Street Food Cravings: Kaala Chana Chaat

Kaala Chana Chaat (A warm, mildly sweet, tangy, spicy, herby street food of black chickpeas and potatoes)

Today, I shall take you on a nostalgic trip to my country of birth, India.

Where birds sing on roof tops, children joyfully play a game of hop scotch, a street vendor calls out from a distant corner, there is life all around and conversations abundant.

As I prepare myself for my trip to Asia in summer, I cannot help but imagine how things are back in my country of birth. I am also super excited about all the food that I am going to savour.

On this chilly spring evening, this warm chaat and a cup of tea is all I need in my life! The mild tang and sweetness of the dried pomegranates, some heat from the chili powder and fresh green chili peppers, freshly chopped onions, cilantro and the mildly pungent asafetida, the crunch from the sev, instantly takes me back to wander in the streets of India. My sweet neighbourhood. My childhood.

We love our street food and sometimes we try to recreate it at home!

Here’s one that R made one of the weekend afternoons when I was on my downtime! I came drawn to the kitchen with the aroma of all the warm spices he was using.

This is his creation but the only contribution I made was to suggest adding the Anardana powder because I really liked how my friend Dee had used Anardana in one of her Mom’s recipes of Dried Chhole and I’d loved it! So, thank you Dee!:)

For the longest time, R & I just couldn’t be together in the kitchen at the same time. I’ve had fights over how the onions were cut or which variety of okra R picked up from the grocery store! After moving here, he cooks over the weekend and I get fed!

Now, we give each other ideas when we try to create or recreate something. I must add that he has a very well developed and a sensitive palate, and that is a huge help in terms of feedback when trying out new recipes or food! He gives me critical and honest feedback so every recipe that comes to the blog has passed his test, for sure!

This is a great starter for a party, an afternoon snack or a street food themed party, as one can do most of the prep earlier. It’s perfect to serve in the slightly cooler months. However, you can cook this ahead and keep it in the fridge to serve it as a cold for summer.

Recipe for this warm Kaala Chana Chaat (A warm, mildly sweet & tangy, and spicy, herby salad with black chickpeas and potatoes)

Makes: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

Mustard Oil: 2 tsp
Asafetida (Hing): ¼ tsp
Ground Dried Pomegranate Powder (Anardana Powder): 2 tsp
Cumin Powder: 2 tsp
Red Chilli Powder: ½ tsp
Salt: To Taste
Ground Pepper: ½ tsp (or to taste)
Boiled Black chickpeas (Boiled Kaala Chana): 2 cups
Diced Boiled Potatoes: 1 cup
Chaat Masala: 1 tsp
Mustard Oil: 2 tsp to add on top

Garnish (Totally customized):

Onions: Chopped, fine (a tbsp per serving or as per your liking)
Green chilli peppers, finely chopped (as you prefer)
Cilantro – a handful, roughly chopped
Lime – a squeeze, or more if you like
Crispy Sev (Chickpea flour) – a tsp or as much as you like

Method:

  1. Heat 2 tsp of mustard oil.
  2. While the oil is still getting warm, add Asafetida powder, Ground Anardana, Cumin powder, chilli powder, salt and pepper.
  3. Stir well, in the oil but ensure they don’t burn (adjust the heat as necessary).
  4. Add 2 cups of boiled Kala Chana making sure to add very little of the boiling liquid.
  5. Mix well.
  6. Continue cooking on medium heat until the spices are uniformly coated and stick to the Black Chickpeas & there’s no liquid left.
  7. Add the diced, boiled potatoes (1 cup)
  8. Mix well until it is well coated in all the spices.
  9. Now add 1 tsp of chaat masala.
  10. Stir for another min, add 1/2 tbsp of mustard oil and turn off heat.

Serve warm, loading it with garnish as you like!

To Serve:

Scoop a portion of the cooked Chickpeas and Potatoes in a bowl.

Add a tbsp or two of the chopped onions, green chillies (as per taste) and some freshly chopped cilantro. Squeeze a bit of lime. Enjoy!

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Sweet Potatoes w/ Pancetta, Rosemary and Mandarins.. Let’s get the party started!

Sweet Potatoes with Pancetta and Rosemary

A few weeks ago, I had a couple of these sweet beauties (sweet potatoes) lazing around. It was a Friday and the kids were in school, which meant, I could give my full attention to creating something with all of my senses fully present. There was no yelling, no interruptions and I had time to myself. If you have little kids at home, you know exactly what I am talking about! And if you don’t, then just take my word for it!

