Sunday, November 20, 2016

Stuffed chili bajji - easily one of the best from south Indian street food

Have been 2 eventful weeks since I last blogged. Nothing to do with my personal life but everything that would impact my personal life. I don't talk about my political convictions in public ever but the recent presidential election & the results in my adopted home as well as the demonetization efforts in my native home have made me do a lot of introspection these past few days. Does everything that looks like progress, really so? By the same token, is anything ever so easily understandable? I decided to stay off the grid for a few days not to be influenced by outside opinion (there is plenty of it right now) but the addiction to news media is so real that I came back online soon :-(. I have decided to keep the blog away from any kind of political banter, so you won't be subjected to my political/non-political opinions here. Let us be kind to one another, accept every other person with respect and the dignity we all deserve.
We saw the new Marvel movie Doctor Strange last weekend, it was a special birthday weekend. The movie is fun and Benedict Cumberbatch (if you are a hard core fan of the BBC Sherlock Holmes series like me) makes the marvel movie more marvelous :-). We went to the movie after a heavy brunch of jolad rotti and badnekaayi palya (yep, will post it sometime soon), and I would have most certainly snoozed in the darkness of the theater if it were not for Cumberbatch.

Now that work seems to be kind of reverting to normal load after nearly 3 grueling months, I am going back to my other favorite activity. Went to the public library and got a basket full of books. Happiest part of the weekend was to be able to get my hands on books, move my fingers along the spine of those books that I had wanted to read for a while, get them home and actually be able to read them in the evening. Just started reading '32 Yolks' by French chef Eric Ripert. It started off well and I have a feeling I will like the book. It was a recommendation on one of the radio stations I listen to regularly and I have had it on my list. Can't say enough about how grateful I am for the public library system. I will share more on the book once I finish reading it.
Jumping to food matters or food that matters most, it wasn't my intention to post two chili related recipes back to back, it just happened unexpectedly. The last post (red chili pickle) was sitting in the backlog since summer and I had to post that authentic recipe sooner than later on the blog. And then, when I sat down today to look into my ever growing list of 'yet to be blogged' content aspiring to clean up some before the holiday rush starts here, pictures of this recently prepared favorite caught my eyes and I just gave in for another virtual indulgence as I write about this most craved for street food from India. It is a personal favorite though I don't make it often.

We had been to India about 4 years back for a family wedding, it was one of the rushed trips we have ever made, the entire trip including the travel was a week long. The positive side of the trip was that we didn't even give our bodies a chance to experience the jet lag, we were back before it ever realized that we had traveled twice across the Pacific :-). One of BH's young cousin's got married and we didn't want to miss the wedding. It was DD's first full on exposure to a traditional Telugu wedding and she had a blast as some of her favorite cousins made it as well. We flew in to Hyderabad and traveled to Vizag where the wedding was performed. The wedding food was delicious but I really wanted to try the famed mirapakaya bajjilu (chili pakodas) that defines the Andhra street food and something I had heard so much about.
My sis-in-law is my partner in crime when it comes to spicy, oily food:-) and we dropped enough hints around the wedding group. We wouldn't have been able to go out and enjoy the food from the street side vendor in all our wedding splendor and the busy schedule. Most people didn't have the time to pamper us with the bajjis and it was not on the menu for the 3 days of wedding festivities. But there is always atleast one kindred spirit in every group and BH's aunt Padma atta got 6 chili bajjis wrapped in their signature old news paper packets for us when she went out to get some flowers from the market. Not one to make a big fuss, she quietly got the packet to the room where we were all getting ready for the next event and handed it to me. The warmth of the oily looking packet and the aroma coming out of it was enough to divulge the secret inside:-) - fresh out of kadai with that unmistakable Indian street food stamp on it was the delicious mirapakaaya bajji. Nothing to hold us back, the two of us (and a couple other people that happened to pass by the room at that time) finished up the entire packet in no time and went downstairs to take part in the wedding. Even after 4 years, I can just close my eyes and talk about those yummy bajjis as if I was enjoying them right this minute. BH says he wasn't even aware that we ate it and has stuck to his claims that we ate it all up by ourselves. We may have done it in our blind love (and greediness) induced by those yummy snacks but I can't believe that we didn't share it with anyone, especially not even BH. One of us is clearly lying in this case, and the debate is still ongoing :-).
A punjabi family opened a restaurant in town here a couple of years back. They specialize in huge, thick punjabi paranthas, chole-bature and also serve pani puri on premises. We love their paranthas with more than generous amount of stuffing inside and have tried almost all different flavors. BH chanced upon their mirchi (chilli) bajjis in the menu's Indo Chinese section (? don't ask me why it landed there) and ordered them. We were taking it home that day and were pleasantly surprised to find 2 huge chili pakodas cut in half. The stuffing though was made of mashed potato. My personal peeve with using potatoes is that they tend to take center stage, I am yet to find a person that doesn't like potatoes but the moment you add them to a dish, you mostly forget about the other ingredients in the dish :-(. Much as I like those stuffed with potatoes, I have a preference over the south Indian version where the chilies are stuffed with roasted cumin or ajwain and lined with tangy lemon juice. The layers of smoky cumin and tangy lemon makes these irresistible and also helps not to overpower the flavors from the chilies.
So what am I going all ga-ga over? Well, this is the deep fried, sinfully delightful mensinkaayi bonda (Kannada) or mirapakaaya bajji (Telugu) that you should try once atleast. Let me warn all of you health food geeks out there. There is nothing healthy about this recipe :-). However the heavenly taste only deserves that you surrender completely and let go of your reservations completely before you dig in. That is not too much to ask for, is it? And you can't be eating 'only good food' your entire life, some indulgences here and there are absolutely necessary to make life spicy (pun intended). Now that I have done all the talking and also gotten the guilt off my chest by way of excuses, let us go into the kitchen and make some 'to die for' mensinkaayi bajji (chili pakoda) that is capable of giving your street vendor some tough competition.

