Christmas Chivda (An Indian Street Snack)

Separating the beach from the road was a thickness of stalls that sold juice, tea, pav bhaji, fritters and other street snacks, the many-layered flavours of which could never be replicated in the sanitary conditions of a restaurant.  Rickety square stalls with torn calico coverings were stacked side by side, each a busily functioning unit within itself, much like cells in biological tissue.

Cries of vendors declaring the delights on offer were carried on the warm Bombay breeze alongside the scents of deep-fried chickpea batter, a myriad of masalas and the inescapable, faint undertone of sewage.  Juhu beach stretched beyond the bustle, less populated but still littered with vendors, children’s rides and sand artists with their temporary sculptures.

I would always ask for a paper cone, either filled with roasted peanuts or a dry street snack, Chivda.  They were portable, neat and most importantly allowed me to keep walking, the little girl trailing behind her parents.  They were also considered ‘safe’ to eat……not a drop of water or unwashed vegetable in sight.

Chivda (1 of 4)

When the lovely Claire of Claire K Creations organised the Foodie Secret Santa, I jumped at the chance to participate.  The idea is to make a Christmas treat and send it out to the three people you are allocated.  Soon enough, each blogger receives three treats from different bloggers.  So far I’ve received some moorish roasted peanuts and chilli jam from Claire herself, and some divine pecan balls that were reminiscent of a favourite childhood biscuit from another blogger who seems to wish to remain secret!

Chivda (2 of 4)

As Christmas is not a traditional festival for me, and I guessed that there would be plenty of sweetness in the air during this season as it was, I decided to make an Indian savoury street snack, Chivda.  This is my mum’s version, using flattened rice as the main ingredient.  We usually have a big bottle of this nestled in the pantry at any given time, to snack on with tea or to serve with cold drinks. The light, crisp rice flakes are dotted with crunchy peanuts and pleasantly interrupted by chewy coconut. A little salty with a suggestion of sweetness, it is naturally gluten free and vegan. Frying the poha (flattened rice) on a low heat does require some patience but after that, the process is fairly quick and uncomplicated.  This recipe makes a large quantity which can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a month or for longer in the fridge.

Here in Sydney the lead up to Christmas has been a sombre one, with the horrific tragedy of the Sydney Siege and news of other atrocities elsewhere in the world.  It seems all we can really do is pray for the human race and hope that the people affected can somehow go on to lead positive lives.  Despite everything, I wish you all, with all my heart, a Merry Christmas.

Chivda (4 of 4)

Chivda

Get:

 4tsp + 4 tsp vegetable oil
6 cups thin dried rice flakes (poha)
1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 cup raw peanuts
8 dried red chillies broken into large pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp asofoetida
25-30 fresh or dried curry leaves
1 cup coconut flakes
Salt to taste
3 tsp sugar

Make:

In a large heavy-bottomed frypan, heat 4 tsp oil.  Add the poha and reduce the heat to very low.  Toast the poha, stirring constantly to make sure the flakes are evenly toasted.  The poha should curl around the edges and gain a little colour very gradually over about 20 minutes.  When the poha has slightly browned and crumbles easily between your fingers, pour it into a large bowl and set aside.

Turn the heat up to medium and heat the remaining 4 tsp oil.  Add the mustard seeds and when they have finished popping, add the peanuts.  Take care not to burn the mustard seeds.  Fry the peanuts on medium heat, stirring constantly until they are a golden brown colour.  Add the turmeric, asofetida and curry leaves and fry, stirring, until the curry leaves have crisped.  Add the coconut flakes and fry, stirring, until they have browned a little.

Add the toasted poha back into the pan with the other ingredients with about 1/2 tsp salt and the sugar. Stir to mix well, but this time be gentle so that you do not crush the poha too much.  Taste and add a little more salt if needed, then stir again.

Transfer the chivda to a large bowl and allow to cool completely before packing into an airtight container.

Notes:

Poha, dried red chillies and spices are available at Indian grocery stores.

Chivda (3 of 4)

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Indian Tapas: Feta Pakodas (gluten-free, vegetarian)

Feta Pakora 2

This is it.  This is when we bring out the big guns.  I don’t do a lot of deep frying, partly because of the healthy eating angel on my shoulder, and partly because I’m secretly a little scared of the whole process.

