Pronounced: karr-hee ; also known as Kadhi Pakora
What is Karhi?
Karhi belongs to the Indus Valley
Karhi is a warm and comforting winter delicacy with nurturing qualities. Karhi is a dish with shared history that is influenced by different ethnicities across the subcontinent. Karha is an Urdu/Punjabi word which means cooked to perfection “achay sey paka hua”. This might be the reason why the dish was named karhi because the yogurt and besan (gram flour) based curry is slow cooked to perfection.
In an article for Dawn, Bisma Tirimzi gave another account from writings of food historian K. T. Achaya according to which the word Karhi originated from Tamil language and has been in use since 1500 B.C.
Different Regional Karhi versions across Subcontinent
Karhi originated from the delta area of five rivers along the Indus Valley starting from Rajasthan, travelling across Punjab and Gujrat and finally reaching Sindh. Every region has its own adaptation and unique style of making this dish with one constant which has remained the hero ingredient of the dish – a sour curry made with gram flour (Besan). The sourness, flavoring and tempering on top of the karhi varies across regions and even across families.
In Pakistan there are two distinct yet delicious varieties of Karhi. Punjabi Pakora karhi and Sindhi Karhi. Here is an overview of the regional karhi’s from across the subcontinent.
- Rajasthani: Rajasthani cuisine also known as Marwari cuisine, is mostly dairy with extensive use of lentils and gram flours as water and fresh greens are scarce in the region. The origin of this dish happed as a necessity in Rajasthan. The Rajasthani karhi is a spicy yet simple and lightest of all karhis’ made with besan and yogurt. It is traditionally served with Khichri.
- Punjabi: The Punjabis adapted the Rajasthani karhi in the best way possible. Punjabi karhi is distinct because of the crispy onion or potatoe pakoras dunked in the thick, smooth and rich curry made with besan and yogurt. It is the heartiest variant among all and is served with zeera rice or boiled rice.
- Gujarti: The sweet, spicy and tangy Gujrati karhi shines due to its light sweet taste. Instead of yogurt, it is typically made with buttermilk (chaas) therefore it has a thinner consistency. It is enjoyed with khichri and Alo tamatar ke sabazi (batata nu shaak).
- Sindhi: The Sindhi karhi is made with roasted besan and tamarind (ilmi) instead of yogurt with fried vegetables simmering in it. Fried Lady finger (bhindi), Potatoes (Aloo) are the commonly used vegetables in Sindhi karhi. It has unique and diverse tones of flavor i.e., tangy, sweet and sour, making it a delicious and comforting gravy.
Key Elements of a Karhi
- Besan Yogurt Base for Karhi
- Karhi has an aromatic tangy gravy made by slow cooking a blend of besan (gram flour or chickpea flour) with sour yogurt or buttermilk.
- Karhi stands out among curries because of its unique sour flavor which comes from using the sour yogurt/buttermilk or even the Arabic laban can be used. Make the best use of sour yogurts or lasi by creating Karhi with them.
- It is flavored by a simple bhouna masala made with onion, garlic, turmeric, mustard seeds, and fenugreek seeds.
- The karhi is slow cooked for 2- 3 hours for getting that perfect taste and texture.
- Traditionally karhi is cooked in mustard oil and I will also emphasize to cook it in mustard oil as it will set it apart.
- The Pakoras (Fritters):
- Crispy pakoras made with onions and /or potatoes are added in karhi which elevates the flavors of the dish and adds another layer of texture. Some recipes also call for adding only gram flour pakoras. No matter which root vegetables are used to make the pakoras it is important to flavor them with the right spices.
- The Tempering:
- To combine the slow cooked karhi and crispy pakoras, a spice tempering is added at the end. The tarka is infused with garlic, cumin seeds, whole red chilies and must-use curry leaves (kari patta) to get that right balance of flavors.
What can go wrong?
- Missing the aromatic spices
- Mustard seeds, Fenugreek seeds, Turmeric are the base elements of Karhi.
- Coriander seeds need to be included in the ingredients for pakoras.
- Curry leaves and garlic are the key flavors for the Tarka.
- Lumps in curry
- Besan can easily get lumped in the gravy if not blended well with yogurt. To avoid getting lumps sieve besan and then whisk or blend it in the yogurt nicely before cooking.
- Yogurt can curdle
- Yogurt can easily get curdled. Always use yogurt at room temperature. Cook it on slow flame. Keep stirring the karhi during the initial first boil. Add salt at the end.
- Consistency of the Karhi
- The proportion of besan and yogurt to water defines the consistency of the karhi. My suggested ratio of besan to yogurt and water would be 1cup : 1 kilo: 2 liters.
- The consistency of karhi before adding the pakoras is like soup. It will thicken once the pakoras are added.
- Stale and soft pakoras
- To make crispy pakoras, don’t add too much water in the pakora batter. Adding more water will result in soft pakoras.
- Don’t cook the karhi after adding pakoras.
- Pakoras added too early before serving
- Don’t add pakoras way too early in the karhi, they will become soft and soggy.
- After adding pakoras let the karhi sit for some time without heating or simmering it. This will allow the pakoras to absorb the karhi which will further thicken the consistency of the karhi.
- I like to have crispy pakoras in my karhi. I add parkoras 15 minutes before serving and add sizziling tarka on top right after.
How to eat karhi?
- Mostly, karhi is enjoyed with simple boiled rice or zeera rice.