Going back to my story about the beautiful sweet potatoes… I opened my fridge for inspiration. I often do that before I start cooking. I stare at the produce and most days that is how I get inspired!

It’s like a party with a special guest list .. you know, the ones which say ‘By invitation only’ ! I opened the chiller and stared some more. Pancetta! There was a light bulb moment! And.. the idea of inviting Pancetta to this party got me super excited!

Now I also needed something earthy to match the meatiness of the pancetta while serving as a bridge between the sweet potatoes and the meat. I began a quiet search for this next guest. And there it was. The fresh rosemary stalks beautifully intertwined together with the confidence one has when they are the party starter!

I started prepping the ingredients, super excited but I got a certain uneasiness that I was missing out an important guest on the list. I needed something a little refreshing and zesty to lift it all up and make it fun! Just then, the mandarins said ‘hello, is it me you are looking for?’! (Sorry, I just couldn’t help it!)

The preparation was done and now we needed some music because what’s a good party without great music and dancing?!

This is an excellent party starter .. perfect for an appetizer or just by itself as a snack when you are in the mood for something delicious! Also, you can always make it vegetarian by removing the Pancetta, using ghee (or Oil for a vegan version) and topping it with some fried cashew nuts!

So, without further ado, let’s get the PARTY started!

Sweet Potato with Pancetta & Rosemary with hints of mandarin!

Total time: 30 mins
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20 mins

Ingredients:

Pancetta : 1 store bought packet or 4 oz or 113 gms (I used 1 4 oz packet of Boar’s Head brand diced uncured Pancetta)
Garlic: 2 cloves of garlic – sliced or if you prefer, you can chop it finely
Onion: ½ cup of finely chopped onions (I used yellow onions)
Ghee or any oil of your choice: 1 tsp
Salt
Pepper: to taste
Rosemary: 2 stalks, washed, stems removed, leaves finely chopped
Dry Chilli flakes or freshly chopped Thai red chilli peppers – 1. Just a hint of spice is needed
Sweet Potatoes: 2 cups of medium diced sweet potatoes (As a ballpark, I used around 2)
Mandarin: Juice of ½ a mandarin + Zest of 1 mandarin
Fresh parsley: a small handful, Finely chopped, as garnish

Preparation:

  1. Finely slice the garlic, if you are lazy like me and you love garlic. Otherwise, mince it finely.
  2. Finely chop the onions to yield ½ cup of onions. I used yellow onions. You could try with red onions, shallots. They would all go well.
  3. Wash the rosemary stalks. Pat them dry. Now remove the leaves from the stem and finely chop them.
  4. Peel the sweet potatoes. And cut them into medium dice.
  5. Take the zest of a mandarin. Cut it into half and juice ½ the mandarin. I challenge you to not juice the other half directly in your mouth and get some of that zesty orange juice stuff all over your face.

Method:

  1. Heat a flat, heavy-bottom pan. I would recommend using something which has a broad surface area that can be used for cooking.
  2. Add the pancetta and mix it around until it renders fat and turns nice, brown and crispy.
  3. Now remove it from the pan. If the oil left behind is enough, you don’t need to add any more oil. If not, you could add a tsp of oil or ghee. I used ghee because I love ghee.
  4. Add the garlic and stir it around until it releases aroma. Do not brown it.
  5. Next add the onions/shallots or whatever you are using. If you are using fresh Thai chilli peppers, finely chop them and add them together with the onions. Season with salt & pepper and sweat it. Go for a translucent colour without browning.
  6. Next, add the rosemary leaves and the diced Sweet potatoes. Season again with salt and pepper. Cook this covered for the next few mins on medium-low heat to get them cooked through but remember stirring them every few.
  7. Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, add the zest and keep heat to medium and just let the edges turn a little brown. Now deglaze the pan by adding the juice of ½ a mandarin. It will sizzle and who doesn’t love a good sizzling sound! Combine the flavours and remove them into your serving dish. Now top it with the Pancetta and a little bit of fresh parsley and you are good to go!

Notes:

  • If you choose to make a vegan version of this, do not include the pancetta. Use coconut oil or any oil of your choice and instead you could add some dry roasted, crushed peanuts as a topping to replace the Pancetta.

A timeless ritual: Ghugni

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During my childhood years, there were many practices that were religiously followed at home. As we grew up, moved places, these rituals kept evolving and eventually there were a few such rituals which stood the test of time. One such ritual was that of an evening snack called Ghugni. It is a ritual which is still in place and practiced at least once a week in my parents home.

