Angry Cat in a Glitter Collar

Tonight Chutney Challenged hosted a somewhat impromptu viewing party, focused around Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s State of the State address. I fantasized, briefly, about making ragda patties. Then I realized that would be a crazy-making amount of work on one night’s notice. I decided on bhel puri. I decided on this over pizza because while my record-low blog readership hasn’t generated much buzz about my trial run as America’s Next Chaat Chef, my big mouth has. Once a few friends know you make “Indian food” no Pizza Hut kajillion calorie $12.99 special will do.

So I made bhel puri with a new mix, pictured below. I whipped up some green chutney, chopped the cilantro, onion, tomato, diluted the tamarind chutney with lime juice and a bit of water. Then it was showtime.

Let me tell you, the speech was a bunch of warmed-over talking points about tools, mining jobs, budget cuts and cheap digs at Washington D.C. and “the federal level.” If you want a more detailed analysis of the address please give me a day or so but, really, I can’t promise you anything.

But the bhel puri was a winnah!!! I think it was the new mix and my total commitment to super-saucing the bhel. I added lots of chutney. That bowl of puffed rice and chaana glistened and hissed at me like a mildly angry cat in a glitter collar. Bhel puri has never spoken to me like that before.

The gals on the couch were ready for a second bowl of bhel before Scott Walker could even say “our reforms are working.” Also, those reforms are not working. Actually, they are not reforms. More like taking money from school kids, or taking tamarind chutney from bhel puri.

Jasmine and Jennifer, thanks for your insight, friendship, expertise and late-night edits these last two years. To Maria, who came late, I commend you for line-of-the-evening, delivered as you politely declined a bowl of bhel: “No thanks. People think because I’m Mexican I eat cilantro and salsa and all that, but I don’t.”

That’s the best “no” I’ve heard in a while.

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This is the bhel mix I’ve been waiting for.

Chit chaat

I admit it. I have been lazy, American, uninterested these last ten years. 

Hindi and Gujarati words have driven dialogue and dining menus in my home for the last ten years. “Puri” “pani” “chaat” “mehti” “asafoetida””ghatia” “dahi” have been part and parcel of family conversations, but I am only just now trying to appreciate these words, understand how they fit together, meld them into menus through my own two hands.

This is the kind of revelation that belongs at the beginning of a blog, but here we go, better late than never. We are making chaat. This just dawned on meMumbai street food is not a bad, slangy shorthand for these street-corner delicacies. But when you’re googling recipes, buying groceries and talking up your kitchen endeavors, it’s good to know that this is chaat, many things are chaat, and the vocabulary, texture and flavors of chaat are to some degree interchangeable.

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Chaat. It has its own masala, its own vocabulary. Its own blogs! Here it’s seen with chutney, raw vatana, sev, red chili powder and banana chips.

 

So you’ve had bhel puri. It’s a chaat. You’ll recognize the mint and tamarind chutneys of bhel puri and ragda patties in subsequent chaat recipes. In a few hours, I’ll be boiling potatoes and dicing tomatoes for  sev puri. It’s primary difference from other puri-based chaats? Sev, and lots and lots of it. The potatoes can be dressed on their own, or joined with chickpeas as the sev puri base. From what I can tell, top the concoction with “curd” (that’s plain yoghurt) and it becomes dahi puri. 

But no need to take my word for it! Here’s some chaat chat from the experts at wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaat

I will leave you for now. My dad is here. He says he won’t read my blog. He’s not much of an “internet reader,” so I understand. So I’m going to make him sample the new mint-coriander chutney recipe I blended up last night. Chutney recipes. I need to post those. After trying to make it on my own with a coriander-only recipe, I have got to say it: use the mint. Recipes to follow. Sooner. Maybe later.

Chutney Challenged 101

Recently I was in Mumbai. It’s a fascinating, frustrating, bustling, busted-up, breaking-out kind of city. There’s so much going on, progress has been made, folks never stop eating, talking, giving you advice you never asked for and second-third helpings of food you never asked for. Mumbai also is dirty – monsoons, mega-population, corruption, infrastructure needs might help to explain the city’s gritty, dusty, weather-beaten look. I tried reading “Maximum City” about five years ago. It just did not go well, which says more about my attention span than about the quality of the book.

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Take all this as clear confession that I know very little of or about Mumbai. Thinking I would avoid passing down this ignorance to my own children, I gratefully purchased “366 Words in Mumbai,” a kids’ guide to Mumbai published by FunOkPlease. Pages 36-37 feature “Cuisine of Mumbai.” I had tried nearly every dish on the spread: dosas, ragda patties, pani puri and pav bhaji (!!!) to name a few. But make them? I couldn’t. I can’t. I would never…

…or would I? Oh yes I will. Hence, the name of this blog might become more meaningful to my reader (hi mom!). Last week I initiated my Chutney Challenge with a crowd-pleasing classic: bhel puri. “Bhel” rhymes with “whale.” “Puri” translates roughly to bread and rhymes with Suri (Cruise; sort of).

Bhel puri is colorful, versatile, and easy-enough to make and to eat. Here in the U.S., you might not find it on an Indian buffet or the menu of a pricey fusion restaurant. But in India you can find it anywhere: street corners in big cities, backroads in beachy southern towns, at your aunt’s place because your mother-in-law will tell every living relative from Mumbai to Madurai that her American daughter-in-law loves bhel puri. Then everybody makes it for you. This is a good thing, because nobody will let the American laughter-in-law buy bhel puri from vendors on the street or on the beach. For sanitation reasons, street food is not considered a wise choice for the western GI system. In an upcoming post, I will share with you my own experiences making, sharing and explaining bhel puri. Or you can just google some recipes. They’re out there. But I have shortcuts and funny musings to supplement my recipe. So maybe you’d best stick to the buffet for now and come back to Chutney Challenged in a day or so.

Tip: bhel puri pairs best with Corona Light.

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