Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lemon Pickle - jump start those lost taste buds after a bout of seasonal cold, cough, flu and blah, blah, blah

I refuse to indulge in self pity today, so I am not going to tell you how bad my sinus infection was this past week or how I am still sniffling :-(. But I did have a bad one which mercilessly brought me down for most of last week. I am slowly getting back into routine and my constant pig like snorts have thankfully become occasional and my co workers who found excuses to run away from me last week are finally considering me harmless to talk to. Here is my golden rule for sinus infections, it is an inseparable pal in my life who loves to visit me every so often and all I can do to return that love is to surround myself with boxes of tissues (softer the better, ah my poor nose :-)), steam, steam and steam some more, drink lots of kashaya and keep chanting the eternal truth "this too shall pass". But on the brighter side, the more frequent bouts of cold and sinus seem to make BH the better kashaya maker :-), the man turns dry spices and herbs into magically soothing drink now. Ahem, very proud of my own coaching.

Did I say I won't tell you the gory details of the past week? And you believed it? You should know better than that after more than 2 years of reading my blog. Yap, yap and yapping is what I do best and any subject will work, even a sinus infection :-)
The worst part of last week was that my taste buds took the worst beating and have been totally lifeless. Everything I eat tastes bitter or absolutely tasteless. I tried eating lotsa different stuff just to jump start those taste buds but to no avail and that is when I started craving for those aged, ripe, lemon pickle nammamma made :-(. When I was whining about my cold & infection with a colleague and told her about my immediate need to eat lemon pickle, she looked at me quizzically to ask the very obvious question everyone seems to think of (apparently). So I had to explain to her that I was not an expectant mother but just had this unexplainable urge to eat some of those lemon pickle from my mom's jaadi (porcelain pickle container) which was perfectly normal (for people like me who were not pregnant either) :-). I am not sure she bought it though she offered a suggestion and asked if I could have BH prepare some for me since I looked too sick to make anything. Not a bad idea but I didn't have the energy to teach and bring BH upto speed on making lemon pickles.

Normally, I have a whole stack of pickles in the refrigerator and most of them are Andhra pickles and mostly imported from India, while I make small quantities of the Karnataka variety and my other unusual pickles here. But just last month, we cleaned up the fridge, gave away some and threw away some really old stock and I didn't have any lemon pickles at my reach. And I don't have hopes of getting nammamma to make me a batch of lemon pickles urgently to quench my urge either. So, I had to get to the kitchen myself and make a small batch, I had everything I needed - juicy, yellow lemons, rich, red chili powder, kosher salt, mustard, fenugreek and good quality asafoetida. Yes, necessity is the only motivation needed here.
Karnataka pickles differ from Andhra pickles in a couple of ways. The former uses salt as preservative while the latter relies on a combination of salt and oil. Also, the former uses mainly powdered fenugreek and mustard is used as seasoning but you will find a substantial quantity of mustard powder (raw or roasted depending on the pickle variety) in the Andhra pickles. But both are yummy and irreplaceable accompaniments in any proper Indian meal :-). While I am at it, let me also tell you that amma makes lemon pickle differently by drying out the salted lemon pieces in sun before adding the spices, it tastes very different from what I am going to show you today and is usually mixed with hot, white rice along with a spoon of ghee. Yumm..

Back to nammamma's lemon pickle or nimbe hannina uppinakayi as it is called in Kannada, as far as I can remember, hers was the best tasting pickle. She had these tall porcelain containers called jaadis which held pickles year long (lemons, gooseberries, mangoes were the common varieties) and the older stock used to get put into smaller containers to make way for the new and fresh pickles every season. As far as lemon pickle went, I loved the oldest. As she used rock salt (which is the preferred salt in pickling), over time the salt would get crystallized and form into small, white, crunchy bites which tasted heavenly while the lemon slices would be so soft after marinating in the salt and juices for months that they would simply dissolve & disappear if you licked them a couple of times. That kind of ripe pickle with a bowl of yogurt rice is the ultimate comfort meal. If you had a cup of saaru on the side, you could consider yourself the luckiest person in this universe.
I made a small batch (just 2 lemons) of lemon pickle and waited only 3 days (since I couldn't wait any longer) but one lick of that lemon pickle and a long distance phone call to nammamma made me get back to my bouncy self again in no time :-), the power of pickle is such. Sorry, I don't have any pictures of cut lemon or the layers of salt & lemon - you see, I was too sick to take pictures the first day and my goal was to make the pickle. And I do not have pictures of the really ripe, almost dry pickle either. I will try and update the post next time and make them.