You may find it strange that I call this Ghugni and the picture shows dried black chickpeas. This is Ghugni as it is known in Bihar. It is different from the Ghugni I have posted previously. The previous one is made using dried peas with tamarind as the souring agent. This one is  made using dried Black Chickpeas or Sookha Kaala Chana, simply known as kaala chana. Besides using different key ingredients, the two ghugnis are meant for the same purpose: snack / street food. However, they differ in their taste, texture as well as method of preparation.

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Ma prepares for this Ghugni the night before. She soaks a generous amount of the Kaala Chana in water. The next morning she pressure cooks these soaked dried chickpeas with some salt. These cooked chickpeas are then ready to be cooked in some spices to make it into what is known in Bihar as “Ghugni”. This version of ghugni is usually had with some “chooda ka bhuja” or roasted/fried and spiced flattened rice (poha / chooda / chidva).

The good news is that Kala Chana has a number of health benefits. They are high in dietary fibre. They serve as a good source of proteins for vegetarians. Therefore, this is one of those snacks where you can eat as much, almost guilt free.

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I find the Ghugni self sufficient as a snack. It definitely tastes much better the following day as the spices get sufficient time to infuse their flavours with the cooked chickpeas. It becomes a little dry with time so before serving, you will need to add some warm water and adjust the seasoning in order to suit your taste.

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Bihari Ghugni Recipe: To print the recipe, click here.

Serves: 3-4
Preparation time: 8 hours soaking + 15 mins preparation [Mis en Place]
Cooking time: Up to 1.5 hours including boiling the chickpeas.
A healthy vegetarian snack though it does require a little bit of advance planning.

Ingredients:

Black dried Chickpeas [Sookha Kaala Chana]: 1 cup
Ginger: 1 medium slice for boiling and 1 tbsp finely chopped for the masala
Garlic: 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Onion: 1 cup finely chopped
Oil: 1 ½ tbsp. [I used Mustard oil as that is used traditionally and I like it’s pungent smell and taste. You can use your regular cooking oil if you prefer]
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon stick: 1 inch,
Bay leaf (dried): 1, medium sized
Dried red chilli: 1-2 (as per your tolerance).
Red onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Dry Mango powder (Aamchoor): 2 ½ tsp

Ingredients for the spice paste:

Turmeric powder: 1/8 tsp or a generous pinch
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
Cumin powder: 1 ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing:

Onions: 1, finely chopped
Green chillies: 4-5, finely chopped
Lime: 1-2, cut anyway to squeeze the juice on the cooked ghugni.

How I did it:

  1. Wash and soak the Sookha Kaala Chana overnight or for about 8 hours in water.
  2. Wash it again. In a pressure cooker, add the Kaala chana, sufficient water making to cover the chickpeas as well as extra to make sure there is enough room for the chickpeas to expand in volume, a pinch of salt & a slice of ginger. Start the pressure cooker on high heat. After the steam builds up [first whistle], lower the heat to cook for another 15 mins. If using an open pot, make sure the chickpeas are cooked through – You should be able to crush them if you press them between two fingers. They should retain their shape and not be mushy at all. Allow the steam to release on it’s own. Discard the slice of ginger. Strain the mix, reserving the liquid for cooking.
  3. In a deep bottomed pot or a wok / Kadhai, heat 1 tbsp mustard oil. Bring it to a smoking point, and then let it cool down. If using regular oil, simply heat the oil and move on to the next additions. Add cumin seeds, dry red chilli, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Let the aroma release in the oil. Reduce heat if necessary, making sure the spices do not burn.
  4. Next, add the finely chopped ginger and garlic. Fry for about 2 mins on low heat.
  5. Add the finely chopped onions and a pinch of salt to season the masala. Fry on low-medium heat stirring continuously for about 7-8 mins until almost done. This is also called bhuno, a term used in Indian cooking which means to cook the spices slowly to ensure the maximum flavours are released and the raw smell from the spices and ingredients no longer exists. Doing this step right is essential to maximise the flavour of any dish.
  6. While the onions are frying, mix together all the ingredients listed under ‘Spice Mix’ and add next.
  7. Continue to cook the masala for another 2-3 mins until there is no raw smell of any masala.
  8. Next add dry mango powder (aamchoor) & the drained and boiled Kaala Chana
  9. Increase heat to high and continue to stir making sure the masala sticks to the kaala chana.
  10. Keep adding 2-3 ladles of the reserved boiling liquid and continue cooking on low-medium heat until the liquid is absorbed by the Chana. The liquid additions should be enough to make sure the Chana has some extra liquid. The idea is to slowly infuse all the flavour from the liquid into the Chana while cooking the spices.
  11. Repeat this process until all or most of the liquid is used up. Remember that the cooking liquid already contains salt. Taste often to adjust the salt if needed.
  12. If serving later, heat up the chana, adding a little water to make it moist. We don’t want this to be too dry. If adding water, adjust the level of salt.
  13. Serve in bowls or a plate, garnished with chopped onions, green chillies and lime. Traditionally, this is served with chooda ka bhooja or lightly spiced and roasted beaten rice. I find this tastes great on it’s own too.

