mixture to form a patty and carefully drop into the oil. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until cooked through and nicely browned.
- Finish the kadhi: Once the pakoras are cooked, transfer them to the kadhi.
- Make the tadka topping: Heat some oil and add the dried red chili. When it begins to sizzle, immediately remove from the heat and stir in the red chili powder. Drizzle the topping all over the kadhi.
- Serve the hot kadhi with fresh cilantro and a side of rice or roti. Enjoy!
Leftover kadhi will last 2 to 3 days stored in an airtight container in the fridge. The pakoras will soften over time in the fridge, but they’ll still taste good!
You can easily reheat the kadhi (curry) on the stovetop until warmed through, adding a bit of water as needed to loosen the mixture, and whisking frequently to prevent any curdling.
Did you try this recipe? I would love to hear your feedback! Be sure to rate the recipe and leave a comment below.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Kadhi Pakora Recipe (Punjabi-Inspired)
For the Kadhi:
- 1 cup full-fat plain yogurt, left at room temperature for several hours*
- 3 tablespoons chickpea flour, besan flour or garbanzo flour
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3 1/4 cups room temperature water, divided
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced serrano chili
- Salt and black pepper
For the Pakoras:
- 1 cup thinly sliced red onion, from about 1 small onion
- 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup chickpea flour, plus more if needed
- Neutral oil, for frying
- 1 tablespoon full-fat plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon cold water, plus more if needed
- Flaky salt, for topping
Tadka Topping (optional, omit for a less spicy version):
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as canola oil or peanut oil
- 1 dried red chili
- 1/2 teaspoon mild red chili powder, such as Kashmiri chili powder
- Handful cilantro, minced
- White rice or roti, for serving
- Blend the kadhi base: In a blender, blend yogurt, chickpea flour, turmeric, sugar, and 1/4 cup water until smooth and homogeneous. You don’t want any lumps here. Add another 3/4 cup of water and blend until smooth. Set aside.1 cup full-fat plain yogurt, 3 tablespoons chickpea flour, 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- Cook the aromatics: In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed dutch oven or saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. Add cumin seeds; once seeds begin to sizzle and release an aroma, add the chilies. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until chilies are slightly softened. Take care not to burn the cumin seeds here, and reduce the heat if needed.1 tablespoon neutral oil, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 1/2 teaspoons minced serrano chili
- Cook the kadhi: Reduce the heat to low, and add the remaining 2 1/4 cups of water to the pan. Whisk in the kadhi base, stirring constantly for 1 minute until fully combined. Continue whisking constantly, and increase the heat to medium-low; cook for 3 to 4 minutes until mixture begins to steam. Still whisking, increase the heat to medium-high, then continue stirring and cooking the mixture until it comes to a boil. Whisk the mixture for 1 minute, then lower the heat to medium-low.At this point, you can stop stirring, and place a tall wooden spoon into the pot (this prevents the mixture from boiling over), and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture is slightly thick and coats the back of the wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper.Salt and black pepper
- Prep the pakoras: While the kadhi cooks, make the pakoras. In a medium bowl, mix onion, turmeric, garam masala, salt, and chickpea flour until well combined. Let sit for 10 minutes to allow the onion to release any moisture.1 cup thinly sliced red onion, 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup chickpea flour
- Fry the pakoras: Heat a heavy-bottomed pot with 1-inch of oil to 350°F/176°C (about medium heat). Add the yogurt and cold water to the onion mixture and stir to coat. The mixture should be slightly sticky, and the onions should stick together when formed into a patty. If the mixture feels too dry, add a little bit of water. If the mixture feels too wet, add a little more chickpea flour to help bind it. When the oil is preheated, lightly pack about 3 to 4 tablespoons of the onion mixture to form a patty and carefully drop into the oil. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until nicely browned and cooked inside. Drain on paper towels or a cooling rack and sprinkle with flaky salt.Neutral oil, 1 tablespoon full-fat plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon cold water, Flaky salt
- Finish the kadhi: Once the pakoras are cooked, transfer them to the kadhi. Keep the kadhi warm while you prepare the tadka topping (instructions below).
- Make the tadka topping: In a small pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the dried red chili, and once it begins to sizzle, immediately remove from the heat and stir in the red chili powder. Drizzle the topping all over the kadhi.1 tablespoon neutral oil, 1 dried red chili, 1/2 teaspoon mild red chili powder
- Serve the hot kadhi with fresh cilantro and a side of rice or roti.Handful cilantro, White rice or roti