Pickling is a really simple process and gives you many days of joy if you just keep in mind a few things. So, if you are new to making pickles, please pay attention to the notes below and internalize these as the cardinal rules of pickle making (if you don't want to end up with bottles of rotten pickles - been there, done that, so take my tips seriously).
What do you need to make lemon pickle? 
2 big, fresh lemons (see notes below)
1/4 cup kosher salt (see notes below)
1 Tbsp red chili powder
1 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1 Tsp oil
1/4 Tsp Asafoetida
3/4 Tsp mustard

How do you make Lemon pickle? 
  • Wash and thoroughly wipe the lemons to rid of all moisture from outside. 
  • Get the gadgets out - clean dry cutting board, knife, spoon and jars to hold the pickles. 
  • Remove the tips from the lemon (only if they are hard and sticking out), cut them in half and cut each half into bite sized pieces. 
  • Put 1/2 Tsp of salt as the first layer in the container. 
  • Now add the lemon pieces in a layer on top, add more salt on top. 
  • Keep repeating until all lemon pieces are used up. End it with a top layer of salt. 
  • Close the lid (if the lid is pressing down on the lemon pieces, use a thin cheese cloth to tie up the top instead of the lid). You want to avoid all metal contacts to the acidic juice. After a couple of days, the volume reduces and you will have space on top to easily use the lid. 
  • Keep aside in a cool, dark place. 
  • For the next 4-5 days (depends on the quality and quantity of lemons) or until the volume decreases by about 1/8th, every day using a clean spoon, mix the lemon pieces well so that salt gets to all of them. 
  • By the 5th day, the pieces would have softened quite a bit. 
  • First add the dry red chili powder. 
  • Dry roast the fenugreek seeds stirring constantly until they turn light brown and fragrant. 
  • Once cool, make a fine powder and add it to the pickle. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add asafoetida and mustard. When mustard pops, switch off and keep aside to cool. 
  • When the seasoning has cooled down completely, add it to the pickle. 
  • Mix well, and let it ripen for a couple of days or if you can't resist, go ahead and eat a slice or two (or more) of the fresh pickle like I did :-)
  • Lemon pickle turns darker in color as it ages and mellows down considerably in terms of the tanginess. 
  • I used big lemons I get here (almost tennis ball size), it made 4 cups of bite sized pieces
  • I prefer kosher salt in pickles as it is closer to the rock salt used in India. Kosher salt is about half as salty as table salt. So adjust the quantity of salt if you are using other varieties. 
  • I prefer using sunflower oil as Nammamma used it, you can use the mustard oil but beware that it will leave its own flavor which I don't like much in the lemon pickle. 
  • Pickle rule 1: Use porcelain containers or glass bottles to store pickles for longer storage. No plastic or steel containers please. 
  • Pickle rule 2: Dry out the containers before using them, here is how I do it - I wash the containers along with lids in soapy water and rinse them multiple times until all soap runs out. Air dry it completely (if you have bright sun and a clean space to keep containers, it works best). Once all the water is gone, use a dry towel to remove any moisture from the nook & cranny of the container and the lid. Finally if it is a glass jar, put it in the microwave for a 30secs to 1 min zap. The idea is that there should ABSOLUTELY no water content anywhere in the container. 
  • Pickle rule 3: Use clean, dry spoons, knife and cutting board to mix, cut and serve pickles. 
  • Pickle rule 4: Keep them in a cool corner (away from hot stoves, grinders etc) and store in refrigerator for longer storage. 
  • Pickle rule 5: Add the seasoning only after the oil cools down to room temperature. 
  • Nammamma made a mixed veggie pickle using slices of lemon, bitter gourd, carrots and green chilies. Tastes delicious but you need to make sure your vegetables are very fresh and cleaned and dried properly. This will have a shorter shelf life compared to the traditional lemon pickle. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Menthya Hittu (Fenugreek powder)- nothing bitter about this delicious condiment

