Pining for Poori

It’s official. My kids miss their dadi.

She wears the saris in the family, normally. She makes the chutneys. She’s not a curry person, not really. But shaak, roti, puri, ragda, raita, ras mail, vada? Yes, she will make that, invite you over and pack your leftovers in a recycled yogurt (or margarine) container.

My MIL has been in India for several months, now. Hence my interest in getting cooking ASAP and starting this blog. After all the richness of Kodaikanal kuisine and the Udupi restaurants in King’s Circle, I couldn’t wait twelve weeks for more.

But my kids feel quite differently. They want bread. Plain, no shaak. Especially my skinny 8-year-old, about whom I often joke: “He’s all hair and teeth and eyelashes.” If he wants to eat something friend in oil, I call Crisco immediately.

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A bhatura as big as your head.

This brings me to poori: puffy Indian flat bread. A bread can be both puffy and flat when it is first fried in hot, not boiling, oil. After a few seconds it swells, proud as a puffer-fish, from a smooth ball of whole-wheat dough into a golden ball that glistens and shimmers with tiny, raised dots. It’s a mild-tasting but richly textured bread that doesn’t need to taste like much because, really, it’s an accessory. The cook will put it on your plate when it’s still so hot that the poori stings your fingertips. Still, you eat. Over time, if you get proficient, you can tear a piece of poori with one hand and then use that same hand to scoop sautéed vegetables (probably a cauliflower, pea, potato, tomato medley) into the scrap of bread and pop it into your mouth. No questions asked, no shaak spilled, no utensils required.

The bread flattens as it cools, fading from its hot, glossy golden glow to a floppy, flat slightly greyish visage. On the outside, the poori looks not quite like itself, but still it tastes good. Just lacks some of its wheaty and chewy intensity and former good looks. This is a metaphor for nothing.

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A feast fit for a raja: peanuts, poori and root beer.

My skinny guy just loves the stuff. Yet for a recipe with just 3-4 ingredients, poori can be difficult to execute successfully. Still, after a recent trip to the neighborhood Indian restaurant where poori retails for .75/each, I knew I had to try and DIY the p-o-o-r-i. Especially after my son made a meal of poori and peanuts. It was time.

In my next entry, I’ll discuss how my poori (didn’t) turn out.

In the meantime, learn from someone who knows what the heck she is doing!

Yes, I’m talking about Manjula: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3xLk13j5r0

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.

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