A delicious and traditional Omani recipe.
Whenever I tell people I'm from the Middle East or Oman, most will instantly ask me if I know how to make great falafel. I once attended a talk at the British Library on food that connected us to our roots, and the wonderful Imad, from Imad's Syrian Kitchen in London, spoke about how cooking falafel helped him survive in Calais as a refugee after fleeing Syria. The dish acted as his form of communication and currency. This reminded me that making generalisations about cultures suppresses our stories and history, especially when we have come from colonised and conflicted countries. Food is our resistance and a way of holding on to our heritage.
So while we in Oman and Zanzibar do love falafel, we leave it to our neighbours to make, and instead we have bajiya, which I guess is similar in terms of its method and ingredients. Bajiya comes from the Omani-Zanzibari diaspora, and is seen across other parts of the Swahili coast, made using pulses local to those areas. The word stems from the Hindi word bhaji, or "fried vegetable''. The Indian community played a big part in the development of many of our fried dishes. Using what they had available on the island, they were able to make these simple bajiya. We use black-eyed beans and mung beans, and serve these with a coconut dip called chatini (see page 181 for my version).
Makes: 30-35 pieces
- 170g (6oz) black-eyed beans (black-eyed peas)
- 200g (7oz) mung beans
- 1 garlic clove
- salt, to taste
- 2 green chillies (optional)
- 30g (1oz) coriander (cilantro)
- 3 large onions, 2 roughly chopped and 1 finely chopped
- 1 litre (4 1⁄3 cups) vegetable or sunflower oil, for deep-frying
- 1 heaped tsp baking powder
Soak the black-eyed beans and mung beans in cold water overnight in two separate bowls.
The next day, gently massage the black-eyed beans in their soaking water to help release their skins. The skin should float to the top; remove as much as you can, as this will stop the bajiya from absorbing too much oil. Drain the beans really well and pat dry to remove any excess water.
Tip both types of beans into a food processor, along with the garlic, salt, chillies, coriander and roughly chopped onions. Blitz until the mixture is smooth and the beans have completely broken down. Set aside.
- Pour the oil into a deep frying pan or wok over a high heat.
- While the oil is heating, stir the baking powder and finely chopped onion into the bajiya mixture, combining well. This will help them become super fluffy and round.
- Using a tablespoon or ice-cream scoop, plop some of the mixture into the pan; if it floats instantly and begins to sizzle, the oil is hot enough for frying. Add as many balls of bajiya mixture to the oil as you can, leaving enough room for them to move around.
- Fry for 4-5 minutes, making sure to keep turning them so they brown evenly. You're looking for a deep brown colouring on the outside. Once cooked, transfer the bajiya to a plate lined with kitchen paper (paper towels) to drain the excess oil while you fry the next batch, and serve.
Tip: The bajiya mixture can be frozen once blended, and defrosted when you want to fry.
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