Let me start with, "I love this pudi (powder)" which I hope will give you the confidence to read through the rest of the post and may be try it and become addicts just like me. I have seen many people turning their noses up the moment someone mentions fenugreek (including my own DD) because of the inherent bitterness of these seeds. Though this powder is made with a substantial quantity of fenugreek, bitterness is not in its elements, it just lends the powder a distinct aroma of roasted fenugreek and the rest of the ingredients bring down the bitterness. So if you have never had it, now is the perfect time to give it a taste. I will show you two super delicious ways of consuming this powder once ready, choose the one that calls out to you more intimately.
When Nammamma made this powder back in the days, it was always a treat in the evening once all the powders got done and stored in the larger containers for long term storage and smaller containers for table use. I didn't care if she had any other side dish to go with rice at all as long as there was fresh menthya hittu on the table. Amma would make the seasoning with dals & mustard seeds to add to the rice (we called it khat-khata because of the sounds the roasted dals made when you took the bites :-)). A dash of lemon on the hot rice would immediately emit the unmistakable flavor of freshness and elevate the simple dish miles higher. I honestly did not need anything else for dinner. It is great to keep the dinner simple (not necessarily light though) without elaborate cooking sometimes.
One of my little nieces loves this menthya hittu. A couple of years back when I was in India and was visiting them for the 2nd time since she was born, she was really not open to talking with this atte (aunt) whom she didn't remember. I tried all the tricks I knew to make her talk to me for a couple of hours without much progress, she definitely moved from hiding completely behind her mom's dress to peeking at me when I was not looking (or so she thought) at her and whisper something in her mom's ears :-). Then we sat down for dinner. Most everybody in my family knows my love for all things spicy and chikkamma (my aunt) offered me her home made Menthya hittu. As I put heaps of it in my plate, little V's eyes widened and she became interested suddenly and said, "Menthittu, tuppa anna tumba chennagiratte (Menthya powder, ghee and rice tastes very yummy)" :-). So as I mixed it in, she slowly inched her way from her mother's lap to stand next to me and then sit in my lap in no time to enjoy the delicious morsels with her newly acquainted atte. We had a great dinner, eating multiple rounds of menthittu(as V calls it) , tuppa and rice. I was happy, little V was happy and every one around was smiling while chikkamma was complaining that she never should have shown us the powder since all her other side dishes were being completely ignored :-). This delicious powder was instrumental in our bonding and after dinner she stuck to me like glue and chatted away to glory. Here is my home made menthittu for putani V.
We call it Menthya hittu (as the powder is really fine unlike the coarsely ground chutney pudi) and not Menthya pudi. Nammamma used dried turmeric roots in all the powder preparations and not the turmeric powder which gave her pudis a better fragrance and color. I use store bought powder since I don't anyway get good quality turmeric root and my blender seems to have hiccups if I put in too much hard ingredients for it to break :-).

