Crunchy veggies, curry, turmeric, and chickpea flour (can sub other flours) mix quickly into a simple batter full of fiber and protein. Once pan-seared or baked (versus the typical fried version), these healthy vegetable bhajis are crispy, so flavorful, and make a great vegan meal or side dish.

plate of vegetable bhaji (vegan fritters) with lemon turmeric yogurt sauce on top.

Last year when I was pulled away from the kitchen for a couple of weeks I tried a vegan meal kit service, called Purple Carrot which I love because its recipe kits highlight different cuisines. One was Bhaji, an Indian type of fritter, most often made from onions and deep fried. Purple Carrot’s recipe specified pan-searing the bhajis. They were delicious and I think of them often because they are a savory, flavorful way to prepare vegetables instead of a salad, that is still crunchy and fresh tasting. What’s more, and what makes them unique is the use of chickpea flour to bind them together.

What are Bhajis?

Bhaji refers to a type of fritter (ingredients mixed with flour and fried) from India. Along with Pakora, Bhajis are made in different ways, depending on the region of India where they are from. In general, though, the ingredients are held together with chickpea flour, and this is the main reason I became so interested in making them. While chickpea flour has been used for centuries in India, it is not used that much in this country, and I was curious.

one veggie bhaji with golden yogurt sauce.

Above: Behold the beauty of making bhajis with colorful beets, green cabbage, and red onion, topped with black sesame seeds and a golden yogurt sauce full of turmeric and lemon.

Why Make this Bhaji Recipe?

  • Veggie packed – This recipe includes three colorful veggies (see ingredient notes for more info). That along with the spices and flecks of sesame seeds creates a beautiful bhaji if I do say so myself 🙂
  • Nutritious – This recipe specifies pan-searing or baking the fritters, which yields a bhaji with much less fat (and I would argue a better flavor) than the traditional method of deep frying. Chickpea flour adds fiber and protein, and the yogurt sauce adds additional protein (and/or healthy fats, depending on what type you use).
  • Flavorful – I can’t get over how tasty these are based on the combo of spices in the batter and the inherent flavor of the chickpea flour. The roasted beets add flavor as well, while the cabbage and onion are milder. It’s the kind of flavor one takes a moment to savor and contemplate, after taking a bite (not kidding!).
  • Texture – The shredded vegetables and hearty chickpea flour, combined with the method of pan-searing or baking the fritters yields a bhaji that is slightly crispy and crunchy throughout. No mushy fritters here.
  • Easy and Quick – Slicing/grating veggies, mixing with batter, and then quickly searing or baking all at once makes for quick work.

Above: Bhaji batter made with chickpea flour, cornstarch, and spices.

Mediterranean Food Pyramid Ingredient Notes:

  • Variety of vegetables – Without getting overly technical, this recipe contains cabbage from the cruciferous group of veggies, beets from the root vegetable family, and onions from the group called alliums (rich in flavanols that fight disease).
  • Chickpea flour – legumes are emphasized in the main part of the food pyramid, based on their nutrition, especially fiber and protein, as described above.
  • Spices – Alongside veggies and legumes, spices are included in the largest part of the food pyramid due to their antioxidants. This recipe includes turmeric, curry, cumin, and coriander.
  • Sesame seeds – these hidden little gems add an important part of the food pyramid to these bhajis, and along with their nutrition, they add flavor, crunch, and beauty to the dish.
  • Yogurt sauce – Soy yogurt is high in protein like dairy yogurt, which you could also use. As a legume, soy is considered more nutritious on the food pyramid, but dairy yogurt is also considered higher up on the pyramid.

Above: Vegetable bhaji made with a trio of cabbage, beets, and red onions.

