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)

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

Dad’s Pav Bhaji- an Indian Street Food Favourite

If you are the type to like your food dainty, neatly arranged and delicately spiced, this recipe is probably not for you.  If elegance and order on the plate be your priority then under no circumstances should you even contemplate making and devouring this dish.  And if cutlery is your friend or you strive to maintain grace while eating your meals, well then I’m really baffled as to how you even ended up here.

Pav Bhaji 2

If you’re still here, I’m glad you are because if you are willing to overlook the complete and utter lack of prettyness of a dish and place something that looks like homogenous slop in your mouth, then this might just be for you.  And if you are game to tear off buttery, toasted bread with your fingers, scoop up some of the aforementioned slop, top it with zingy raw onions, a squeeze of lemon juice and fresh coriander and cram it into your mouth, you may just be glad that you did stick with me here.

Pav Bhaji 4bVKD_0720

So if you manage to get that far, what you will probably experience is something akin to a Bollywood street party in your mouth.  You know the kind where boy and girl are walking down the street seemingly normally and all of a sudden everyone breaks into song and magically, strangers know all the steps to the dance? Yup, just like that but on your tongue.

And if you’re still tuned in, I promise you won’t regret it.

Pav Bhaji 1

Pav Bhaji is an Indian street food that originated in Mumbai and is now consumed by hungry folk on street corners all over India, as well as in restaurants the world over.  It is a kind of spiced stew, crammed full of vegetables bound together by mashed potato.  It is the mashing, the cooking, the stirring, followed by more cooking allows the vegetables to absorb the spices so beautifully.  When this smoothly spiced bhaji meets buttery toasted bread, it really feels like, at least in that moment, all is right with the world.

In our family home, although my dad can cook, it is my mum who does most of the day-to-day cooking, like this dish.  But pav bhaji? This is undoubtedly my dad’s domain.

A meticulous vegetable chopper, dad first chops all the vegetables in a perfectly even dice, then proceeds to combine it all together in a simmering pan while the spices develop their flavours, slowly but surely.

So we wait patiently, the aroma making it almost impossible for us to focus on our pre-dinner tasks, until finally dad dishes up the delicious bhaji along with pan-toasted bread as well as the accompanying chopped onion, coriander and wedges of lemon.

We normally use store bought bread rolls to pile the bhaji onto, but if you would like to try making your own, Sneh from Cook Republic has a recipe.

Pav Bhaji 5

Dad’s Pav Bhaji

Feeds 4-6

Get:

3 medium potatoes, quartered (Desiree or Pontiac work well)
2 medium carrots, finely diced
3 medium onions (you will need 4 in total), finely chopped
1 red capsicum, diced
1 green capsicum, diced
3 small tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup frozen peas, soaked in boiling water
More boiling water
50g butter + extra for bread (optional but recommended!)

For the Tempering:

2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp pav bhaji masala
1/2 tsp Garam masala
1/4 tsp chilli pdr
1 tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
2 chillies
1 1/2 -2 tsp salt

To serve:
8 Bread rolls- white bread tastes the best with the bhaji but grain or wholemeal also work
Butter
1 Lemon, cut into wedges
1/3 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped

Make:

Place the potatoes in a pot with 1/2 salt and enough boiling water to completely cover them. Boil until just cooked through.  Drain and set aside to cool.

Chop all the vegetables as described and soak the frozen peas in boiling water.

In a large non-stick wok or fry-pan, heat the oil on moderate heat.  Add the cumin seeds and when most of them have popped, add the chillies.  Fry, adjusting heat to prevent the seeds from burning, for 1-2 mins.  Add the spices except for salt and amchur and cook, stirring for 3-4 mins.  Add both types of capsicum and fry for 5-6 mins.  Add the onions and fry until the onions are translucent.  At this point, add 1/2 cup water, cover and cook for 3-4 mins.

The capsicum should be just cooked through by now.  Add tomatoes, carrots and peas and another cup of water. Add 1 1/2 tsp salt and stir through.  Cover and allow to cook on low heat until carrots are cooked through and tomatoes are starting to go mushy.  While this is cooking, peel the cooked potatoes.

Much of the water may have evaporated by now.  Add the potatoes and another cup of water.  Use a potato masher to roughly mash the mixture in the pan.  Keep it fairly chunky- don’t aim for a mashed potato consistency, but enough of the potato should be mashed to homogenise the mixture.

Cook for 2-3 mins.  At this point, you should taste and add more chilli powder, salt or amchur (for sourness) according to taste.  Cover and cook for 15-20 min, on low-medium heat, stirring every few mins.  The mixture should be quite loose during this process, like a very thick soup.  Add water as you cook to maintain this consistency.

Finally, add 50 grams butter, cubed and stir through until melted and the mixture thickens a little.  Cook uncovered, stirring for a further 5 mins.  Take off the heat and allow to sit for a few mins before serving.

Slice the buns into half through the middle as you would for a burger.  Butter the bread generously and fry, cut side down in a non-stick fry-pan until toasted.  Use this method rather than using the toaster or grill- trust me on this one!

Serve bhaji with a sprinkle of raw chopped onion, coriander and a good squeeze of lemon juice, and bread on the side.

There are 2 ways of eating this- either pile the bhaji onto the bread and eat like a pizza or tear off pieces of bread and spoon/scoop the bhaji onto it.  Either way, ditch the knife and fork and use those fingers!

Notes:

Pav bhaji masala, garam masala and amchur powder are available at Indian grocery stores.  Garam masala is also available in mainstream supermarkets.

You could make this dish vegan by using vegan spread instead of butter, or by skipping the butter altogether.

Pav Bhaji 3