Let these Persian-Style Rice Fritters introduce you to alternative flours

Allison Robicelli
·5 min read

When reading Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution, the new cookbook from baker Roxana Jullapat, the first thing you’ll wonder is when the grains began their revolution, followed by the question of whether or not they’re coming for you. Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll know that, yes, the grains are coming, and they’re armed to the gills... with flavor.

For her debut cookbook, Jullapat, co-owner of beloved Los Angeles bakery Friends & Family, has written nearly 100 recipes for cookies, cakes, breads, and other tasty delights that forgo (or partially substitute) all-purpose flour in favor of unconventional flours ground from eight “mother” grains: barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, and, of course, wheat. (Not boring ol’ wheat, though—we’re talking fancy-pants wheat with pedigree and street cred.) Yes, these “ancient grains” are healthier than the white flour we all know and love, but this is not a health cookbook—doughnuts, croissants, and deep-dish pecan pie are all represented. This is a book that puts flavor first, an important part of the grain revolution. The grains of the world are uniting under the banners of butter, sugar, and boiling oil, and we have no choice but to show our support.

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Persian-Style Rice Fritters

Reprinted from MOTHER GRAINS: Recipes for the Grain Revolution by Roxana Jullapat (W. W. Norton & Company, 2021)

Makes 2 dozen fritters

The first time I had these sweet fritters was at a Nowruz or Persian New Year celebration, hosted by my Iranian American friend and fellow chef Samir Mohajer. The table was covered in delectable Persian dishes, but a silver platter of shiny syrup-covered zalabia, as they’re called in Farsi and Arabic, caught my eye. Zalabia is a popular dessert that can be found all over the Middle East. The ones sold at Persian dessert shops in L.A. look like elongated curvy fingers, while the ones sold as street food in Cairo are more like perfect doughnut holes, but when people make them at home, they tend to take more whimsical shapes. My take on the dish deviates slightly from the original. Instead of saturating the fritters in syrup, I first toss them in granulated sugar, then finish with a light syrup drizzle. I’ve seen zalabia in pastry cases, looking delectable many hours after being fried; they keep well, so evidently the syrup helps. Still, I prefer eating them fresh and warm. Never omit the rose water in the syrup; it is what gives the fritters their defining Middle Eastern flavor. The rice flour adds a satisfying chew and uniquely crunchy exterior. The batter is loose in order to yield a light fritter, so it must be spooned directly into the hot oil. I like to make the batter ahead of time and fry shortly before serving when I entertain. I always find a couple of curious volunteers wanting to help. Since they’re basically finger food, I like to serve them for dessert on a platter at the center of the table and have guests pick them up with their hands. Zalabia always enliven a dinner party, sparking enlightening conversations about travel, food, and breaking bread with strangers in faraway lands.

For the syrup

  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar

  • Juice of ½ lemon

  • ½ cup (120 ml) water

  • 2 tablespoons honey

  • 2 tablespoons rose water (see page 30)

For the batter

  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (90 g) rice flour

  • ¾ cup (105 g) all-purpose flour

  • ⅛ teaspoon baking soda

  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt

  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1 large egg

  • ¼ cup (50 g) sugar, plus extra for coating

  • ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons (105 ml) buttermilk

  • 2 teaspoons honey

  • 1 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons rose water

  • Vegetable oil for frying (about 1 quart)

For the syrup, combine the sugar, lemon juice, water, and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and stir briefly to help the sugar dissolve. Cook for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened, around 220ºF on a digital thermometer. Remove from the heat and stir in the rose water. Set aside until completely cooled.

To make the batter, sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cardamom into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center with your hands. Whisk the egg, sugar, buttermilk, honey, and rose water together in a separate bowl. Pour the liquid mixture into the well in the dry ingredients. Using a whisk, slowly mix from the center out, drawing the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Whisk well to work out any lumps. The batter should resemble a thick pancake batter.

Fill a large, heavy pot with frying oil (such as canola) about 3 inches deep and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 360°F on a digital thermometer. Line a plate with paper towels and have a slotted spoon nearby.

Using a spoon, scoop the batter into 1-ounce (28 g) lumps and drop directly into the hot oil. You can use a second spoon to help you dislodge the lump from the other spoon with ease. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, using a slotted spoon to flip the fritters. To test for doneness, choose a sacrificial fritter and cut through the middle to gauge whether the others will need more or less frying time. When done, the fritters should have the texture of a doughnut cooked all the way through. Work in batches of four or five fritters at a time, taking care not to overcrowd your pot.

Remove the golden fritters with a slotted spoon and put on the prepared plate. Let them rest. When the fritters are cool enough to handle but still warmish, toss them in sugar. Drizzle with syrup and serve immediately.