Though it is made of chili peppers, there is nothing 'hot' about it as the spice quotient is reduced by removing the seeds and using a special variety of peppers that are inherently milder. In India, these are made with a special variety of chilies called 'bajji mensinkaayi' in Kannada, though I don't get those here, there are alternatives. Do not use Jalepeno since their thick skin makes it difficult to hold the batter coating. Serrano are better suited. Banana peppers being the sweet pepper varieties are good too but I find them way too huge for making bajjis with. Go ahead and use them if you find smaller sized ones.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! There is a lot to be grateful for despite things not seeming that way, take a moment to say thanks to the many, many blessings in your life. I am looking forward to the long week off from work and making some of DD's favorite dishes as she comes home for the weekend. Share your bounty with others, spread the love and kindness.

What do you need to make stuffed chili bajji? 
I am going to give you the quantities sufficient to make 6 pakodas
6 green, fresh serano or other mild varieties of peppers
Oil for deep frying (I use peanut oil)
1 Tbsp cumin
1/2 Tsp ajwain/carom seeds
1/2 Tsp salt
1 Tbsp lemon/lime juice
Batter for outer covering:
1.5 cups gram flour/chick pea flour/besan
1 Tbsp rice flour
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
pinch of baking soda
water to make batter
How do you make stuffed chili bajji? 
  • Wash the peppers in water and pat dry them. 
  • Make a slit vertically from the stalk end to the tip of the pepper with a sharp knife. The purpose of the slit is to open the pepper out and not cut the pepper in half. 
  • With the back of a steel spoon or butter knife, scoop out all the seeds from the pepper making sure you don't injure or tear the pepper apart.
  • Do this for all the peppers and keep aside.
  • Roast cumin in a dry pan on low heat until it gives out a smokey aroma and starts to pop a little (about 3 mins). 
  • Let it cool and grind to a coarse powder with ajwain. 
  • Take the powder in a cup, add salt, lemon juice and mix it well. 
  • Now take a big pinch of the powder between your index and ring finger and rub the inside walls of the pepper generously with this mixture. 
  • Let the peppers rest for 10-15 mins while you prepare the batter. 
  • Take all the ingredients listed under batter except for the baking soda and water in a deep bowl and mix them well. 
  • Add water slowly to make a thick, pouring consistency batter. Using a fork or whisk, beat the batter for a minute to make it fluffy. This ensures your bajjis are crispy as well. This resembles idli batter. 
  • Add baking soda and mix well.
  • Heat oil in a wide kadai for deep frying. 
  • Once the oil is hot (my thermometer-free way of checking is to drop a tiny pinch of the batter into the oil and if it starts to sizzle and comes up quickly to the surface the oil is ready), take the stuffed pepper, holding its stalk dip it into the batter and swirl it all around so the batter coats evenly. 
  • Hold your batter bowl closer to the kadai and transfer the coated pepper into the oil. 
  • You can add as many peppers as your kadai will hold without overcrowding them. 
  • Deep fry the bajjis turning them a couple of times to ensure uniform frying all around
  • Once they reach a crispy, golden color, life them with the help of slotted spoons and take them onto a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. 
How do you serve stuffed chili bajjis: 
  • Obviously a cuppa (tea or coffee to suit your preference) works great with this dish. 
  • You can eat them dipped in a mild coconut chutney or a ketchup. Make sure they are cooled for a few minutes as they will be really hot inside for a bite. 
  • Cut mirchi chat - Cut the fried bajjis into bite sized pieces, serve it with finely chopped onions, a dash of lemon juice and a sprinkle of chat masala on top. Yummmmm!!!

  • Choose peppers that are firm, blemish free and have a radiance to them. Don't take saggy ones for this recipe. Flavor of the peppers need to be strong. 
  • Always sieve gram flour before mixing it in to avoid lumps in the batter. 
  • The batter needs to be thick for this recipe, unfortunately I missed clicking pics, will update next time I make them. If you take a bit of batter between your fingers and try to drop it, it should fall deliberately, slowly and in a clump. Do not make it free flowing or liquidy. See pictures here to get an idea. 
  • The street side bajjis and those served in restaurants always are crispier than home made ones because they are double fried. I draw a firm line on double frying since it is way 'unhealthier'. The rice flour addition gives it the crunch it needs. 
  • If you really want to achieve the vendor made bajji results, take them out when they are 3/4 done, let them rest and cool for about 10 mins before returning them to the hot oil for a second round of frying until they are as crispy as you wish.  
  • The lemon juice added to cumin powder should be just enough to wet it, don't make a paste. 
  • You can adjust the quantity of cumin and ajwain to suit your liking. Adding lemon juice not only adds the hint of tanginess but also brings down the heat of the peppers. 
  • If you have any left over batter, add finely chopped potatoes, onions, cilantro, mix them well and drop tiny spoonfuls into the hot oil. These make delicious vegetable pakodas. 


Sreemala said...

Oh my! you definitely have a way with words to tempt us to try these "sinfully delightful" mensinkaayi bonda :-) Specially with cold weather, it sounds all the more yummier.
Thank you Nagashree for yet another " good" recipe.

NamsVeni Pothas said...

very very hot and mouth watering chilli bajjies . attractive pictures. enjoy the long weekend with DD .