I mean a vat of hot, spluttering oil that you drop cold, wet things into?  And once you drop each one in, you snatch your hand away from the hot popping droplets, only to go back for more?

It all seems a bit terrifying to me.  Like extreme sports for cooks.

As it happens, the bone-chilling, toe-freezing, stay-in-bed weather we’ve had in Sydney lately drove me towards the very thing I feared most in the kitchen.  When wrapping myself in a blanket and donning my fluffy slippers didn’t quite rectify the chill factor, I craved hot, spicy, deep-fried foods with a cup of tea to wash it all down.

Feta Pakora 3

Pakodas are a type of Indian fritter traditionally made with vegetables such as sliced potato or onion, or even pieces of chicken, coated in a spiced batter and deep-fried.  The pungent saltiness of feta cheese, and as it turns out, makes it an excellent pakoda filling.  For those of us turning into icicles, a plate of these with a hot drink is just the right medicine.  If you are up in the Northern Hemisphere and are lucky enough to be enjoying some warm weather, these pakodas work just as well alongside a cold bear or soft drink.  Use firm feta, like Greek or Australian varieties, as the softer Danish feta doesn’t seem to hold its own and makes the batter a little soggy.

They are best served a few minutes after cooking, so that they are still hot.  If you are anything like me though, the fun is in biting into them while they are still shiny with oil, cheesy innards scalding your tongue as you desperately blow at the burn on the roof of your mouth.  Spitting out the ball of fire would be the sensible thing to do.  You know it would be.  But the crisp, spicy batter embedded with sweet tender onions and filled with the salty-tang of the feta is somehow worth enduring the intense burn.  Honestly, just wait a couple of minutes, ok?

Feta Pakora 1

Feta Pakoda

Makes 20-25

 Get:

 150g firm feta cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
1 medium red onion
2cm ginger
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chick pea flour (besan)
3 tbsp rice flour
Small handful coriander, finely chopped
2-3 cups vegetable, sunflower or canola oil

Special Equipment:

A deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan
A heat-proof slotted spoon
A food processor

Make:

Cut the onion in half.  Cut one half into rough pieces and place in the food processor with the ginger, green chilli and 3 tbsp water.  Blitz on high until you have a thin puree.  Do not wash the bowl of the food processor yet.

Finely chop the other half of the onion and the coriander.

In a bowl, stir the flours, onion puree, salt and chilli powder.  You should have quite a thick paste.  Place 2 tablespoons of water into the unwashed food processor bowl and blitz again.  Add half of this liquid into the flour mixture and stir.  You should have a fairly thick batter that it is easy to move your spoon through, but it shouldn’t be runny.  Add the chopped onions and coriander and stir through.

Set up another bowl or plate lined with paper towels next to the stove.

Place enough oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan so that it is at least 5-6 cm deep.  Heat on medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking.  You could start this process before you mix the batter, however it should be watched closely.  You can test whether the oil is hot by dropping a little of the batter into it- if it is sufficiently heater, the batter will start to fry immediately and rise to the surface.  If the oil is too hot, the batter will cook and brown very quickly.  In this case, turn the heat down to really low for a few mins then test again.  If the oil is smoking, take it off the heat completely until it cools, then start again on low heat.

When the oil is at the right temperature, add a teaspoon of it to your batter and stir through.

Pat dry the feta cubes and drop 4 or 5 at a time into the batter.  With clean fingers, toss the feta cubes through the batter, making sure they are well coated.  If the batter is too thick for coating, add a little more water from the food processor.  Scoop up the feta cubes with surrounding batter and drop carefully, one by one, into the hot oil.  With the slotted spoon, turn over the pakodas every minute or so, until they are a darkish brown (but not black!).  If they are darkening very quickly, reduce the flame and wait a few minutes before trying again.  When the pakodas are done, use the slotted spoon to carefully lift them out of the oil.  Allow the excess oil to drip into the saucepan before lifting them out completely and placing them in the paper lined dish.

Continue to coat and fry the feta in batches of 4 or 5, adjusting the oil temperature as needed.

Serve hot plain, with tomato sauce or this mint yoghurt sauce.