This powder is not something we use with idli or Dose (Dosa) generally but if you are like me and really fall in love with it, you can just about eat it in any form. The list of ingredients may seem a little daunting but they are all in ordinary Indian kitchens every day and is very easy to procure from your local grocery store if you do not have them. When I had asked Nammamma for the recipe of Menthya hittu the first time I made it, she had said that almost every spice in the kitchen goes in :-) which is pretty much true. She used whole wheat kernels instead of the upma rava I have below and it is a substitution she recommended.
What do you need to make Menthya Hittu?
1/2 cup Toor Dal
1/2 cup Chana dal
1/2 cup Moong dal
1/4 cup Urad dal
1 Tbsp Dhania/coriander seeds
2 Tsp menthya/fenugreek seeds
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
2 dry red chilies
1/2-3/4 Tsp black pepper
1 inch cinnamon
2 cloves
1 Tbsp Upma rava (in place of whole wheat)
1 Tsp rice
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder
salt (adjust to taste)
How do you make Menthya hittu?
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan on medium heat. 
  • Dry roast the 4 dals one by one stirring frequently until they turn crunchy and a deep pink in color. Do not burn any ingredients. 
  • As they get toasted, put them aside on a plate to cool down. 
  • Warm coriander seeds for a minute or two until you get the aroma and it heats up nicely, this doesn't have to change color. Keep aside to cool. 
  • Roast rava until it turns light pink. 
  • Roast rice until it turns brittle and transparent. 
  • Roast the remaining ingredients except red chilies until fragrant. Add red chilies, salt and turmeric powder at the end, switch off the stove. 
  • Once everything has cooled down completely, make a fine powder in the mixer or coffee grinder. 
  • I use the small sieve to sieve the powder, return it back to the mixer for another round of grinding to get a fine powder. 
  • Store in a dry, air tight container for upto 2 weeks, the freshness reduces  over time and I prefer to make small quantities. You can refrigerate it for longer shelf life. 
Now that we have the menthya hittu, how do we consume it? Here are a couple of delicious ways to eat this yummy condiment. 

Menthya hittu anna(rice): 
  • Mix 2 Tsp of the powder into a bowl of warm, cooked rice (cook rice so the grains are separate, tastes better than using mushy rice) along with 1/2 Tsp of ghee or oil. 
  • Make a seasoning of Tsp of oil, mustard, urad dal, chana dal and a few small pieces of dry red chili (Byadagi variety works best as it is not too hot and you can bite into the crunchy bits :-)). 
  • Pour a Tsp (or more to taste) of the seasoning on top of the rice.
  • Add 1/2 Tsp of lemon juice and a Tsp of finely chopped onions. 
  • Mix everything together with light fingers (very important not to mush up the rice), adjust salt or powder as needed and enjoy :-)

And here is an extremely easy gojju that is a favorite with akki rotti in our home. It is equally tasty when mixed with rice. 
Menthya hittu gojju: 
  • Soak a gooseberry sized tamarind in 1/2 cup water for 20 minutes and extract the juice. 
  • Make a seasoning of 1/2 Tsp mustard, pinch of asafoetida, a few dry red chilies and a couple of curry leaves. 
  • Take 2 heaped Tbsp of Menthya hittu in a bowl, add seasoning it to the bowl along with a Tbsp finely chopped onions, mix well. 
  • Add the tamarind extract, 1/2 Tsp crushed jaggery or brown sugar. 
  • Adjust salt, jaggery or consistency of the gravy (it is slightly runny than a dip but not flowing). 
  • Seasoned cast iron pans work best for all powder making as they spread heat evenly, you get a heavy airplane body material pan in India which works very well too, do not preferably use non stick pans.
  • Nammamma has gained the experience over years of making the powders to mix and roast ingredients as she understands which 2 (or more) take the same roasting time, Given my heavily multi tasking nature, I prefer to roast the ingredients one by one and give the passing attention they need :-), choose whichever method works for you. Bottom line is to roast them well and never burn any of them. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Vankaya banda pachadi (aubergine chutney) - Back to the old ways for a superlicious side dish

Sometimes she is the little baby that wants amma to hug her, at other times she is the all grown up, 'don't bother me' teenager.
Sometimes she jumps on amma's bed and cuddles up throwing her long arms and legs carelessly over me, at other times she is the independent adolescent that refuses to even come near amma's bedroom.
Sometimes she is the docile child that listens to amma, at other times she is the rebellious, spirited girl who will do just the opposite of what her mom wants her to do.
Sometimes she is running all around the house wildly screaming/singing at the top of voice, the epitome of the tomboy she can be, at other times she surprises us with her tender, responsible behavior in a completely unexpected situation.
She prefers reading suppandi comics to Shakespeare any day but works diligently on her essay for English class on topics that are too heavy even for adults.
She cooes and baby talks to her grand mothers in their respective languages but refuses to talk to me in anything other than English :-)
Sometimes she says her amma has no fashion sense, at other times she shamelessly raids her mother's closet and runs off with my newly purchased dresses :-).
I see the spirit of perseverance in her and feel proud at her independence to chart her own course in life, I also worry about the vulnerable child behind it all who thinks she knows how to navigate through this life.
I see so much of myself in her yet I see that she is her own person without a shred of doubt.
I love the fact that she seems more mature than I ever was at that age but also wonder if she is growing up too fast too soon.
I wish I could cocoon and protect her every step of the way and not let any harm touch her but I understand she has to go through her own experiences and feel through her own bruises and be responsible for them.