Method + Timing

  • Roast beets – This can be done a day ahead. See the info box below about roasting beets. This recipe uses cooked beets for the most flavor, but it’s ok to use raw if you don’t have time to cook the beets. The bhaji will be crunchier.
  • Prepare veggies – Slice the cabbage and onions, and grate the beets.
  • Make the batter – Mix the chickpea flour with the various spices and cornstarch (helps lighten the batter and aid in crispiness), then stir in the prepped veggies.
  • Cook the bhaji – use 1/4 cup of batter to form each bhaji, then pan-sear for a couple of minutes on each side, in avocado oil (or other flavorless oil). Alternatively, you can bake the whole batch of bhajis at once at a high temperature (see details in the recipe card below).
  • Yogurt Sauce – mix the yogurt with lemon juice, turmeric, and a pinch of salt for a flavorful and colorful sauce/dip. If not familiar with the taste of turmeric, go lightly to start, and season to taste. It’s a bit more distinct than the flavor of curry powder, which you can use if you prefer.

Above-batter making steps: 1. Mix up the dry ingredients for the batter. 2. Mix the sliced/grated veggies into the batter. 3. Bhaji batter resembles veggies coated with batter. It is thicker than pancake batter and the veggies are predominant.

Close-up Photo of Beets.

Roasting Beets

Wash whole beets and either wrap in foil or place on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven for up to 2 hours (per 1/2lb beet), until a fork pierces into the center of the beet without much resistance. Once cooled, you can grate the beet. It is unnecessary to peel the beet, especially in this case where the beet is grated, because the less attractive skin will not be seen. Feel free to roast well ahead of time when convenient. Raw beets can be grated for this recipe as well, and will yield a crunchier bhaji.

Above-cooking bhaji: 1. Vegetable Bhajis searing in a cast iron skillet using 1 tbsp of avocado oil. 2. Bhaji’s after baking in the oven (alternative cooking method).

Serving, Reheating + Substitutions

  • Serving – These are filling and make a complete protein-rich meal for 4 (or 2 super-hungry people). Leftovers make a great snack as well. That said, these healthy vegetable bhajis would make a great side dish to any protein, perhaps with some greens/salad for a lovely dinner.
  • Reheating – I have these in my fridge for reheating on the regular! The best way to reheat is to place on a pre-heated skillet (I swear by my cast iron), reduce heat to medium and cover for 2-3 minutes, flip, and heat another minute.
  • Substitutions – The chickpea flour shouldn’t be replaced with regular flour, since regular flour has little fiber or protein and will produce a different end product (you’d need eggs for a flour-based fritter). You could use other veggies, for sure, but this combo produces a great texture and flavor, as developed. Different yogurts can be used as described throughout this post.
Bhaji on a plate with golden yogurt sauce being spooned on top.

Above: Plated bhaji look beautiful garnished with microgreens, herbs, and black sesame seeds and topped with a golden yogurt sauce.

FAQs

Where are bhaji from?

Bhaji are made traditionally, throughout India.

What is a bhaji ?

Bhaji can refer to a veggie fritter (usually onion) mixed with chickpea flour and deep fried. However, India is a huge country, bhaji can varies across the country, and can refer to a curry type of stewed veggies as well. Fritter type bhaji, as described here is only one type of bhaji made across India. The name varies region as well.

What’s the difference between a bhaji, a pakora and a fritter?

The names are based on the regions in India where they are made. Bhajis are typical in the West of India, while Pakoras are names as such in Northern India.

Is pav bhaji the same as bhaji?

No, pav bhaji refers to a recipe made with veggies stewed with tomatoes in a special blend of Indian spices, whereas bhaji are fritters made from onions and chickpea flour batter.

Above: These healthy vegetable bhajis with all the toppings can be eaten with a fork, but are equally delicious eaten with your hands and dipped in the yogurt sauce. Grab a stack!

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overhead view of a plate of vegetable bhajis (vegan fritters).

Healthy Vegetable Bhaji (spiced vegan fritters)

Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Beet Roasting: 2 hours
Servings4
Calories301
Crunchy veggies, curry, turmeric, and chickpea flour (can sub other flours) mix quickly into a simple batter full of fiber and protein. Once pan-seared or baked (versus the typical fried version), these healthy vegetable bhajis are crispy, so flavorful, and make a great vegan meal or side dish.

