Piyaju, Red Lentil fritters have a special spot in my heart. I grew up eating these in Bangladesh, but it only came during a special time. Not sure where this originated from, but Piyaju is a special treat made during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.
I remember walking through the busy city streets of Dhaka, holding my dad’s hand, during Ramadan and watching these amazing crispy, spicy, fragrant…. oh so fragrant, little fritters being made on the sides of the streets. It was considered bad manner to eat during the day during the days of Ramadan, but my dad always snuck me a piece 🙂 Then once we got home, my mom would have a huge bowl, I’m talking a huge restaurant size bowl, full of crispy, fresh out of the oil fritters waiting for us to break the fast. Oh the joy!!
About this recipe:
The name Piyaju can be a little deceiving, piyaj in Bengali means onion, so the name piyaju is actually in reference to the onions used in the recipe. There should always be equal amount of onions to the lentils in the mix
There are many variations of this recipe, mom would add ginger and garlic paste when she wanted to add another layer of flavor…. sometimes she would add Kala Jeera (Black Cumin). I liked all varieties she came up with but the basic recipe, detailed below, is by far my favorite.
It is important to soak the lentils before processing. Keep in mind the volume will grow significantly once soaked. Once soaked you’ll see the lentil swell up and split in the middle, almost like it burst open (see picture below). Soaking also helps moisten the beans so they don’t crack or crumble when you process. Ideally I like to soak them overnight, but I’ve made these after soaking the lentils for 2 hours and they turned out fine.
There are many ways to serve these fritters. During ramadan, we always had it with puffed rice and a little chickpea on the side. But other times, I love it with rice, in a pita pocket with some salad and yogurt…. but my favorite way to enjoy these is to sit with a bowl full of these babies, by themself, and just pop em in my mouth like popcorn. They are soooo addictive, I can seriously eat a dozen in one sitting :/
- 1/2 cup red lentil (soaked then drained)
- 1 small onion, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 green chili, sliced (optional)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp red chili powder
- 1/4 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp rice flour
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tsp mint leaves, finely chopped (optional)
- Salt to taste, about 3/4 – 1 tsp
- Vegetable or canola oil for frying, about 1 1/2 cup.
- Soak the red lentils for at least 4 hours to overnight.
- Drain the lentils and add to the food processor. Pulse a few times at a time and process until half blend. A little more than half the lentils should be coarsely ground, but you want to keep some lentils whole because that’s going to give you the crunch. It shouldn’t be a wet mixture. ** See notes.
- Add the onion, chili, turmeric, chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder and salt leaves to a large bowl. Using pressure with your fingers, mix the spices making sure the juices of the onions moisten the spice mix. Once you have a wet spice mixture, add the lentils, cilantro, mint and flour and mix until everything is incorporated. Form into small patties, about 1 tablespoon per patty (I like them small you can make them any size you want).
- Heat the oil in a shallow pan, over medium heat. Once hot, slowly drop the patties in.
- Fry the patties 5 minutes on each side, until golden and crispy.
- Serve hot.