She is the one who calls me 'Amma', I think I am a better person because of my daughter. I don't remember the long labor or the anticipation leading upto her birth anymore, all I remember is holding that perfect little baby in my arms and gaping at the miracle with utter disbelief. I remember every little detail of her baby days though I don't have a record of many of them.

I remember leaving a bewildered, bawling baby at the day care for the first time, as I climbed in next to BH equally teary eyed on our way to work, I remember coming back in the evening and peeking into the windows of that play home to find her contentedly playing with other kids. I remember her gleeful smile when she spotted me at the window and jumped up and ran towards me with arms open wide for a hug. I remember her becoming so tuned my arrival times that she would pack her bag and tell her nannies that amma was here just as I stopped my vehicle infront of the play home. I remember the little girl who trusted her parents completely and believed every decision we made were actually wise. I pray she keeps her positive attitude in life no matter what and brings warmth and joy to people around her, I hope she continues to love her mother for eternity like I do love mine. I love her like I love no one else in the world and I think I understand how my mother loves me - unconditionally and completely and always.

Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mothers out there and people with motherly hearts. 

I have a recipe today that many mothers in the family have fed me. Wondering what the long name in the title means? Hang in there, I will explain what it means in a moment. Andhra cuisine is very famous for its numerous varieties of pachadis/chutneys/dips. There are pachadis made to stay for months at a stretch called niluvu pachadis and then there are pachadis that you will need to consume the same day or may be the next day. Pickles, thokkus belong to the first variety and most other pachadis belong to the second category.

Today's pachadi is of the second variety and has got the long name because of the way it is usually prepared - using a stone grinder. Don't run off now if you don't have the equipment shown below, there are very legitimate alternatives in this age of electricity. Are you thinking I went to India and got some pictures? I wish that was the case :-) but no I am very much here and tending to my routine life which is currently anything but routine since DD is running her month long marathon of exams - not that we are doing anything special but I just like to think so :-).
Well, on a recent trip to Costco, I found this really cute (thinks me) and extremely heavy (thinks BH) mortar and pestle, infact it had a gorgeous picture of guacamole ingredients on the top of the box which lured me. I have another mortar & pestle already which is about 1/2 the size of this new one and does a good job. So after a few minutes of standing infront of the stacked boxes doing my usual 'Need Vs want' analysis, I decided to splurge and buy one for myself. In my defense, my brain likes to take moments of rest and let the heart take over on some matters which I think is a very good balance. Like I told BH, if nothing else, it makes a great prop for the blog pictures :-) and it makes such a great addition in the corner of my kitchen counter.

So we duly brought it home and as I was taking out the stuff to put them into pantry or refrigerator, my eyes fell on the bag of those ultra cute, dark purple, petite baby aubergines (eggplants or vankaya) and I decided to inaugurate my new gadget by making a vankaya pachadi. I have eaten this from many mother's in the family, one of BH's cousins who used to travel on work used to bring some home cooked food with her whenever her parents were at home. She had a project going in the same town we lived for a while and we used to meet up often and when she came home for dinner, she had brought her travel food and one of the dabbas had this pachadi, amazingly mouthwatering!
My family is made of vankaya/eggplant lovers but amma hardly makes this pachadi since stuffed vankaya or vankaya koora is always on the demand list (even when the vegetable is cooked more than twice a week :-)) and some how the pachadi gets to the back seat. Last time my in laws were here, I made sure she showed me her way of making this pachadi and we all licked the plate clean that night. Amma used coriander seeds a little more liberally in her pachadis than I do as I prefer the flavor of toasted mustard and fenugreek in my pachadis. So I have made a few changes and here is a delicious pachadi for all of you to enjoy.