Black Chana Ghugni

Notes:

  • Chop the ingredients for garnishing just before serving. The freshness of the onions, green chilli and lime will elevate your snack to another level.
  • I spend a lot of time cooking this ghugni slowly. It helps to infuse flavours to these chickpeas and I find it totally worth the time and effort.

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Spicy Sweet-Potato bites!


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One of my earliest memories of sweet potatoes (Shakarkand, Mishti Aaloo or Aluaa) is from my occasional winter visits to my grandmother’s home in Bihar. Sweet potatoes were found in abundance in the winter months. Bonfires made with wood were common in almost every corner / street. Given the lack of heating equipments then, these bonfires were the perfect social setting for some tea, conversations and food along with the much needed warmth for those extremely chilly winter evenings.

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Sweet potatoes are common food at these casual, unpretentious gatherings. Someone will usually carve out some of the burning amber coloured wood and cover the sweet potatoes in them to let it slow roast. This can take up to an hour to cook. When cooked, the skin becomes very crisp. It is then peeled and dunked in milk with or without sugar and is absolutely delightful for sweet potato lovers. At other times, sweet potatoes are also cooked in the wood fired mud ovens (choolha) that is common in rural India. The other simpler way to cook them is by boiling them in water, peeling them and then seasoning it with some salt and Teesi as part of a regular meal.

If you haven’t grown up with this, you might find the idea strange. R, who spent a number of years in Delhi, finds his peace in roasting and spicing up these tuberous roots. It makes me realize how important it is to try different kinds of food in the early years of life. The food that we eat, especially as children creates memories, forms and shapes how we remember and associate life events and people as we grow up.

I must admit though that I never had a strong liking for sweet potatoes (primarily because of its sweetness) until I became a mother. I strongly believe children should be exposed to different kinds of food from an early age. It helps them to have an open mind about food as they grow up. In practice, I take it as an opportunity to nurture my own creativity in the kitchen and make some interesting meals for the family.

These bite sized cutlets make for a great appetiser to kick start any evening.

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For this recipe, I boiled the sweet potatoes until cooked yet firm. I wanted to create a flavour combination that would tone down the sweetness of the sweet potatoes while incorporating savoury, tangy and heat in the right intensity. The first time I created these was when I was trying to make something new for little V’s snack box. I also wanted to make something that was bite size, just the right size so that he can use his fingers without making it too messy.

To print this recipe, click here.

Yield: About 40 mini / bite size sweet potato cutlets

Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes: around 500 gms
Onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Teesi: 3 Tbsp (See recipe of Teesi here)
Lime juice: 2 Tbsp (start with 1.5 tbsp and adjust to suit your taste)
Coarse Rice powder: 3 Tbsp (you can replace this with fine semolina instead)
Finely chopped coriander leaves: ½ cup
Finely grated ginger: 1 ½ Tbsp
Roasted cumin powder: 1 ½ Tbsp
Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Black pepper powder: 1tsp
Finely chopped green chillies: 4-5 (I used Thai green chillies)
Rock salt: ¼ tsp
Salt: to taste
Ghee to pan fry the mini cutlets (replace with your regular cooking oil if you prefer): You will need to spread a tsp (or less) of ghee in the skillet. As you cook the mini cutlets, you can use an oil brush or the back of a spoon to touch the surface of the cutlets with ghee/oil. When pan frying the next batch, use a little less ghee, just enough to have some oil lining the skillet.

How I did it:

  1. Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly. Slice each sweet potato (skin on) into 2 or 3 big chunks. I used a pressure cooker to boil until steam forms (one whistle). Remove from heat and let it cool down until all the steam is released.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Shock the boiled sweet potatoes in ice cold water. Peel the skin. Grate these into a large enough bowl.
  4. Add all the remaining ingredients listed above.
  5. Using your fingers, mix all the ingredients together making sure the spices (masalas) are uniformly mixed. It doesn’t matter if the sweet potato loses the grated texture. Sweet potatoes have been cooked but are still firm and will retain their texture when we shape them into mini-cutlets. The important thing is to mix this well to ensure every cutlet has the flavours uniformly spread across. Taste and adjust the salt, spice and tangy taste according to your liking. The best way to do this is to pan fry one mini-cutlet first and taste it. I believe the taste alters with the cooking process therefore this step is highly recommended.
  6. Shape the mixture into bite size cutlets – about an inch to 1.5 inches in diameter.
  7. In a skillet, heat about a tsp of ghee (Just enough ghee to wet the skillet) Place the mini-cutlets in the skillet, and cook on low heat until crispy on the outside. As I do not use much ghee in the skillet initially, I like to brush the cutlets with a little ghee on the outside during the cooking process. This helps to give a nice golden color.
  8. Serve with coriander chutney or a coriander-mint chutney (click here for recipe) or chilli sauce.