Feta Pakora 4

 

Indian Tapas: Baked Samosa Tartlets

She felt his eyes on her for some time before she allowed herself to turn around. As nonchalantly as possible, her eyes scanned the crowd expecting to meet his. He was out of sight and she forced herself to turn back to the elderly lady who was giving an intricate explanation of the wedding preparations of her grand-daughter. She attempted a smile that indicated interest, but her mind bolted in a different direction entirely as she wondered where he had gone.

The champagne was going to her head now and the waitress drifted past with a tray of appetisers. Desperate for something to do with her free hand, Maya grabbed a samosa, took a bite and held it awkwardly as the lady finished her detailed description of each piece of jewellery that was given to her grand-daughter by the in-laws.

Samosa Tartlets 1

The lull in the conversation was exactly what Maya needed. She expressed the required niceties and broke away to scout the room for him once again.
And as she turned, there he was. Standing at her elbow, his dark skin luminous and his playful dimples twinkling.

“Can I get you another drink?” he smiled.

Maya tried her most alluring smile and taking that as a yes, he saw a passing waiter and reached for a fresh glass of champagne. As he turned away, Maya nervously took another bite of her samosa, wishing to make it disappear so that she could go back to elegantly sipping her bubbles and flirting with the beautiful stranger that inexplicably seemed interested in her.

Samosa Tartlets 4

To say that the triangular pastry destroyed all of Maya’s semblance of sophistication is more than fair. That second bite caused the pastry to crumble, and the spiced potato filling tumbled out of the belly of the samosa, bounced off her bosom leaving behind it a trail of yoghurt sauce as it fell to the carpet just in front of her………

Samosa Tartlets 2

To avoid similar samosa- related disasters, I have for you baked samosas that are in tart form. Two or three bites should do it and the thick, wonderfully flaky, sour-cream pastry minimises chances of such mortifying situations as poor Maya faced. Serve with the mint yoghurt sauce, as well as this tamarind and date chutney, dollops of which can be spooned into the tarts just prior to serving. I also used a combination of cauliflower and potato to reduce the carbohydrate content of the whole thing.

In other news, if you haven’t had enough of my babble in this space, or if you have somewhat let the fitness regime slip by over the holidays, head on over to Saute Magazine to read my thoughts on Exercise.

Samosa Tartlets

Pastry recipe slightly modified from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12-15 with leftover filling

Get:

For the pastry:
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ajwain (carom) seeds
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
115g chilled butter, cubed
1/4 cup chilled sour cream
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:
500g cauliflower, diced
2 small potatoes, diced
3 tsp oil
2cm ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder
1/2tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp amchur powder
Salt
Boiling Water

For the yoghurt sauce:
1/2 cup thick Greek youghurt
Small handful mint leaves
Small handful coriander leaves
1/2- 1 tsp salt

Make:

To make the pastry:
Roast the cumin and ajwain seeds in a small pan until fragrant.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and roasted seeds. Add the butter and use clean fingers to knead the butter into the flour until it is a smooth, crumbly mixture. A few larger chunks of butter the size of small peas are fine.
In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, lemon and iced water. Pour the mixture into the flour and butter. Uing your hands again, gently mix, then lightly knead the mixture until it is one mass. The kneading should be minimal and just enough to get the dough into a ball.
Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 20 mins. The dough can be prepared a few days early and refrigerated.
Preheat the oven to 200 C

To make the filling:
Boil the diced potatoes in salted water until they are cooked but still firm.
In a large non-stick pan, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and once they are popping, reduce the heat to low and add the ginger. Fry for a minute or so, then add all the spice powders except for the amchur and salt. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add the cauliflower and 1/2 cup of water, 1 tsp salt and amchur. Stir, cover and simmer until the cauliflower is tender but firm, stirring intermittently (6-8 mins).
Drain the potatoes and add them to the pan. If the mixture is dry, add a further 1/4 cup water. Stir through and taste- add a little more salt if needed. Stir and cook uncovered until the mixture is reduced so that there is no gravy.

To make the yoghurt sauce:
Place the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times until they are well blended. Taste and add a little more salt if needed, however the mixture should be on the slightly sour side.

To assemble:
Roll out the dough to 5 mm thickness. Using a large cookie cutter (I used a bowl that was 9 cm diameter), cut out rounds in the dough. Place the rounds at the base of tiny tart pans, a muffin pan or patty cases. The edges should turn up to form a shallow tart shape.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven until the pastry is cooked through, about 15 mins.
Cool and turn the cases out onto a plate. Spoon the filling into the cases. The tarts can be made in advance and warmed in a preheated oven (160 C) for 5 mins before serving.
Dollop with yoghurt sauce and tamarind date chutney just before serving.

