Lemony Shrimp Pakora with Cucumber Raita

published Oct 19, 2022
Lemony Shrimp Pakora with Cucumber Raita Recipe

These bright and zesty shrimp pakora are made with leeks and get a big dose of lemon zest along with turmeric, cumin, kalonji (nigella seeds), hing, and Kashmiri chili powder.

Serves8 as an appetizer

Makes24

Prep30 minutes to 35 minutes

Cook45 minutes

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Photo of lemony shrimp pakora with cucumber raita on a white serving plate.
Credit: Asha Loupy

Growing up as an Indian adoptee, I didn’t celebrate Diwali at home. My mom would take me to Diwali celebrations at the local Indian cultural center, and my favorite part was always the food — banquet tables lined with fried snacks like samosa and pakora, heaping platters of biryani, and mountains of mithai, such as gulab jamun, barfi, and jalebi. I still dream of those flavorful spreads. Now, as an adult and recipe editor for Diaspora Co., a company equitably sourcing spices from across South Asia, I see Diwali as an opportunity to connect where I was born with my adopted French heritage and California upbringing in my very own kitchen. 

One of my favorite things to make (and eat!) is pakora. Also known as pakoda, pikora, bhajiya, among other names, these golden fritters are bound by a highly spiced chickpea flour batter and can be made with an assortment of vegetables, meat, or seafood. These shrimp pakora are my iteration of the dish. They’re made with leeks instead of the more traditional onions and get a hearty dose of lemon zest along with turmeric, cumin, kalonji (nigella seeds), hing, and Kashmiri chili powder. The brightness of the lemon plays beautifully with the citrusy earthiness of the turmeric, the delicately herbal kalonji, and the vibrant, fruity heat of the Kashmiri chilies.

The key to this recipe is using jumbo shrimp — we’re talking 16/20 count here. Their larger size allows the batter and leeks to get crispy and golden without overcooking the shrimp.

Lemony Shrimp Pakora with Cucumber Raita Recipe

These bright and zesty shrimp pakora are made with leeks and get a big dose of lemon zest along with turmeric, cumin, kalonji (nigella seeds), hing, and Kashmiri chili powder.

Prep time 30 minutes to 35 minutes

Cook time 45 minutes

Makes 24

Serves 8 as an appetizer

Ingredients

  • 2

    Persian cucumbers

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 2

    medium lemons

  • 1 cup

    plain, full-fat Greek yogurt

  • 1 cup

    besan (chickpea) flour

  • 1/4 cup

    white rice flour

  • 2 teaspoons

    ground turmeric

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    cumin seeds

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kalonji (nigella) seeds

  • 1 teaspoon

    Kashmiri chili powder, plus more for finishing

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    asafetida (hing) powder

  • 2/3 cup

    water, plus more as needed

  • 1 to 2

    serrano chiles

  • 1

    large leek

  • 1/3 medium bunch

    fresh cilantro

  • 8 cups

    canola oil, for deep frying

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    uncooked jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 per pound)

  • Mustard seed oil, for drizzling (optional)

Instructions

  1. Grate 2 Persian cucumbers on the large holes of a box grater into a small bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt and toss to combine. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, finely grate the zest of 2 medium lemons (2 to 3 tablespoons) into a large bowl for the pakora and set aside. Juice the lemons until you have 3 tablespoons.

  2. Drain the cucumber into a colander. Using your hands, squeeze out the excess liquid from the salted cucumber and return to the bowl. Add the lemon juice and 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, and stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Transfer to a small serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

  3. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 cup besan (chickpea) flour, 1/4 cup rice flour, 2 teaspoons ground turmeric, 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 1 1/2 teaspoons kalonji (nigella) seeds, 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder, and 1/8 teaspoon asafetida powder to the bowl of lemon zest. Whisk to combine.

  4. Trim and thinly slice 1 to 2 serrano chiles. Cut the dark green parts from 1 large leek and discard; halve and rinse the white and light green parts, then thinly slice crosswise (about 1 1/2 cups). Coarsely chop the leaves and tender stems from 1/3 medium bunch fresh cilantro until you have 1/2 cup.

  5. Add 2/3 cup water to the flour mixture and whisk until smooth. The batter should be about the consistency of cornbread batter; if the batter is too thick, whisk in more water a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Add the serrano, leeks, and cilantro, and stir until everything is well coated in the batter.

  6. Heat 8 cups canola oil in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat to 375°F. Meanwhile, peel and devein 1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp if needed. Fit a wire rack over a baking sheet.

  7. Batter and fry 5 shrimp at a time: Dip a shrimp in the batter and use your fingers to make sure it has a thick coating of batter and leeks on the outside. Gently drop it into the hot oil. Fry until cooked through and golden-brown, flipping halfway through, 3 to 4 minutes total.

  8. Using a mesh spider, slotted spoon, or tongs, transfer the pakora to the wire rack. Immediately sprinkle with a little extra Kashmiri chili powder. To serve, pile the hot pakora on a platter. Drizzle mustard seed oil if using over the raita and serve with the pakora for dipping.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Pakoras are best enjoyed when freshly fried, though you can make them a couple hours ahead. Reheat for a few minutes in a 425°F oven (they won’t be as crisp).

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days, although they won’t be as crisp.