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Notes:

  • The green chillies are an absolute must in this, if serving for adults. Adjust to your tolerance. I skipped it when I made it for V.
  • I added Teesi which made it healthier obviously. If you do not want to make Teesi, you can replace it with a tsp of roasted coriander powder and 1/8 tsp of chilli powder instead. The flavour will be different but good, nevertheless.
  • I used Vietnamese sweet potatoes to make this, as it is readily available here. The Vietnamese sweet potatoes have less moisture than many other varieties. I found it easy to shape and pan fry.

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Beet root, potatoes and peas tikki / cutlets

It has been many months since my last post. A friend rightly pointed out that it’s that perfectionist attitude in me which is causing this inertia – I want the food to be perfect and the photographs to be styled and taken well (to the best of my ability!) However, to get all these things together, requires a lot of time and patience. With an extremely active 3 year old in the house, time is one luxury I don’t have.

As a result, I have been cooking and experimenting at home but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to post anything for the past few months. I feel a little selfish at this point so I definitely owe you all an apology. Many of you have been supportive over these past few months of silence – either by checking on me or by just by being connected through images that I have been posting on my facebook page (http://facebook.com/sublimepalate). A big thank you for that and sorry for being MIA.

So, I have decided to give that perfectionist in me a sorta break..  And post recipes and stories .. even though sometimes the pictures may not be perfect.. the recipes may…  – NO,  be rest assured – there will be no compromise on that front!:-) These photos are taken from my phone, so please excuse me if they aren’t nice enough.

So, starting off again, here’s a recipe of a healthy snack, I read on one of my favorite blogs, sinfully spicy.  This is a great snack for kids and adults alike! I took a portion of the tikki mix to make 3 tikkis for V. To the remaining portion, I added finely chopped green chillies.It is inspired by Tanvi’s beetroot tikkis. Ever since I saw that, I just had to make it! So for Tanvi’s recipe, check : http://sinfullyspicy.com/2012/06/27/beetroot-tikki/

Thank you Tanvi for this amazing snack! 🙂

Here’s how I made it:

MAKES 8 tikkis / cutlet:

You’ll need:

Beetroot: 1 medium sized
Potato: 1 small sized
Peas: 1 cup. Boil if using fresh. I used frozen peas and microwaved with a tiny pinch of salt for 2-3 mins to soften it so that it’s easy to mash.
Onion: 1 small size (or roughly 1/2 a cup of finely chopped onion)
Ginger: 1 small pc (adjust to your taste)
Garlic: 1-2 cloves
Green chillies – 2-3
Black pepper powder – 1 tsp (preferably coarsely powdered)
Bread crumbs – 4 heaped tbsp. (If you don’t have bread crumbs, use a slice of bread. Gently soften it by sprinkling a little water and mashing it separately first and then adding it to the mix).
Semolina (Suji) – 3 tbsp or more for coating the tikkis.
Oil – 1-2 tbsp.

Preparation:

  1. Boil the potato so that they are cooked but firm. A little undercooked is fine but mushy potatoes may not bind the mix that well.
  2. Finely chop onions, ginger, garlic and the green chillies.
  3. Finely grate beetroots. Squeeze out the juice by hand. Drink the juice (It was yum .. I strained it and had it without adding anything. But I think a squeeze of lime should go very well). Anyhow, coming back to the grated beetroots, keep it in aside and move on.
  4. Peel and finely grate the boiled potato. If you are brave, try grating it while it is hot! Just kidding – DON’T ! I almost burnt my palm. The inside of the potato retains a lot of heat so it’s advisable to take a little break and grate them when they have cooled off.
  5. Mash the softened peas.
  6. Start working on the next step (mixing) only before you need to make the tikkis. The salt releases a lot more moisture and makes it difficult to bind.
  7. In a mixing bowl, add the grated potatoes, beets, mashed peas, onions, ginger, garlic, bread crumbs, black pepper powder, chaat masala & finally the salt. Gently combine this mix without mixing it too much! The more you mix, the more moisture gets released and your tikkis won’t hold together.
  8. Make small cutlets / tikkis with this mix (oval or round shape can work). With this quantity, I ended up with 8 tikkis.
  9. In a flat plate, keep the semolina. Very gently press the tikki on the semolina mix to coat the tikki with the semolina.
  10. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a non-stick pan. I fried about 3 per batch in a small non-stick pan. Add more oil when frying the next batch, if needed. Make sure the oil is hot before you add the tikkis. On low heat, fry the tikkis for a few minutes on each side until crisp on the outside. Be gentle when turning the tikkis. If the heat is low, cook for a little longer to get a crispy outside while making sure the inside is cooked.
  11. I had these with my go-to green chutney!

Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Street food: Ghugni [Spicy Dried Peas] and hawker memories

A bunch of tired and restless kids wait patiently. Or at least, appear to. After what seems like an endless wait, the moment arrives. School bells ring intensely thereby declaring the end of a long day. Silence gives way to the cacophony of ecstatic children. Like honey bees, we come out buzzing from every corner of the school. As we make our way out of the school gate, street food hawkers greet us with big smiles, some freshly prepared food and a lot of enthusiasm! Some call out to us by our first name. They are all set to make their daily sale and we are more than happy to oblige!

It is extremely difficult to resist such wide variety of street food. We were faced with a moral dilemma – to snack or not to snack. No amount of hygiene education on the part of our parents or teachers helped, ever! Undoubtedly, snacking on street food was the unanimous choice! When you have aromatic chaats, savory and spicy delights tempting you, you can’t possibly walk away from it! I couldn’t. Not then.

One such snack was ghugni (dried peas soaked in water, boiled and then cooked with spices, garnished with onions, green chillies, coriander leaves and a blend of spices). The combination of tangy and spicy is what makes it extremely desirable!

“Sankara” was THE man who introduced me to ghugni during my school days. A small-built, modest man, with a striking long moustache – that’s how he looked like as far as I can remember. He didn’t, by any means, sell the best ghugni but he was definitely one of the most popular ones probably because his ghugni was the most conveniently available! It was available at the right time and right place for street-food-starved children who were waiting to dive into all that junk as soon as we were out of school boundaries. I can confidently say that generations have grown up on his ghugni and will never be able to forget him for that experience. Sankara has become a legend in my eyes and probably in the eyes of most of most of my school mates.

Ghugni is a very popular snack from the Eastern part of India. It’s made in many different ways using dried green peas, dried yellow peas, chickpeas (chhole), black chickpeas (kala chana) and fresh peas. I have made it with dried green peas. Feel free to use any other type of peas but bear in mind that the soaking and cooking time for each of the above is different.

To print the recipe, click ghugni.

Ingredients for cooking the ghugni:

Dried Green Peas: 1 Cup
Red Onions: 1 large or 1 ½ medium sized, finely chopped. (about 1 ½ cups chopped onions)
Cinnamon stick (dalchini): a thin 2” stick
Dried Bay leaves (tejpatta): 2 small
Cooking oil: 1 ½ tbsp
Ginger paste: 1 tsp
Garlic paste: 1 tsp
Tamarind pulp: roughly equivalent to 1 tbsp dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water.
Garam Masala Powder: 1/4 tsp
Salt: to taste
Hot water: 2 cups for soaking the dried peas. More water may be needed depending on the consistency of your ghugni.

In a small bowl, make a spice paste with the following and keep aside:
Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
Cumin powder: ½ tsp
Red Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing :

Red Onion: 1 small-medium sized, finely chopped
Coriander leaves: a bunch, finely chopped
Green chilies: 6, finely chopped
Black salt – to taste (optional)
Chaat Masala – can be bought from any Indian store
Roasted and powdered Cumin Powder (In a pan, on slow heat, dry roast cumin seeds until they become darker. Let it cool. Dry grind it to a powder. I usually make more (about 1/2 cup) and store it for future use).
Roasted and powdered Dry red Chilli (In a pan, on slow heat, dry roast about 10-15 dry red chillies until they turn dark and before they start to burn. Let it cool. Dry grind or pound to make chilli flakes or coarsely grounded red chilli powder. Again, this can be stored for future use).

