Ode: The Vegetable Masala Pakoras at Little India
I mean, anything you order from the OG of Indian in Denver is going to be delicious. In fact, at a recent dinner there, I almost hurt myself when I overindulged — I wanted to order everything on the menu and came home with three more meals’ worth of leftovers. I’d forgotten just how flavorful and balanced each dish from Little India can be.
Or maybe they’ve just gotten better over the years.
But when our server brought the veggie masala pakoras to the table “because you just have to try them,” I had no idea that an appetizer, for fuck’s sake, was going to rock me sideways into another plane of existence. A side dish?
I can wax rhapsodic about the wonders of something fried. Who can’t? Cover an item in flour or breadcrumbs or batter and dip it in hot oil until it’s all crispy and aromatic, and you can’t help but anticipate that first mouthful of flavor.
But these pakoras. These delicate dumplings. These tiny haystacks of crunch. I don’t know the last time I had something that was fried so perfectly. The chickpea batter is gossamer-light but holds within it a mix of spinach, potatoes, cauliflower, and onion. You’d think the pakoras would be gut bombs, but they somehow manage to be effervescent and hearty at the same time. The delicate crunchiness gives way to their pleasant starchy smooth innards, but you never feel like you’re biting into density. Maybe it’s the way they’re loosely constructed, like a tumbleweed as comfort food. They’re Indian latkes. Hot and savory snowballs.
And the masala sauce is such a perfect complement, with its full flavor — a little sweet, gently spicy, notes of turmeric and cumin dancing along a coconut melody. After each bite, we’d smear our pakoras in it for another go. In fact, the server nodded sagely when we asked him to leave the empty plate behind, and we gently scraped our papadums or smashed our parathas into the remaining sauce. I scooped the very last of it onto the rice in my to-go container.
The whole dish is a little miracle. An unexpected wonder.