I take great pleasure from healthifying unhealthy foods. I’m not one of those people who secretly enjoys eating “sinful” foods laden with butter and sugar. The unhealthy elements of food actually make me enjoy eating that food less, so even as I’m biting into a moist, fudgy brownie, I’m thinking, “eughh BUTTER”, and while I’m crunching into a deep-fried spring roll in a Chinese restaurant, I’m thinking, “eughhhh FRIED”. Obviously none of this applies to crisps – these should never be healthified; baked crisps are a complete waste of time.

I’m honestly not a health freak, I just feel that the ultimate challenge in cooking is to find a way to make something that was unhealthy but incredibly delicious into something equally delicious, but also healthy. And I know, I know, a little bit of fat and a little bit of sugar or whatever won’t do you any harm; but wouldn’t it be even better if you didn’t feel that you should only have a little, that you could have as much as you liked AND it would be good for you too?

Admittedly, maybe there is a small part of me that revels in being virtuous with food – in the same way that sometimes in a restaurant, as we read the dessert menu, my mum might say, “I think I’ll have the apricot tart, that sounds delicious,” and then my dad will say, “Wow, apricot tart! You’re really going for it! I’ll just have fresh berries.” Or, in the opposite scenario, mum will say, “I think I’ll just have berries,” and dad will say, “Really? You don’t want the apricot tart? That sounds delicious!” “OK,” she’ll say, “You have it then!” And dad will look all conflicted – he does really want the apricot tart but he doesn’t want to lose “health points” by going for that if mum’s taking the healthy berry option (he’ll probably compromise and go for sorbet – “it’s just fruit and water!”)

This isn’t going to lead up to some amazing revelatory recipe which is healthy and as delicious as its unhealthy cousin, by the way. If I truly had that recipe I wouldn’t be putting it on a blog, I would be selling it for millions.

No, what I have today is inspired by that idea – it is delicious, it is pretty healthy, but it’s not quite close enough to it’s unhealthy inspiration to be the million dollar recipe. I call them my Inspired-by-Bhajis. I can’t call them just Bhajis because I have a few friends who will laugh at me if I do. Particularly the friend who tried an earlier incarnation of this recipe (it has improved since then, I might add), and who told me to provide a frying pan and oil when she came over so she could “do them properly”.

I think these are pretty great, though. To start with, they are much quicker to make than real bhajis and you don’t have to stand over a hot frying pan and get spattered with oil. Another friend asked me to blog about quick and easy starters, and I think this is one. You can make them in advance and crisp them up in the oven when you want to eat them, and they would look nice on the table with some salads and Indian-style accompaniments.

They’re also a pretty good snack for babies – Joe likes these as they are but if your baby doesn’t like the taste of the spices you could remove or substitute for spices they do like (and even sweeten them with cinnamon and mixed spice).

It’s hard to give precise quantities with this recipe because it really depends on the size of your onions, but it doesn’t matter anyway – you might decide that you prefer more batter or less batter: it’s up to you.

Makes around 10, depending on size of onions and size of each bhaji

  • 3 onions
  • 1 tablespoon of rapeseed or other vegetable oil
  • Approximately 4 tablespoons of chickpea flour (also called besan or gram flour)
  • 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon of ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  1. Slice the onions into fine half rings. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the mustard seeds. A few seconds later, add the onion and fry until the onions are translucent.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add the chickpea flour and spices, and then pour water slowly into the mix, stirring constantly. You want the consistency to be similar to yoghurt – wet enough to stir easily, but not too thin so that it drips off the onions.
  3. Add the cooked onions to the batter and stir well to coat them.
  4. Line a baking tray with baking parchment, and dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the tray. I slightly prefer these to be small and quite thin for ultimate crispiness, but you can make them in whatever size and shape you like.
  5. Bake in the oven until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes.

The baby-friendly version is simple – just add less or alternative spices and salt to the batter. You can bake some for your baby and then add spices and salt to the remainder of the mixture. I’ve even added raisins for Joe and he has really enjoyed picking them out and eating them! 

*Approximate nutritional values (2 bhajis)*

  • Calories: 157 kcal
  • Carbs: 19g
  • Fat: 5g
  • Protein: 8g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Sodium: 907mg

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