- As the Punjabi Karhi has thick consistency it can be easily scooped up with roti or naan (flatbread).
- It is can also be served as a soup and eaten directly with a spoon.
Why you should try this?
- It is THE coziest and lighthearted meal for winters
- The beautiful mustard yellow color of karhi is extremely inviting, hard to resist.
- It is light on stomach and rich with nutritional values.
Karhi & Me
I never liked eating karhi as a child or even as an adult, until I got married. The first time I had karhi was during my university life. My dear friend “A” invited us close friends to her house and cooked lunch for after skipping the classes. To my surprise, she made karhi chawal and shami kebabs. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I had it silently without expressing my dislike for the dish. Everyone was so happy and praising her for making the best comfort food ever. To be fair, it was cooked really well and I actually enjoyed having it too.
The second time I had it was with my inlaws when I made it myself for the first time with the instructions of my beloved ami saas (may her soul rest in peace). After explaining the whole process, she said to me, “Bana lou ge na?”. I laughed and said, “Jee Amiii” and I did. She loved it. It was a huge accomplishment for me back then. Not just ami approved it, I loved it myself – me being a picky eater, who never had karhi all her life made the perfect karhi.
I am sharing with you the same recipe that I learnt from my ami saas 7 years ago. Nothing beats comfort meals that fill your home with majestic aromas in winters. Here is Karhi Pakora from my ami saas’s Kitchen to yours.
For the Pakoras
- Onions – 1 large, thinly sliced
- Potatoes – 2 large, thinly julianne cut
- Besan – ½ to ⅔ cup
- Salt – 1 teaspoon
- Carom seeds( Ajwain ) – 1 tablespoon
- Red chili flakes – 1/4 teaspoon or to taste
- Corinader seeds ( dhaniya ) – 1 teaspoon, roasted and grinded
- Cumin (zeera) -1 teaspoon, roasted and grinded
- Fresh Coriander leaves – 2 tablespoons
- Ghee or olive oil – 1 tablespoon
- Water – ¼ cup to as required
- Oil for Frying
For Besan Karhi
- Besan – 1 cup
- Yogurt – 1 Kilo
- Water – 2 Litre
For the Karhi Masala
- Mustard Oil – 1/2 cup
- Ghee – 1/4 cup
- Onion – 2 Large
- Fresh Garlic and Ginger Paste – 1 tablespoon
- Rai Dana (Black Mustard Seeds) – 1 teaspoon
- Methi Dana (Dry Fenugreek Seeds) – 1 teaspoon
- Saroun ( Yellow Mustard Seeds) – 1 teaspoon
- Cumin seeds – 1 tablespoon
- Red whole chillies – 4 to 6
- Salt – 1.5 tablespoons, adjust at end if required
- Turmeric – 2 teaspoons, heaped
- Red chili powder – 2 teaspoons
- Corinader powder – 1 teaspoon
For the Tarka
- Ghee – 3 tablespoons
- Whole Red Chillies – 5
- Garlic – 5 cloves, finely chopped
- Curry Leaves – 8 – 10
- Fresh Corinader Leaves for garnish
- Take a mixing bowl add all the pakora ingredients and mix well. Adding little waterat a time; make a thick sticky batter. Don’t add too much water as it will resultin softer pakoras.
- In a karahi, heat oil for frying the pakoras. Add the pakora batter and cookevenly from all sides. Fry the pakoras in hot oil on medium high flame. Drainon kitchen towel and set aside.
- In a heavy bottom pan, heat ghee and mustard oil on medium flame.
- Once nicely hot, add thinly sliced onions. Sautee until slightly brown. Remove theonions and puree them in a blender.
- In the same oil, splutter cumin, fenugreek, both yellow & black mustard seeds and red whole chilies, followed by ginger garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes or tillraw smell goes off.
- Add the onion puree back into the spices, sautee well on medium flame.
- Add salt, turmeric powder, chilli powder, coriander powder. Mix well and cook again until masala “ek jan hu jaye” is completely bhounfied and oil comes on top.
- In a separate bowl, sieve besan. Add room temperature yogurt in it. Whisk or blendwell making sure there are no lumps.
- Add the prepared besan and yogurt mix into the prepared masala, mix it well.
- Bring the karhi to boil keeping the flame medium high. Stir continuously making sureit doesn’t stick to the pan or spilt or curdle.
- Add 2 litres of water to the karhi and let it simmer on medium slow flame for 2-3 hours.Longer it cooks on slow heat richer and tastier it gets.
- Maintain a thin pouring consistency of the karhi. If it gets too thick, add more water.
- After 2 hrs, oil (tari) has come on top of karhi, showing all signs that it wasnicely cooked with the right pouring consistency.
- Turnthe heat off and stir in freshly chopped coriander leaves as garnish.
- Add pakoras 15 mins before serving the karhi. The pakoras will absorb the karhiflavors as they are dunked into it. Don’t cook the karhi after adding pakorasthey will turn too soft.
- Heat ghee in a fry pan over medium flame to prepare tarka.
- Add chopped garlic cloves, once slightly crisp and brown add curry leaves. When theybegin to crackle, add cumin and whole red chilies, stir fry until roasted. Pour the sizzling tarka on the prepared Karhi Pakora.
- Serve hot with fluffy zeera rice or boiled rice with pickle. It can be equally enjoyed with roti.