I roasted all the ingredients and BH very sportingly helped mash it down into a pulp using the new gadget, it really made the pachadi taste so fresh and tasty. I soaked dal & rice in the evening for our weekly dosa batter and told BH that he could grind the batter in the new mortar & pestle, he gave me a look that said, "Don't push it" :-), so I employed my electric grinder for the job.

You can very well make this pachadi in your mixer/grinder like I did until a week or so back or you can find your own mortar & pestle that does a great job too. But try this pachadi in any case, low calorie eggplants spiced up superbly and goes well with hot rice and a drop of ghee.
What do you need to make Vankaya banda pachadi? 
2 baby aubergines or 1 medium eggplant
1 small tomato
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tbsp oil
handful of cilantro
To roast: 
2 Tblsp chana dal
1/2 Tsp urad dal
1 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1/2 Tsp coriander seeds
4-5 dry red chilies
2 green chilies
1/8 Tsp Asafoetida
small piece of tamarind
How do you make Vankaya banda pachadi? 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add the chana dal and fenugreek seeds, let them roast for a minute or so.
  • Add the remaining ingredients except for asafoetida and stirring frequently, roast them until mustard splutters and the dal & fenugreek turn pink and crisp. 
  • Add Asafoetida, mix and take it out on to a plate, let cool.
  • In the same pan, add chopped tomato and cook for a couple of minutes until the pieces turn mushy. 
  • Add cilantro, roast for a minute. Switch off and remove the contents to the plate with the rest of the ingredients. 
  • There are a couple of ways of cooking eggplant for this recipe, I will list them here and leave it to you to choose based on the availability of gadgets and time on hand: 
  • Method 1 (Classic & gives the best roasted aroma): Wash, wipe dry the eggplant, poke a few holes with a fork or a knife all around the surface, smear 2 drops of oil on the surface and roast the egg plant on a grill turning it frequently until it is completely charred from outside and cooked through.
  • Method 2(Time consuming but much cleaner and gentler than stove top): Wash, wipe dry the eggplant, poke a few holes with a fork or a knife all around the surface, smear 2 drops of oil on the surface and bake it in a 350F pre heated oven for about 1 hour, turning it once or twice for even cooking. 
  • Method 3 (Good flavor but lot of clean up later on): Wash, wipe dry the eggplant, poke a few holes with a fork or a knife all around the surface, smear 2 drops of oil on the surface and roast it on direct gas flame if you have one. 
  • Method 4 (Easiest and quickest): Wash, wipe dry and chop the eggplants into small bite sized pieces. Roast them in a pan with a Tsp of oil until soft and cooked. 
  • If using method 1-3, once the eggplant is cooked, take it into a bowl, cover it tightly with a cling wrap and leave it aside for 10 minutes. The steam from the hot eggplant softens the skin and peels off easily. 
  • Peel & discard the charred skin and remove the pulp of the eggplant. 
  • Now to grinding, first grind the roasted ingredients (dal+others) to a coarse powder, now add the tomato & cilantro along with salt and grind it roughly. You will not need any water if you use the pulse mode in the mixer. 
  • Finally add the cooked eggplant and give it a couple of whips so it breaks down and mixes well. 
  • Take it out into a bowl and serve it with hot rice. 
  • Roasting tamarind softens it and makes it easy to grind. 
  • Whichever method of cooking you use, make sure eggplant is cooked through. A raw eggplant leaves a very bad taste in pachadi and totally spoils the pachadi experience. 
  • Do not use water while grinding this pachadi and do not make a very smooth paste out of it. Coarsely ground pachadi gives that unmistakable texture

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pani Puri from the streets of India - Muh me pani aagaya :-)

