Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bhel-Puri: A chat-pata stroll down the Memory lane

The past couple of weeks had been a little too busy for me. In the past weeks, I decided to get my rusty, nerdy skill sets certified and put to professional use after squandering it on my kids and home for almost a decade now. I was hoping it all was rusted to a junk (my studying skills, that is) but to my surprise, I found them intact plus actually using my brain and focus for something other than Mommy duty, indeed refreshed me and made me feel Alive!. But all this adjustments to the new schedule actually put MMP in the back seat, and I feel as guilty as ignoring a child of mine (which MMP is, in more ways than one.)
So here, I am, back and resolving to distribute my attention fairly and attempting a feat at Super-Woman-dom (is that even a word???)
Yesterday, I made one of my favorite treats we make occasionally around here---Bhelpuri.
Its this delicious and cheap road Snack sold in the streets of Mumbai, a mixed wonder of tiny fried gram tidbits, puffed rice and the essential chat trio of onions, green chilies and cilantro. Depending on which vendor you buy it from, you will also get additions like fried split grams (chana), peanuts and/or tomato in your bhel.
Essentially, the main ingredient in Bhel Puri is Puffed Rice. Puffed Rice is made by heating rice kernels under high pressure in the presence of steam somewhat similar to how pop-corn is made. The resulting fluffy little popped grain, is called Churmure or Kurmure in Mumbai (Marathi/ Hindi) and Pori in Malayalam. It falls under one of the Noble, pure foods and is served as offerings in many Hindu Temples.
Bhelpuri, in Mumbai Chat-houses are offered in two variations; Dry and Wet.
The dry one is usually mixed with a blend of Nylon Sev (the thinnest variety of Gram flour string fries), fried or roasted spiced chana (split grams), some onion-green chili-cilantro mix which is chopped superfine, and a special chat spice mix.
The wet one is a more filling variety, with all these ingredients and in addition, with a customized blend of the three essential chat chutneys (mint-green chili, tamarind and garlic-red chili). Both these favorites are served with a flat round puri or crisp fried flatbread used to scoop up the bhel and eat or to be saved until the very end to calm the burning tastebuds (from all those chopped chilies).
Bhelpuri was an unforgettable part of my childhood as a kid. I and my younger brother, used to wait for this particular "Chatwallah" or the Guy who sold his chats door to door, carrying a makeshift bamboo table and a huge aluminum basket, open on one side (his), and closed to us, curious kiddos on our side. Inside was various ingredients (think chopped onions, Sev, peanuts etc in plastic bags, some dry and the wet ones in stainless steel jars (like fresh chutneys). At the request, he would take a piece of newspaper or magazine page, roll it into a cone, and mix the bhel puri right there, mixing fresh ingredients from the bags; accepting the money and handing us the cone, filled with the savory treat. The portion would be just perfect for a snack, and after we finished it, it would leave us satisfied and craving for more at the same time. The guy used our 5th floor apartment stair landing to catch a break, since breezes were always cool there, and pretty clean thanks to my Mom and like-minded, Clean neighbors. On hot days, he would have water from our house (which made us pretty important at that age) and replenish his chopped raw mangoes, onions etc by chopping up some more for his almost empty bags. Obviously, there were a lot of kids in those homes he sold his Chats in, because the Chatwallah soon started renting a store in a good location, where he could work in the comfortable interiors and didnt have to lug his heavy wares around to make a sale.
Over the years, we have never stopped stopping by the store and ordering a couple chaats for us and then some to take home, and enjoy the tangy, sweet and hot flavors, and spending a few minutes going back in time.
The Home-made version, which we still haven't stopped working on (obviously, since it will never be the same), but on days when we crave for a little bit of home, in a land far away from the simple pleasures we had as children, these imitations which come a little close, do the work for us!
I usually get the Kurmure,  fried chana dal, chaat masala, nylon Sev and peanuts from the Indian Grocery Store. Though I profess Home Cooking, these ingredients are just not worth making from scratch, and hence an exception. In this case, Mass produced & Vacuum Packed = Better.
Makes 4 generous portions.

1 small onion, chopped finely
2-3 green chilies, chopped finely
2 stalks of cilantro chopped finely
1 medium tomato, not too ripe, de-seeded, chopped finely and patted dry  (optional)

1 tsp chaat masala (Everest or MDH brand)
1 pinch sugar

1 tbsp split, roast, salted peanuts
1 cup nylon Sev
2-3 tbsp fried chana dal
4 cups of puffed rice/ kurmure

lemon wedges
Flat round puris (optional)


First, mix together the first 4 (onion, chilies, cilantro & tomatoes) ingredients, then add the next two (chaat masala & sugar)and blend well. Keep aside. These are your wet ingredients.
In a large bowl, mix together the next  four dry ingredients and mix well to distribute evenly throughout.
When you are ready to serve, mix together the dry bhel mix to 2-3 tbsp of the wet ingredients, and serve a puri and a lemon wedge on top to be squeezed on to the bhel by the eater.
Once the wet ingredients, get to the dry ingredients, eat it immediately, as puffed rice has a great affinity for water and lose their crunch in no time.
But from experience, I assure you, these babies never last that long. ;-)

Mamma's Note:-
1. Making Geela Bhel (aka Wet Bhel puri) is made the same way, but is served with the three different Chat Chutneys: Tamarind & Date, Spicy Green Chili with Cilantro and Mint, and Red Chilli Garlic chutneys).
2. I have covered the Chaat Chutneys in my older post Aaloo Chaat from last year. Click on the link to get to the Chutnney Recipes at the bottom.
3. One good way of presentation would be to serve wet, dry and chutneys separate so that everyone can customize theirs to their liking. The eat immediately rule applies in this version too!


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