Ingredients
 

  • 1 cup chickpea flour (a.k.a. gram or besan flour (see notes))
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 garlic clove large (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds ((black,white or mixture))
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion ((can sub white/yellow))
  • 1 cup grated beet ((golden or red, roasted or raw-see notes))
  • 2 tbsp avocado oil ((or other flavorless oil- if searing-see notes))
Turmeric Lemon Yogurt Sauce
  • 1 cup plain, unflavored soy yogurt ((or any plant-based or dairy yogurt))
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric (see notes)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 pinch of sea salt

Method:  

Ahead of time: Roasting Beets (optional-see notes)
  • clean 1-2 beets, wrap in foil or place on pan and roast in oven for up to 2 hours at 350 (until fork can pierce to center of beet without too much resistance)
  • Store beet(s) in fridge until ready to make bhajis or at least let cool enough to handle (30 minutes).
Making the Bhajis
  • If planning to bake (instead of pan searing) preheat oven to 450 with rack in upper 1/4 of oven.
  • Whisk first 9 ingredients (dry batter ingredients plus garlic) in mixing bowl.
  • Add 1/2 cup water and whisk to incorporate, forming bhaji batter. Set aside.
  • Slice cabbage and onion, and grate the beets. Mix altogether in small bowl (should be about 3 cups total)
  • Toss the mixed veggies into batter with fork until veggies are coated. Reference photo of how coated veggie batter looks. See notes.
Make Yogurt sauce
  • Mix yogurt, turmeric, lemon juice and salt together and set aside for flavors to meld while you make the bhajis.
To Pan Sear Bhajis
  • Heat 1 or 2 tbsp oil in saute pan on medium high (see notes), until glistening.
  • Form patties as you go, placing directly into pan (about 16 overall) using 1/4c batter per each. The patties will be a couple inches across and 1/4-1/2" thick. I fit 4 in pan at once, but depends on your pan/pattie size. Don't crowd patties.
  • Cook patties for about 3-5 minutes per side, depending on heat, etc. until nicely browned on each side. See notes about amount of oil. Once done, remove and place on paper towel on plate. Now is the time to salt patties if desired (salt sticks to warm patties).
To Bake Bhajis
  • Preheat oven to 450.
  • Line sheet pan with parchment paper and brush with a bit of olive oil (or cooking spray), place patties on pan and brush tops lightly with oil or spray again. These tiny amounts of oil/spray help with browning. See notes.
  • Bake patties for about 15 min, until browned, ideally flipping midway for even browning.
  • Serve patties with yogurt sauce. Green herbs and black sesame seeds make lovely garnishes.

Notes

Chickpea flour: readily available in bulk bins or packaged (i.e. Bob’s Red Mill) as chickpea flour or Besan (gram) flour. You can make these with another grain flour but they will not have the same nuttiness and full flavor. Typical veggie fritters will use all-purpose flour and eggs to form the patties, but these are vegan and distinct in their use of chickpea flour.
Beets: I like to roast a beet or two and grate them. This gives the bhajis a nice mix of crunchy and softer veggies and a lot of flavor. You can sub raw beets, or use grated zucchini if you dislike beets.
Oil for pan-searing: I add 1 tbsp of oil per batch of 4 patties. You can experiment with even less oil and still achieve a nice crispy brown pattie if you are super conscious of how much oil you consume.
Turmeric in yogurt sauce: I love turmeric, but if you do not, you can sub with curry powder or garam masala for a similar flavor.
Yogurt: if you use dairy greek yogurt, protein per serving of bhajis = 14g.

Nutrition (an estimate)

Calories: 301kcal | Carbohydrates: 38g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 497mg | Potassium: 537mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin C: 26mg | Calcium: 165mg | Iron: 4mg | Magnesium: 85mg | Net Carbohydrates: 31g
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