Chat, thy name is sufficient to infuse tingling sensations in my brain and make me start salivating uncontrollably. If you follow my blog regularly, you can picture me being totally partial to spicy, chatpata snacks and ignoring the sweets and desserts except when I have a craving for sweets - I am just a good eater :-). Over the years I have also learnt that I am not the only strange person in this world with a chat crazy palate and I have shared my recipes and plates of chats with many a friends. There is something totally delectable about these snacks that make you shed all pretenses and just enjoy the food.
In India, push carts morph into chat stations by late afternoon in every street corner and start emitting those unmistakably 'chat-ey' smell all around. There are also hundreds of restaurants serving chat items in the evenings (so people can be deceived into thinking they are eating something healthier than from a street side open cart :-)). Shanti Sagar in namma Bengaluru has an air conditioned room upstairs in their restaurant and you will be handed a nicely printed menu card with chat items listed. But when you order them, they all come from the down stairs open chat service center which uses the same ingredients, water, plates and hands as if you were standing next to the busy, dusty street and eating off of the plate :-). But you can forget all that or imagine your special chat being created in a hygienic, modern kitchen using bottled water and pay the cost difference. So, here is my take on eating chat in India, it is not only for the taste but also for the experience, so unless you have a strict no-no from a doctor, go ahead and stand by the open cart and eat the chat while enjoying the sights on the street, it is an experience you just cannot get any where else.

The cart vendor never prepares a full plate even if there are 10 customers standing around him. He serves 4-5 people at a time going in a round robin fashion from customer A to B to C .. remembering exactly if they had asked for extra spicy or sweeter serving and also remembering exactly how many he has served each of them so he can tell them when they have exhausted a full plate worth of puris :-). It is always one pani puri at a time, with the right amount of sweet & spicy chutney and everyone always asks for a bowl of pani at the end.
Ever since we moved to US, I have tried several chat places only to be disappointed. It somehow seems to fall short in both taste and the experience. I stopped eating chat outside quite a while ago and have been working on my chat making skills at home. This is a tested (many times over) and certified by family and friends, so go ahead and try it out and let me know how you liked it.

Coming back to Pani puri, it is a special type of chat and goes by different names in different parts of the country (Golgappa in Delhi, Puchka in Kolkata, gup chup in Orissa, Phulki in Bihar and Pani Puri in most parts of India). It is a highly customizable snack that can be filled with pretty much anything that you love for texture and taste. The essential ingredients of pani puri are pani (Tamarind water flavored with cumin, black salt and chat masala) and Puri (deep fried bread that is round, hollow and puffed up). If you have never tried this, it might sound really lame - puri served with tamarind water! The super yummy taste comes from how well you prepare the 'pani' and what you stuff the puri with. The crispy puri filled with addictively delicious pani accompanied by the goodness of potatoes, lentils, crunchy onions - all going into the mouth for a burst of flavors before the puri becomes soggy with the water, yummmm.. nothing can beat a Pani puri on a rainy evening.

There are many variations to pani puri and you can choose the one that you love most. If you are Indian, I would think you have tried this at some point in life, if you are not of Indian origin you might have atleast heard about this chat from someone. Whatever the case, give this puri with tamarind water a chance and in all probability you will be a fan after the first one goes inside :-)
A few years ago, when we were in Bengaluru, DD got hooked to this Pani puri. It was a small cafe/store which the old timers in the area called 'Gundappana angadi' (Gundappa's store) though it was renamed as 'Pavithra store'. May be it was her first experience eating chat or she really liked it, so much so that she wanted us to take her to eat Pani Puri every week when we were there. I personally am more of a Masala puri eater (this recipe will follow soon, I have had too many requests for it from friends that have tasted my masala puri) but for today it is all about the Pani puri.