Samosa Tartlets 5

Indian Tapas: Fish Tikka Tacos

This is the first of a series of dishes called Indian Tapas that I will share on this blog. It is my attempt to get a little more adventurous with canape and appetiser ideas using Indian flavours, expanding on the classic chicken tikka, samosa and bhaji option that one usually finds in restaurants.

Eventually, I hope to build a collection of Indian and Indian-inspired short-eats.  The sort of thing you serve when you have friends over for drinks or just as an appetiser at a dinner party.  The sort of thing that can line the stomach nicely for a glass of wine, or with a few different dishes, can build up to be a full meal.

For the first of the Indian Tapas series, I decided to create little grab-and-munch mini soft tacos using Indian flavours.  What I love most about this dish is that it combines my all-time favourite Indian cuisine with one of my other loves, Mexican food.

Fish Tikka Tacos 1

My experience of Mexico spans but a few hours.  It was when I was almost thirteen, on a trip with my parents that we took a bus tour from California across the border to Tijuana.  As far as cities go, it reminded me of almost anywhere in India; over-populated, polluted and full of smiling faces and intriguing smells.

I remember being told to be careful with photography as Mexican policemen did not like being snapped by tourists.  There was the warning to be even more careful with our valuables if we wanted to keep then.

I vividly remember the underground market where hawkers tried to sell us things.  Ponchos, blankets, trinkets and so on.  There was the sleazy old stall-keeper who offered to buy me from my parents, an offer which was politely declined.  There was the colourful watch my parents bought me, the face of which was half sun, half moon.  There were two soft leather bags that we took home and used for years, encouraged by our guide’s advice that Tijuana was known for its leather goods.

Fish Tikka Tacos 2

Strangely, I have no memory of the food we ate there, surprising as food normally plays a strong part in my recollections of a place.  My best experiences of Mexican food were during my visits to Texas, which is close enough to the border to have developed their own version of the cuisine and to dub it Tex-Mex.

These appetiser sized tacos are the perfect little four or five bite morsels to be served with drinks and eaten with fingers.  I couldn’t resist using Indian flavours.  The fish tikka is one I’ve been making for a while now, and when it occurred to me to incorporate it into mini-tacos to create my first Indian Tapas recipe, I was unnaturally excited.

You can make the different components ahead of time and just bring it all together to serve.  Vegetarians, this would also work well with paneer or firm tofu.

Fish Tikka Tacos 4

Fish Tikka Tacos

 Makes 6-8 mini tacos

Get:

300g swordfish or other white fish (fillet or steak)
Cooking oil- olive, canola, sunflower or vegetable should all work well

For the marinade:
2/3 cup greek-style yoghurt
2 cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
1-2  hot chillies (optional)
3 tbsp tikka masala
1/2 tsp salt

For the yoghurt sauce:
1/2 cup yoghurt
2 tbsp fresh Dill
1 garlic clove, peeled
Pinch salt

To serve
Approx 1 cup baby spinach leaves
1/2 Red onion sliced thinly
A few fronds of fresh dill
Mini tortillas or normal sized tortillas quartered
Fresh lime wedges

Make:

Blitz the marinade ingredients in the food processor until a smooth mixture is formed.  In a large bowl, place the fish and cover with the marinade. Use your (clean) fingers to make sure the fish is well coated.  Cover the bowl with cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

In the meantime, rinse out the food processor bowl and blitz the yoghurt sauce ingredients until the garlic is well incorporated.  Also, prepare the other ingredients ready for serving.

In a hot pan, preferably a griddle pan, drizzle a cooking oil of your choice.  Once the oil is hot, fry the fish until it is cooked through with nice char marks on either side.  When the cold marinade hits the hot oil, there will be a hot little spitty tantrum so do keep a lid ready to contain it.

Once it is slightly cooled, slice the fish up into bite sized pieces.

To serve, Lay out the tacos.  Along the midline of each taco, place a few spinach leaves, then some fish. Top with yoghurt sauce, red onions (don’t be shy!) and a few fronds of dill,then a squeeze of lime.  Serve with something alcoholic (preferably).
Fish Tikka Tacos 3