My Mother-in-Law’s Pakoray

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It’s still a few hours before any hint of twilight when my mother-in-law pulls herself up off the couch, murmuring with a sense of urgency, “I need to start getting the pakora batter ready for iftar.”

“Relax, Mama,” I tell her. “It won’t be the end of the world if the kids don’t get pakoras for iftar one day. I’m going to be making fruit chaat and lassi; that will be more than enough before dinner. And those two healthful things are better for them than fried pakoras every night, don’t you think?”

She waves away my suggestions as inconsequential. “My bacchas love pakoras; they’re going to get pakoras. As long as their grandmother is around with them during Ramadan, they will get their request for pakoras fulfilled.”

Due to diabetes, my mother-in-law can no longer fast, but she is still sensitive towards those of us who do, worrying about our comfort, checking up on us during the day, urging us to rest, to conserve our energy. She sits and reads chapters of the Quran for hours on end, blowing prayers over me, her son, our children, and her own husband. Her fingers click the prayer beads so rapidly that the wooden misbaha seems to slide through her fingers like a ribbon of silk. Other middle-aged women of my generation may dread the idea of their in-laws coming to stay, but in our house, Ramadan doesn’t feel real unless my husband’s parents have joined us in Northern California, having made the trek all the way from their home in Islamabad, Pakistan. There is a sense of tranquility in the house that makes me want to bottle it up and save it to spray throughout the bedrooms during the rest of the year when they are away from us.

But it’s a different story in the kitchen.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s an underlying competitiveness that seems to emerge between my mother-in-law and me once the peaceful days and nights of Ramadan are upon us. It doesn’t have anything to do with who can worship more or who can complain less. This Tension-That-Has-No-Name is confined only to the kitchen…and only to the last few hours of the daily fast. No matter what new recipes I try or what fancy servingware I use, I never feel like I’m doing enough to please my usually easygoing mother-in-law. It’s like I can never quite keep up with her. While it’s true that no one has ever been able to make pakoras as crispy and airy and tasty as she does, there seems to be an unspoken rebuke in the fact that I don’t even try. What mother wouldn’t bother to make pakoras when her sons speak so eagerly about how much they love them, how much they look forward to them after almost 16 hours of fasting?

Her hands deftly whisk up the chickpea flour with water and salt and spices including crushed coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and red chili powder. She efficiently chops onions and tomatoes and cilantro and chilis to throw into the mix. She doesn’t measure anything out; years of experience have taught her eyes exactly how much is needed. Sometimes she cuts pieces of aubergine to add in as well.

I watch her drop dollops of batter into the sizzling hot oil and then cringe behind her as droplets of vegetable oil splatter up onto my dark wooden cabinets, which had been freshly wiped down just this morning. I eye the stove and inwardly sigh, thinking about how much effort it will take to scrape off the dried pakora batter drippings and spray of oil once everyone is done eating.

My mother-in-law tries her utmost to keep the mess to a minimum, even lining my stove with foil so that the range will stay as clean as possible, but I know that additional work has been added to my load for the day. I hover fretfully in the background, trying not to let my unease show. I resist grumbling about cholesterol levels in our family, deciding not to remind her that Ramadan is a time for losing weight and not for gaining additional pounds, conveniently forgetting the fact that I will be stuffing medjool dates with cream cheese and toffee bits as soon as she is out of my way.

She hums as she piles the fritters onto a paper towel-lined platter, steam rising from the piping hot golden-brown mounds of crunchy goodness. The kids crowd into the kitchen, oohing and aching over their favorite Ramadan treat. I smile gamely, asking who wants to help prep the yogurt drink everyone enjoys at fast-breaking time. The kids reluctantly tear their eyes away from the pakoras in order to take me up on my hint that I could use their assistance in getting ready for iftar.

When the family finally gathers around the dining table at Maghrib time, the boys spoon out ketchup and eagerly reach for the pakoras. My mother-in-law sits back and smiles serenely, laughing as the kids carefully count out the dumplings so that everyone has exactly the same amount, no more, no less. She refuses to take any extras, insisting that she’s not hungry, that they’re not good for her, that she made them for us. When she thinks no one’s looking, I see her surreptitiously pluck up a few crumbs and pop them into her mouth.