What do you need to make Pani Puri? 
1 cup chiroti rava (very fine quality rava)
1 Tbsp maida/All purpose flour
1/4 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp baking soda
1 Tsp oil
5-6 Tbsp water
about 2 cups of oil to deep fry
Tamarind water: 
6 cups cold water
1/4 cup packed mint leaves
2 Tbsp cilantro
1/2 Tsp black salt
1 Tsp cumin
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1-2 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp sugar/brown sugar
2 Tbsp tamarind-dates chutney
1/2 Tsp chat masala
1/4 Tsp amchur or juice of 1/2 lemon
1 medium potato (boiled and chopped into small pieces)
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
2 Tbsp cilantro (finely chopped)
1 cup cooked green peas
Sweet chutney/Date-tamarind chutney (as needed)
Green chutney (as needed)

How do you make Pani Puri? 
Making puris:
  • Add the chiroti rava and maida in a wide bowl. 
  • Add the salt and baking soda and mix it well with finger tips. 
  • Add the Tsp of oil and and bring the ingredients to a crumbly state by rubbing them against your fingers. 
  • Add water slowly and simultaneously kneading the dough, prepare a stiff dough. 
  • As you knead, the coarser feel of the rava changes into a smooth dough. 
  • Knead for about 5 minutes, cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 20-30 minutes. 
  • Knead again for 2-4 minutes until you feel the supple dough beneath your fingers. 
  • Roll the dough into a thin disc (about 2mm thickness), use AP flour to dust if you need. 
  • Using a cookie cutter or a round cup with sharp edges, cut out small puris. 
  • Heat oil and fry the puris - a small batch at a time. 
  • When the puris turn golden brown on both sides, take them out onto a paper lined plate and let them cool down. 
Making 'Pani': 
  • Dry roast cumin seeds until they are fragrant and start to crackle. Take care not to burn them. 
  • Cool and make a fine powder. 
  • Grind all the ingredients listed under 'Pani' along with the powdered roasted cumin and about 1/2 cup water into a smooth paste. 
  • Pass this paste through a fine sieve and using the remaining water extract as much of it as possible. 
  • Taste and adjust any of the ingredients as needed. 
  • Cover and refrigerate for atleast a couple of hours for the flavors to develop. 
  • The pani in the pani puri is always served chilled. 
How do you prepare and serve Pani Puri? 
  • Select 6-8 fluffy puris. 
  • Poke a hole in the center on the top surface of the puri using your thumb, arrange the puris in a plate. 
  • Add a couple of pieces of boiled potato. 
  • Add a little amount of chopped onion. 
  • Add small quantities of boiled peas.
  • Top it with sweet and spicy chutneys. 
  • Dish out a cup of 'pani' into a bowl. 
  • Take a prepared puri, holding it between 2 fingers, dip it into the 'pani' so the puri is filled with pani, immediately plop the entire thing into the mouth in one go. 
  • Close your eyes, do a chomp, chomp, let the spices do their magic on your tongue and throat as the pani puri finds its way into your stomach. 
  • Repeat with the rest of the puris until you can eat no more, then end the fiesta with a bowl of chilled pani. 
  • Show gratitude with a smile if you can manage before falling into a slumber. 
  • Puri making tips: 
    • The dough should be stiffer than regular chapati/roti dough. 
    • Dough should be kneaded well and kept covered with a damp cloth. 
    • 1 cup of rava yields about 25-30 small puris. 
    • If you make puris in large batches, keep the cut out small puris covered in damp cloth until you are ready to fry them, this prevents them from drying out. 
    • Make sure the oil is hot before you drop the puris, put a small piece of the dough into the oil and if it comes up immediately you are ready to start frying. 
    • When you drop the puri into the hot oil, pour oil on top of the puri with the spoon so it puffs up. BE VERY CAREFUL WHILE DOING THIS AS THE OIL IS HOT!!
    • Once all the puris are done, preheat the oven to about 200F, switch off, put the puris in a single layer on baking sheets and keep it in the oven for 30 minutes. This helps the puris stay crispy and crunchy for longer. 
  • Pani making tips: 
    • Use cold water and always serve pani completely chilled. 
    • Pani needs to be spicy, sweet, tangy all together for the best impact. 
    • Black salt and roasted cumin powder are the key ingredients for the pani as is mint leaves. Do not skip any of these. 
  • You can serve Pani puri with just the puris dipped and filled with tamarind water. 
  • You can use sprouted & cooked whole green gram or cooked chick peas instead of the peas.
  • You can prepare 'Pani' with the store bought Pani puri powder or Jaljeera powder for a quick alternative, but always add black salt, roasted cumin powder and mint for a flavor boost.