Now before you ask dear readers, no, there is not a spelling mistake in the above title. Not that I am in any way immune to making the odd spelling mistake here and there... but, this time I can assure you, all is well.
It all started because the weather we had recently was like Really.Hot.
As the temperatures slowly rose and rose... and rose a bit more, I found myself mysteriously starting to crave for the food I ate when I last experienced this kind of heat - namely when I lived in India.
Now, those guys know their heat really well and have the most amazing mixture of dishes that really help the body to stay cool.
So in addition to adding homemade lemon pickle to absolutely everything I was eating, I suddenly found myself on the internet trying to find out how to make Kadhi - a delicious yoghurt type soup I remembered having when I was there.
Yoghurt I had, but some of the spices were missing, so I braved my way out into the boiling heat and headed for our local Indian store.
However, as I was paying the nice man for my shopping, I spied on the top shelf a box of 'Pani Puri' . Suddenly all the memories started to flood back of what had been my absolute favorite thing to eat in India - especially on hot days. Homemade Chaat!
So yes, today dear readers I want to introduce you to something truly amazing in the world of food and flavors.
It's really not that well known outside of India except perhaps cool areas of the super duper cosmopolitan cities of the world. I'm looking at you London, NY and San Fransisco.
It's also the kind of thing that you will for sure have been told NOT to eat on a trip to India as it's mostly served from questionable vendors on dirty street corners and is like a first class ticket to a lovely case of Dehli Belly.
But, if you are lucky enough to be invited for a 'chaat' at someone's home, don't say no because you are in for a huge treat!
So what is it exactly?
Well, Wikipedia describes it as, "a typical Indian road side snack". But really that doesn't clarify anything except that using wikipedia as a source of information is dubious at best.
What ‘Chaat’ is( and it has many many variations), is a wonderful ( and interestingly totally vegetarian) mixture of every kind of flavor and texture, all piled together into a massive explosion of colour, taste and yummyness. From crunchy - to smooth; from salty to sweet; from the fashionable umami to sour - it has it all.
There really is no way to relay the exact experience of having a ‘Chaat’ unless you try it for yourself.
Even my photos in no way really do justice to the experience in any way.
So, I thought today I’d share with you two of my favorite ‘chaat’ combinations and a fairly simple way of putting the whole experience together in your own home.
The first is something called ‘Pani puri’ - small crunchy hollow balls filled with chickpeas (or boiled potato pieces) that are then scooped into a minty coriander water and popped into your mouth where they explode into an out of this world crunchy, minty heaven. (sounds weird but trust me, it’s totally addictive).
The other recipe is for 'Sev Puri'. Again, those little balls play the main role. Again they are filled with chickpeas. But they are also then topped with - a tomato and onion mixture, a delicious tamarind sauce, a chutney made from fresh mint and coriander then sprinkled with a crunchy snack called ’sev’.
Put one of those into your mouth whole… and tell me if you’ve ever had a food experience quite so amazing.
Now on a practical note, you will need a trip to your local Asian store to source the little puris and things like tamarind sauce, the crunchy sev snack and rock salt.
But so long as you don’t live a million miles away from a fairly big city, you should be able to gather these things pretty simply.
(And for those friends who do live a million miles away, I’m guessing they can be found on the internet, too).
So, let’s chaat!
SHOPPING LIST FOR YOUR ASIAN STORE
a box of pani puri which contains 30 puris(I usually throw everything it contains except the crunchy puris and the topping called bondi which I eat greedily all by myself)
a bag of the snack called ‘sev’
rock salt ( or sometimes it's called black salt and is, just to confused you, pinkish white)
a bottle of tamarind sauce
a bunch of fresh mint
a bunch of fresh coriander
a bag of cumin powder
a bag of coriander powder
a bag of jaggery ( palm sugar)
a box of 'panipuri masala'
YOU’LL ALSO NEED FROM YOUR STORE CUPBOARD…
a tin of chickpeas (drained and rinsed), 1/2 cup of dates, a piece of ginger, 2 medium sized tomatoes, 1 small onion and if you have them, ginger powder( but don’t buy it extra) and a little green chilly.