It’s then that I have my epiphany. My mother-in-law is not out to make me look bad. She’s not trying to feed my family unhealthy food. She has no expectations of anyone but herself. My mother-in-law feels needed; she has a service, a talent, a gift that she can offer that no one else can. She has been granted an eager audience who recognizes her magic touch and doesn’t hesitate to let her know how much they appreciate her. Feeding her son and grandsons their favorite Ramadan snack is her way of showing them love and letting them know “you are worth it to me”.

Recognizing that another woman loves my men and is actually needed by them makes me feel threatened, makes me wonder if I can be replaced, if someone else can be appreciated more. How much better off would I be if I just allowed myself to embrace the fact that my sons are fortunate to be growing up with the awareness that they have more than one woman who adores them, who is willing to go the extra mile for them? I get a break when my mother-in-law takes it upon herself to feed my boys their favorite foods. And I benefit with yummy treats as well.

I pick up the last pakora and inhale its savory scent. “Mmm, this one is all mine,” I tease her and the kids. “Sorry, folks, I ain’t sharing.”

She giggles like a little girl and promises proudly, “Tomorrow, insha’Allah, I’ll make even more.”


2 1/2 cups gram flour (also known as “besan” in the Indo-Pak store)
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp ginger powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 large onion, chopped in thick slices
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
2 serrano chili peppers, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped without the stems
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

~ sift the gram flour
~ add 1 cup water to the gram flour and whisk well
~ add more water if it’s too thick
~ add all of the ingredients (except for the oil)
~ heat the oil in a small pan to high
~ drop pakora batter by the tablespoon
~ when it floats to the top and is golden brown, turn over
~ drain on paper towels

Hina Khan-Mukhtar is a mother of three boys and one of the founders of the homeschooling co-operative known as ILM Tree in Lafayette, California, which now serves over 25 homeschooling families in the East Bay. In addition to teaching Language Arts to middle school and high school students, she has written articles on parenting and spiritual traditions for children and is involved in interfaith dialogue as well.

53 Comments on “My Mother-in-Law’s Pakoray”

  1. nina says:

    Finally someone praising their MIL, lol. Beautifully written. I could taste the story, but maybe because I’m fasting. 😛

  2. anisaleyahali says:

    Aaaawwww i love this x

  3. I liked your writing about your family and you capture your mother and yourself well here. Showing your weakness and hers and that makes the story more captivating. The food sounds yummy.

  4. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  5. ditchthebun says:

    Family is a beautiful thing and it is wonderful that you are able to enjoy it so fully. My grandmother made the most amazing fried rice I have ever tasted, it was beautiful and flavoursome and full of vegies. My mother and I are the only ones who have ever been able to closely replicate it as there was no recipe, my Nan never used recipes. Since she has passed often when we all get together for big family events we will lament that we don’t have Nan’s mushroom cakes and only decent imitation fried rice 🙂 The original is always the best 🙂

  6. What touched me about your post- is how it related to my life. At 27 years old, I took my mother-in-law into my home. My three sons and my husband adored her. She and I– battled for position. In reality, she needed to be loved, and needed to be respected and adored. Now, at 48- after 20 years of having her in my home, I realize this. And honor this, and deeply love her, and she is my best friend. Your post hit home with me.

  7. KMKH says:

    That was beautifully written. I hope to read more. Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  8. Such a wonderful story about a simple recipe

  9. sulabha1649 says:

    Heart warming story as it strikes a chord in my heart who loves her family and adores cooking delicious food for all her dearest ones.

  10. Asiaelle says:

    Awesome post and recipie. Reminds me of my grandmother and all the amazing foods she’s introduced me to over the years. Thank you for sharing.

  11. maneezas007 says:

    Reblogged this on maneezas007 and commented:
    wonderfully detailed the picture of her home n inlaws

  12. Nussi821 says:

    Absolutely loved this well written story. I too could related to every part of it.

  13. abgeeney says:

    Such a lovely read 🙂

  14. Gallifrey says:

    Reblogged this on Not Thought Out Enough and commented:
    Ramadan Mubarak, everyone!

