July 30, 2012

Puchka - Kolkata style

Kolkata is known for its sweets and its hard-to-miss sandesh shops at almost every corner. The rest are practically taken over by street food vendors a.k.a the neighborhood Puchka wallas and 4th generation Jhal-muri wallas. Of all the street food Kolkata is famous for - Jhal-muri, Radha-Vallabhi, Kulfi, Pyaji, Beguni and even Kati Rolls, Puchka wins hands down. A trio of textures unite to result in a mouth watering delight called the Puchka. It comprises of a crunchy semolina puri with soft potato filling dipped in tangy sweet mint water.

Almost every part of India has its variation of this street food, made with its slight twist and known by a different name. Its called 'Gol-gappey' in Delhi, 'Pani puri' or 'Gup-chup' in Gujarat-Maharashtra and ofcourse, 'Puchka' in Kolkata. I've had long, almost heated debates in my hostel room with friends from Delhi and Mumbai who claimed that the Delhi Gol-gappey or the Mumbai Pani puri tasted better than Kolkata Puchkas. Having tried all the variations - I think the Kolkata Puchkas are the best! My mom even made the puchka puris at home. She always made a Jain version for Baa using raw bananas instead of potatoes for the filling - Strangely, the Jain version was always more appealing to me. I tried to make a slightly healthier version of her recipe by replacing part of the potato filling with green bananas/ plantains. Here it goes -
Potatoes and plantain for the filling

Serves: 4 persons
Preparation time: 30 minutes

30-40 puchka puris (mine were store bought)
2 large potatoes, boiled
1 plantain, boiled
1/2 cup black chick peas/ lal chana, boiled
1/4 tsp rock salt
1 tsp roasted cumin powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
Mint leaves
1/4 cup coriander leaves, chopped
Spicy water
4-5 cups water
1-2 tsp tamarind pulp
1 cup mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup coriander leaves, chopped
2 green chillies
2 tsp cumin powder
1-2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp rock salt
2 tbsp date-tamarind chutney (optional)

1. Filling
  • Mash the potatoes and plantains together in a medium sized bowl. Ensure that there are no lumps of potato or plantain. Sometimes, I grate the potatoes for a more even texture. 
  • Add the remaining spices and salt to taste and mix well. 
  • Add the black chick peas and coriander leaves and mix again. Set aside.
2. Spicy water
Soaking tamarind pulp in water
  • Soak tamarind in a large bowl with 4-5 cups of water for 15-20 minutes. 
  • In a blender, add mint, coriander and green chillies with salt and blend into a paste. 
  • Add some of the tamarind water, cumin powder, red chilli powder, rock salt and blend. Taste before you add salt, because the rock salt and tamarind add saltiness to the mixture. 
  • Now, add this mint-coriander paste to the remaining tamarind water and mix well. Refrigerate till ready to serve. If you want a sweet-tangy taste, add the date-tamarind chutney. I usually leave it out, and add it while eating.
Spicy mint water
3.  Serving (or eating!)
  • Make a 1/2 inch hole on one of the sides of the puchka puri. Fill a teaspoon of the potato filling.
  • Add a drop or two of the date-tamarind chutney. 
  • Dip the potato filled puri in a bowl of spiced water and serve or eat immediately!! 
Puchka- Kolkata style
Bon Apetit!
Hetal from Houston

July 4, 2012

Beetroot Halva

As a child I relished the sweet taste of steamed beets and loved the magenta hue much more! It was my 'lipstick' - would often pester Mom or Baa to cut a slice of beetroot such that I could hold it between my little fingers like a real 'lipstick' and paint my face all over. :)
I know now that beetroots are a wonderful source of potassium, magnesium, folic acid and iron as well as vitamins A, B6 and C.
I made a super simple beetroot halva for some friends after a Biryani dinner. Enjoy it with little less guilt, coz also good for you! ;) Here it goes.

Serves: 6-8 persons
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cook time: 30 mins

3 large beetroots, grated (about 3 cups)
14 oz. sweetened low fat condensed milk
1 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed
1 tbsp clarified butter/ ghee
1/2 cup chopped nuts (cashews, almonds, pistachios etc)
1/2 cup raisins

  • Heat a large thick bottomed skillet, add ghee. Once warm, add cardamom seeds to infuse the aromatic flavor of the cardamom throughout the halva.
  • Add grated beetroots and saute till softened.
Grated beetroots sautéed in ghee
  • Add condensed milk and stir occasionally till the beets cook completely and turn slightly glossy - about 25-30 minutes. Most of the moisture would have evaporated by then. Note - The halva will thicken further as it cools.
  • Fold in the raisins and nuts. 
  • Garnish with nuts and serve. It can be served hot or chilled. 
Beetroot Halva
Notes: Condensed milk can be substituted by milk and sugar to taste. To make it richer, cashew paste or  khoya could also be added. 

Bon Apetit!
Hetal from Houston