Today, we are featuring a very popular Mauritian appetizer, available at every street corner and market of the Island. These snacks full of charm called bhajas are vegetables fritters made with chickpea flour.
Located in the Indian Ocean, in the south-east of Africa, Mauritius is a melting pot of cultures and traditions, which finds its highest expression in its gastronomy.
Mauritius features a cuisine with more than 300 years of history, with a multitude of influences brought by the people who settled there over time.
Mauritian cuisine is spicy, tasty, colorful, full of aromas and extraordinary flavors, rounded by spices that beautifully complement and enhance the ingredients.
Gastronomy is something essential for Mauritius. Understanding one’s cuisine means understanding the history of this country and it is a multicultural and varied cuisine whose origins can be found in a mix of Creole, European, Chinese and Indian cuisines. The most common ingredients are rice, present in almost all dishes, chicken, fish and seafood. Biryani is one of the most popular dishes in Mauritius.
A variety of small cherry tomato called pomme d’amour (love apple) is very commonly used, as well as garlic, onion and ginger. The side dish is usually served with rice and achards, a condiment made with fruits and vegetables pickled in vinegar.
Many typical local dishes use tamarind with a subtle sweet and sour flavor that gives an exotic touch to the local cuisine.
In addition, white pepper and saffron are widely used and represent the preferred spices of the inhabitants of the region.
For fish lovers, it is just paradise! There are many varieties of fish and seafood. Fish are often simply grilled or served in an exotic sauce.
The hearts of palm salad is the true queen of the Mauritian cuisine. It is nicknamed “the salad of the millionaire”.
“Gateaux piments” (chili cakes) are savory fritters that are as popular as badjas in Mauritius. They are prepared with crushed split peas, herbs and chili peppers. It is the same types of split peas that are used for fava Santorinis from Greece.
As for the typical drinks of Mauritius, rum is very popular; lassi, made with yogurt and ice water, and alouda, a syrupy infusion of agar agar, milk and aromas are also very common.
The more adventurous will be able to savor one of Mauritius delicacies: deer hooves in jelly and the most reckless palates will try… monkey! To avoid a culture shock, and for good reason, the names of those dishes are disguised under unsuspecting names, such as jacot (monkey curry) or fricassee zako (monkey fricassee).
In Mauritius, the majority of dishes are almost always accompanied by crusty baguette, following the French tradition.
So back to our delicious bhajas.
Bhaja is a Bengali word which means “anything that is battered and fried”. Mauritian cuisine is heavily influenced by Indian cuisine which is ubiquitous on the island. The bhajas are in Port Louis what pakoras or bhajis are in New Delhi.
Do you know chickpea flour?
Chickpea flour, called besan or gram in Hindi, is one of the most commonly used ingredients in northern India.
Besan is the most commonly used name in Asia and throughout the Indian Ocean but chickpea flour is also called senaga pindi or chenaga pindi in Telugu, kadalamaavu in Tamil, kadalehittoo in Kannada, kadala or kadala mavu in Malayalam, channa no lot in Gujarati and baeshun in Bengali.
Chickpea flour is produced by milling the seeds of chickpea, which is a legume. It is naturally gluten-free, and can be substituted for wheat, rye or oat flour. It is very commonly used in Algeria, for example to prepare calentica.
In France, the calentica has its equivalent and it is called socca between Menton and Nice, or cade between Hyères and Toulon. In Provence, it is also part of the composition of the panisses. Panisses are therefore a mix between socca from Nice, cade from Toulon and calentica from Oran (Algeria).
The reputation of chickpea flour is well established in Asia: who does not know the delicious palak pakoras of Indian cuisine, which is just one of the numerous Indian fried appetizers that are using chickpea flour?
But chickpea flour is not just that.
Chickpea flour has traditionally been widely used for many centuries for its beauty and health benefits. It is mainly used to cleanse and exfoliate the skin and is also used as a hair product.
Chickpea flour make the skin very soft and beautiful. Thus, in Mauritius for example but also in India, Pakistan, Nepal, or Burma, before the wedding, the future bride is coated with a dough of chickpea flour. Women, generally the bride’s aunts, girlfriends, etc. take care of that, so that she has an irreproachable skin.
Chickpeas are very rich in carbohydrates and protein and low in fat. You can typically find this flour in Asian or Indian markets, or grocery stores that carry North African or Mediterranean products.
Badjas are very simple recipe to prepare! They are crisp and deliciously scented and when it is almost impossible to stop after the first one!
- 2½ cups chickpea flour
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 clove garlic , minced
- 1 onion , grated
- 1 tomato , peeled and seeded
- 4 tablespoons mixed vegetables (canned or frozen)
- ½ green chili
- ½ bunch cilantro
- 1 pinch baking powder
- 1 cup water (warm)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Mix the two flours, baking powder, and garlic with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- Add water until you obtain a batter that is a little thick and creamy.
- Stir in onion, diced tomato and mixed vegetables.
- Finally, add the cilantro and finely chopped chili.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. Fry small amounts of dough.