  15. seweverythingblog says:

    Lovely words, all of them striking a familiar chord in me :). Congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  16. Sally says:

    Such a lovely piece and something I can relate to almost word to word! Who knows, maybe one day when your sons are married you will be the MIL who makes the fabulous pakoras and your daughters in law will be jealous :p

  17. hammad125 says:

    An excellent blog.Reminds me of my grandmother’s pakoras!

  18. Nida S. says:

    A home that has our elders and their love trapped within its walls is a blessed home. I realize that even more now after moving to Canada with my husband and children, leaving behind my mother in law back home. She will join us soon inshAllah and the entire kitchen scene as described by you is going to be closely replicated :). Maybe not exactly with pakoras but with other delicious concoctions that belong just to her. Reading this makes me miss her more. You described the relationship with the perfect mix of love and intrigue. I am a follower now definitely!

  19. Elinor says:

    Lovely! Enjoyed reading something so different. Sounds like a wonderful family!

  20. blueneely says:

    such sweet writing. I couldn’t stop reading 🙂

  21. katpegimana says:

    Lovely post…I love pakoras too 🙂

  22. Soumya says:

    Awwww. This is beautiful.

  23. A lovely story about your family, the love and rituals – really great reading.

  24. I am from India, and can fully understand your emotions..

  25. Gorgeous! I’m copying it to a friend – a Mother-in-Law who often encounters unexpected “Tension-that-has-no-Name” in the home of her son (and daughter) and will appreciate your epiphany first hand. Me, I’ll smile to remember it when I attempt her Pakoray. 🙂

  26. Hina, your story is just beautiful. I felt like I was there tasting every bite. When we lived in Khartoum, Sudan, our wonderful neighbors shared many of their Ramadan treats with us, and they always seemed to be made with such love – just like your Mother-in-Law’s Pakoray. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed – richly deserved. All the best, Terri

  27. Excellent. Thank you for sharing your culture. This was a facinating read!

  28. Of course there is no aftari without pakoras, and Rooh Afza! But an extremely well written piece exploring the saas bahu (mother in law, daughter in law) relationship in a sensitive way, with a tender touch and acceptance. A family member’s feelings ought to be more important than a trivial issue of stove cleaning. After all tomorrow we might be sitting in that pious seat.Loved your narrative!

  29. emmibear130 says:

    Mashallah, so wonderful! Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

  30. Yum, in every way.

  31. Shivangi says:

    Beautifully written, just attenuates the beauty of having these women in our lives (MILs). So often than never even i fail to acknowledge how many wonderful things my MIL does for me and and keep treating her as a competition and keep finding faults in all she does (Yeah its the other way round at my place). I realize now how much she does for me and my family. lest i can do is appreciate her for all the efforts she puts in. She does not have to I know.. but still she does. Great Post!!

  32. bethanyjdickens says:

    Looks delicious! Thanks for passing

  33. Well written, gave me a refreshingly fresh look into relationships. Definitely one for freshly pressed

  34. You write beautifully, thank you for sharing this. I find it so fascinating and wonderful that despite the differences in our cultures and backgrounds, essentially underneath we are all the same, having the same feelings bound up with love and food!

  35. YOGiNi says:

    🙂 lovely! congratulations for being on freshly pressed 🙂

  36. sb2711 says:

    can’t wait to try these pakoras!

  37. ruhain44 says:

    I enjoyed reading this and I have to say I’m hungry. I could smell the flavors and taste the food through your description. Enjoy your family.

  38. A.K. Maleeke says:

    Really nice article. Story sounds similar to my wife & mom lol I guess its common in our communities. Please put pictures up as well, would be nice to see how they look like too.

  39. miriammah says:

    Reblogged this on Miriam's Moods and commented:
    Beautiful thoughts of family and food.

  40. Sania says:

    Lovely blog 🙂 very apprehending

  41. mbitproducer says:

    Pleased with then pakora tutorial : ) Thanks!

  42. Home Truths says:

    Your thoughts added more spice into ordinary Pakoras 😉

  43. Thank you for the wonderful story and a new recipe as well 🙂 I look forward to trying out the pakora. It sounds delicious!