METHOD ( serves 2)
PREPARE YOUR TOMATO ONION MIXTURE
- chop the tomatoes into small pieces
- chop the onion as tiny as it goes.
- mix together and add a little pinch of rock salt.
- cover and put in the fridge to let the onions soften and flavors melt together.
Now you need to make the date and tamarind sauce and the mint/ coriander chutney; once those are in place, everything is easy-peasy
DATE AND TAMARIND SAUCE (makes around 250ml) Use half for the recipe and freeze the rest for another day... because once you've tasted these, trust me, there's going to be another day.
Add the following to a pan:
1/2 cup tamarind paste
1/2 cup dates (stoned... not on any illegal substance you understand, but don't forget to remove the stones or you'll mess up your blender)
1 1/2 cup water
30 grams jaggery ( palm sugar)
1 teaspoon cumin powder ( you can also roast seeds gently then grind them with a mortar a pestle to get an even better flavor)
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
optional: tiny pinch (1/4 teaspoon as a guide) of ginger powder
super optional: you can also add 1/4 teaspoon pani puri masala (but though Indian cooks might swear by it, I find it all works fine without)
Cook over a gentle heat until the dates are soft and the jaggery has melted.
Now add the whole mixture to a blender and whizz until smooth.
Now pass it through a sieve so you get a smooth sauce.
Now mix in around 1/8 teaspoon of rock/ black salt - this is a little guideline for you but basically you are aiming to get the balance between sweet, sour and salty just right - only your tongue will know)
Put sauce aside to cool and start making the chutney.
MINT AND CORIANDER CHUTNEY
Add the following to your blender:
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves(sometimes I'm lazy and include the stalks but they can end up being a little bitter)
a teaspoon cumin powder
small thumb sized piece of ginger
a green chilli ( totally optional - I usually add just a tiny teeny bit of one; if in doubt, leave it out)
a little squeeze of lemon juice ( just a little - 1 tablespoon is normally enough)
1/4 teaspoon rock salt to taste.
Super optional: again, if you took the time to buy it, add a 1/4 teaspoon of that pani puri masala.
Add 2 tablespoons of water.
Blend until smooth.
Now, don't panic.
You are right, it does look like pond water.
However, all is going as planned.
Taste and if you feel it's a little bitter, add around 1/2 teaspoon of maple syrup. This usually does the trick.
Put aside and start to make the minty water.
THE MINTY WATER FOR PANI PURI
Mix together 1/4 cup mint chutney with 1/4 cup tamarind sauce.
Add 1 cup water and blend until really smooth.
If it's too much like pond water for you, you can strain it a little through a sieve.
However, I go for the whole pond thing and love it all the same.
Put in the fridge to chill and start to gather the remaining ingredients.
ASSEMBLING AND EATING
for PANI PURI (those little balls with minty water)
- Put 16 of the puris in a bowl.
- Put half of the chickpeas in a bowl.
- Take the minty water out of the fridge and put in small bowls.
make a little hole in one of the puris...
add some chickpeas then...
...scoop the whole thing into the minty water.
Finally, pop immediately into your mouth and…
well, you’ll see!
for SEV PURI
- punch little holes in the remaining puris
- put 7 on each plate
- fill each with a spoon of chickpeas
- add a little tomato onion mix
- add some tamarind sauce
- add some mint coriander chutney ( not the water you understand, but the thicker mixture you made at the start)
- top with the crunchy sev and a few coriander leaves as decoration.
as quick as possible before they go un-crunchy.
FOOTNOTE: any left over mint chutney or tamarind sauce (apart from the stuff you froze for another time) can be used next day. My own personal favorite - baked cauliflower slices drizzled with both. However, they both pair well on tofu, chicken... and the mint chutney is very nice spread very thinly in a classic cheese and cucumber sandwich, coming quite close to the Indian club sandwich.
So that’s it for another day folks!
It looks like a long and complicated kind of thing to make especially for hot days when you want to do, like, nothing.
But trust me, you won’t regret the effort.