Monday, May 9, 2016

Paani Poori

Damini comes for the weekend. On asking, she unhesitatingly tells me what she craves. Living in a dorm, with home being on another continent, her food memories set off aches and longings that I try to quench. On the menu is mutton, chicken, dal bhaat and ghee laden phulkas. I add a drumstick bhaji and a simple cauliflower. We talk about life in Pune with nostalgia...after all she has been away from home for nine months! It also happens to be my sister, Prassy's birthday. She has Damini's mum Reena over for chaat, the all encompassing snack genre in India. Her menu has paani poori. Not to be left behind we replicate the meal across the seven seas!

Chaat is the eponymous term for small snacks, eaten throughout the the day. They  comprise of pooris, chickpea flour noodles, potatoes, onions, tamarind chutneys, green chile chutneys, yogurt, herbs and spices, put together in a multitude of combinations. Every region in India has some territorial form of chaat. Paani poori is one such item, often sold on streets. Vendors set up carts, punch holes in pooris, stuff them with potatoes and sprouted mung beans, dip them in cool spicy mint flavored water and serve them in bowls made out of leaves. 

My spiced water recipe is adapted from one given to my mum by an old family friend, Sarla Sanghvi.  It is a quick blend of mint, green chiles, cloves, ginger, salt and pepper. Making pooris from scratch is redoubtably an uphill task, so store bought is a convenient option. Boiled and cubed potatoes, cooked sprouted mung beans and boondi or tiny chickpea flour balls are piled into pooris.  A teaspoon of sweet and sour chutney and a dunk in the spicy mint water results in a savory explosion in your mouth. Fair warning ..they are extremely addictive.

Serves 4

Mint Water
20 Mint leaves
4 Green Chiles 
2 thin Ginger Slices
10 Peppercorns 
4 Cloves
1 heaped teaspoon Black Salt or Kosher Salt 
2 teaspoons Amchur or Dried Mango powder
4 teaspoons Tamarind Paste
3-4 cups cold Water

2 packages of store bought puffy Pooris (30-40 pooris in each package)
2 Potatoes
1 cup Sprouted Mung Beans (see notes)
A few pinches of Kosher Salt 
1 cup Boondi (see notes)
1/2 cup Tamarind Chutney ( see notes)

Put mint, green chiles, ginger, peppercorns, cloves and black salt in a blender. Add a few tablespoons of water and blend till smooth. Scrape paste into a bowl.

Add amchur, tamarind paste and water to mint mix. Stir well and refrigerate for an hour.

Boil, peel and cut potatoes into 1/4 inch chunks. Season with salt.

Steam sprouts for 10-15 minutes. Season with salt.

Soak boondi in water for 10 minutes, then squeeze the water out, doing this with fistfuls of boondi. It should be soft and dry.

Arrange potatoes, sprouts and boondi on a platter.

Start assembling the pooris by poking a hole in the top of the poori. Your thumb is the best instrument. 

Stuff each poori with a little of potato, sprouts and boondi. Start with 2 or 3 pooris. If you do them all, they will get soggy.

Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of tamarind chutney into poori.

Dip poori in mint water till filled. Put the entire poori in your mouth. No small bites or else you will have a waterfall on your shirt. Alternately, you could put the mint water in a small bowl and spoon the water into the poori. Both ways lead to the same entire poori in your mouth!



Black Salt, amchur and tamarind paste are available at Indian grocery stores. You could use kosher salt if you cant find black salt.

You save yourself the effort of making the mint water and buy store bought paani poori mix. It comes in a jar or in powder form.

Paani poori are only found at Indian grocery stores. 

Sprouted mung beans are found in the refrigerated section in Indian grocery stores. These are not the huge, crisp Chinese mung beans but whole green beans with delicate sprouts. They can be sprouted at home by soaking them overnight, draining them in the morning and placing them in a container with a lid for 24-28 hours. They will develop small sprouts, depending on the warmth of the kitchen. The warmer the climate, the faster they sprout.

Boondi and tamarind chutney are also found in Indian grocery stores. Or make the recipe below.

Tamarind Chutney

1 cup Tamarind pulp
2 cups Water
1/2 cup Jaggery or Brown Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt.

Soak tamarind in water for 3 to 4 hours.
Squeeze pulp well and strain into a saucepan. You should have just the liquid. No pulp.
Add jaggery and salt and simmer on a medium flame for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
Store in a glass jar or plastic container in the fridge for up to a month.

Lunch is an industrious affair. The sounds of cracked pooris, the perfume of freshly ground mint and crunchy satisfaction fills the atmosphere. Everyone is intensely occupied, especially Damini, who silence echoes her penchant for chaat. Below lies the remnants of her lunch....