How I did it:

  1. Wash the dried peas in tap water. Soak them in enough hot water to cover the dried peas. Cover and set aside. At the end of 2 hours, you will notice that the peas swell up in size.
  2. Boil the soaked peas in a pressure cooker with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt for 10 mins. Check if peas are done and boil uncovered, if needed. They should be soft but not mushy.
  3. In a kadhai or pan, heat the oil. Once hot, add the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Fry for about 30 seconds when the aroma starts to come out
  4. Next add the chopped onions and 1/4 tsp of salt. Fry on medium-high heat until the onions are golden brownish. Keep stirring in between to make sure it does not burn. This may take 6-8 minutes.
  5. Add the ginger and garlic paste. Continue to fry for another minute.
  6. Add the spice paste made above (turmeric, chilli powder and cumin powder in water). Fry for another minute.
  7. Add the boiled peas along with the water left over from boiling into the cooking pot or kadhai. Using a strainer, strain the tamarind juice adding the juice and excluding any seeds or fibres. Rub the tamarind with your fingers to make sure you extract any left over pulp. Stir and check for salt, tangy and spicy flavors. Adjust to suit your liking.
  8. Boil on low heat, covered, for about 7-8 minutes or until the flavors have combined.
  9. Sprinkle garam masala powder and check for salt and spice. Adjust if needed. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the ghugni is done.

To serve:

Take about ¾ cup of hot ghugni in each serving bowl. Sprinkle about 1 tbsp of chopped onions, ¼ tsp green chillies and 1 tsp of chopped coriander leaves. Sprinkle a pinch each of black salt, roasted cumin powder and chaat masala. And it’s ready to eat.

The quantities mentioned in the serving suggestion above are just to give you a rough idea. The beauty of this snack is that you are able to adjust each ingredient to your liking.

Finish the ghugni experience with a hot cup of tea.

Notes:

  • The garnish is a very important part of this snack. So, do not skip or ignore any of the ingredients.
  • Dried Green peas cook very fast once they have been soaked. Do not pressure cook them for more than 10 minutes. Else, they may become really mushy! You can always boil them more later once you have checked.
  • The peas should be soft without losing it’s shape. It should not disintegrate. If you have soaked them for longer than 2 hours in hot water or for more than 4 hours in normal water, boil them for a shorter period in a pressure cooker or boil them in a pan instead of a pressure cooker to make sure it doesn’t get overcooked.
  • If you do not serve it immediately after cooking, you may need to add some hot water and give it a boil before serving to make sure the ghugni is not dry. The peas tend to absorb the curry when left for some time so you may need to add more water just before serving. Check for salt if you have added more water.
  • If you need to add more water once the ghugni is cooked, use hot water to speed up the cooking process.
  • Optional: Green chutney serves as an additional garnish on this dish!
  • Some people like to have it with a bit of yogurt or add tamarind chutney on top.

Maithan : the birth of Laksa leaves Pakoras with Spicy Coriander and Mint Chutney

A trip back home is synonymous to meeting relatives and a gastronomical treat that is limited only by your own will power. Our last trip home was essentially that.

While in Kolkata, we spent a weekend at Maithan (or Maithon). With an open mind and no expectations, we set out on a train journey to Kumardhobi, followed by a 25-minutes autorickshaw ride to Maithan. The first half of the auto ride was bumpy and gave you a quick glimpse of rural India.  It transformed almost seamlessly into one of the finer roads in India. Soon, we were on the Damodar Valley Dam which is built on the Barakar river, a tributary of the Damodar river.

We stayed in ‘Mazumdar Niwas’ a guest house for DVC (Damodar Valley Corp.) guests. The guest house is in a small island in the lake which is formed as a result of the dam. A short walkway connects the guest house to the mainland. The view from the guest house is nothing less than spectacular and undoubtedly the best in Maithan.

Maithan means (Mai-Than or Ma ka Than or Mother’s abode). It is in Jharkhand and borders West Bengal. It’s a very popular picnic spot for people living in nearby areas. One can spot them from a distance as you see and hear bus loads of people and blaring music from time to time. Unfortunately, the wastes that are left behind after these picnics, ruin the otherwise beautiful neighborhood. For more information on Maithan, you can visit here or here.

Maithan is a very small place and a weekend is sufficient to do any sight seeing here. I highly recommend a 2-hour boat ride in the lake. The best time to go is around 3pm in order to witness the brilliant colors of the sky as the sun sets over the lake.

Our daily meals were very simple, mostly at the guest house or at a nearby hotel. There isn’t much to mention in that respect, except of course, one place: the inspiration behind today’s post.

The pakoras or fritters (more about Pakora here) made by a small family-run shop, located at the main entrance of Mazumdar Niwas are simply sensational ! The place is run by a very humble gentleman, Mr. Chitto Ranjan Debnath, together with his wife and their son. You will find a variety of pakoras made with onions, cottage cheese and potatoes, amongst other things. I fell in love with these pakoras at the first bite – perfectly soft in the inside and crisp on the outside. Mrs. Debnath kneads the dough with her magical fingers and Mr. Debnath fries them into a golden crisp texture – creating something totally extraordinary! Their warm hospitality only contributes to making this experience a memorable one.

I was so inspired by it that ever since that trip, I have tried to make pakoras in many different ways at home. Of course, to have the best, you need to visit Mr. Debnath’s shop in Maithan 🙂

Pakoras with a unique blend of Indian and South-East Asian flavors – Pakoras flavored with laksa leaves (Daun Laksa or Rau Ram or Polygonum Odoratum).

Laksa leaves are used as garnish for Laksa, a very popular Singapore noodles. These herbs are also eaten fresh in some Vietnamese and Thai salads and used to flavour soups and stir fries. Laksa leaves have a penetrating smell with a citrus note and a refreshing, hot, biting, peppery after taste. In my opinion, fresh laksa leaves have an uncanny similarity in taste to Paan or betel leaves.

Laksa leaves and Spinach Pakoras Recipe:

Though the Debnath family shop served it with a garlic chutney, I enjoy these pakoras with a spicy Coriander & Mint chutney.

To print the Pakora recipe, click here.

Makes about 40 bite-sized pakoras.

Ingredients:

Besan (Gram flour): ¾ cup
Baking powder: 1/8th tsp
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Chilli powder: ¼ tsp
Salt: ½ tsp regular salt
Black Salt: ¼ tsp
Aamchoor powder (Dried Mango Powder): 1 tsp (Available in Asian/Indian stores)
Water: 2 tbsp
Onion: 1 ½ medium sized, thinly sliced
Ginger: 2 tsp, grated
Garlic: 1 clove grated (equivalent to 1 tsp of grated garlic)
Green chillies: 2-3 finely chopped
Spinach leaves: 1 cup, finely shredded
Fresh Laksa Leaves: ½ cup, finely shredded
Mustard Oil: 1 tbsp for mixing with the batter
Regular oil for deep frying
Chat Masala for sprinkling once the pakoras are fried – a pinch for every batch of 10-15 pakoras (optional)

How I did it:

  • Sieve Besan and Baking powder together.
  • Add all the ingredients in a bowl except the oil for frying and chat masala.
  • Combine all the ingredients together using your fingers. The batter should be sticky enough so that it does not crumble while deep frying later.
  • Let the mixture sit for 15 mins to let the baking powder do it’s job.
  • Heat sufficient oil in a deep wok or kadhai.  Check if the oil is hot by dropping 1 tsp of the batter in the hot oil. If the batter starts sizzling instantly, the oil is hot and ready. Taste it to make sure the seasoning is adequate and per your liking.
  • Use approximately 1 tsp of batter to make the pakoras. Make them in batches of 10 or more depending on the size of the wok / kadhai used.

  • You can either use 2 tsps to give the batter a round shape or the tip of your fingers to drop the pakoras in the hot oil.  The point to remember is each pakora will use roughly 1 tsp of batter.
  • Fry on medium-low heat taking care that the batter is reddish brown but not burnt. Sprinkle a pinch of chat masala over a batch of 10-15 pakoras. (I forgot to do it) Serve immediately.
  • Best enjoyed on a rainy afternoon.. With coriander and mint chutney and a hot cup of tea.

Variations: You can also make these pakoras by omitting the laksa leaves, if you can’t find them and increase the shredded spinach to 1 ½ cups.

Alternatively, omit the Spinach completely by increasing the proportion of onions (use 2 medium sized) with the same proportion of Laksa leaves

Coriander and Mint Chutney Recipe:

To print this recipe, click here.

Makes 3/4 cup Chutney

Ingredients:

For blending:
Fresh Coriander: 1 and ½ cup of roughly chopped coriander leaves. Remove roots and stem.
Mint leaves: 1/2 cup. Pluck mint leaves from the stem. Discard stalk. Use the leaves only.
Ginger: 1” pc
Garlic: 1 clove
Green chillies: 2-3
Mustard oil: 1 ½ tbsp
Water: 2 tbsp

For seasoning:
Salt: ½ tsp
Black salt: ¼ tsp
Lemon juice: 1 tbsp

How I did it:

  • Blend all the ingredients listed above under heading “For blending” until a thick and uniform paste is formed.
  • Take it out in a bowl and add the “for seasoning” ingredients listed above.
  • Combine thoroughly with a spoon.
  • Check for salt / sour taste and adjust as per your liking.

This chutney tastes best when fresh or a maximum of 2-3 days. Make in small batches to always enjoy this chutney at it’s best.