Years ago, a good friend of mine went travelling for many months in India. I had not travelled there yet myself, and when this friend returned he thoughtfully brought me the perfect gift…a story about food. He spun a tale about being served this odd and exciting crunchy, tangy, spicy, fresh salad like thing called Bhel-Poori. I was living in Queens at the time, where there are a lot of authentic, regional Indian restaurants. So I set about to find one that served this mysterious Bhel-Poori dish. I found it and I loved it. It is made from crisp rice puffs, little crunchy chick pea noodles and bits of poori (puffy fried bread) tossed with tomatoes, onions, mango, cilantro and two kinds of spicy chutney (tamarind chutney and green chutney). I can think of absolutely no comparable American dish. The closest thing I can think of would be if someone made a salad using check party mix…but that sounds awful…bhel poori is not awful…its delicious!
Years later, I finally travelled to India myself and spent part of the trip staying in the home of the beautiful and gracious Sangeeta Kumar. We did quite a lot of cooking, and somehow it came up that I loved Bhel-Poori, but that I had stopped eating it because I was not sure if it had gluten in it. Sangeeta called her mother to check if “The little numkeem things in Bhel-Poori were made from wheat flour”. Her mother said no, the crunchy things were sev (made from chick pea) but I should avoid the bits of poori (puffed bread made from wheat). Sangeeta’s mother also scolded her for feeding her guest junk food, so I feel that I should mention that in addition to showing me how to make Bhel-Poori, Sangeeta taught me how to make butter chicken, which is quite gourmet.
Bhel-Poori falls in to the category of “Indian dishes that are not typically served in restaurants in North America”, like Savoury Indian Dumpling Cake and Tiny Potatoes steamed in Fenugreek Greens and Butter. It also falls into the catagory of “tasty snacks that Erin likes but that some people might find a little bit gross” like jalapeno poppers, fried pickles and Pineapple and Ham Pizza.
Side note- I was recently introduced to the blog Edible Geography which has articles on such topics as the fine line between gross and gourmet food and street food in India. SO, obviously I’m obsessed with this blog right now and if you are still reading this post you might like it too! Here is the link!
Sangeeta and I had made Bhel-Poori from a mix, which I can actually get in NYC, but it comes complete with the bits of poori and I am really, really allergic to wheat. Now granted, Bhel-Poori is not really the kind of food that one eats for their health, but my reaction to wheat is bad enough that it even ruins the fun of eating junk food. I can pick the poori out, but it’s still probably going to make me sick. SO I got it in my head recently to make it from scratch, without the poori. This project required a major trip to the Indian Market, but it satisfied my craving for. I found one ready-made bhel-mix that used corn flakes instead of poori and it worked really well!
BHEL-POORI WITHOUT POORI (GLUTEN-FREE)
- 1 cup sev noodles
- 1/2 cup puffed rice
- 1/4 cup corn flakes
- 1/4 cup roasted shelled peanuts
- 1/3 cup chopped onion (I like to rinse them under cold water to take the bite out)
- 1/3 cup diced tomato
- 1/3 cup diced mango (green would be more authentic, but mine was ripe)
- 1/3 cup green coriander chutney (store-bought or use the recipe below)
- 1/3 cup tamarind chutney (store-bought or use the recipe below or sweet and tangy fruit chutney)
- fresh hot green chilies, minced (optional or to taste)
- a handful of fresh cilantro for garnish
- Combine the sev, puffed rice, corn flakes and peanuts in a large bowl and set aside
- Prep all of the chutneys and chop all of the fruit, vegetables and herbs.
- Combine the dry and wet ingredients and serve it right away or it will get soggy!
- about 2 cups total packed cilantro and mint leaves, roughly chopped
- about 1/3 cup water
- 2 or 3 hot green chilies, roughly chopped
- 1 or 2 slices of fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- The juice of 1/2 lemon (1 or 2 Tablespoons)
- salt to taste
- Process all of the ingredients in a blender into a fine puree
- 4 oz tamarind pulp
- 2 and 1/2 cups boiling water
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon dry ginger
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoon ground roasted cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (if you like sweet chutney you should double this)
- 1/4 cup pitted dates, chopped
- Soak the tamarind in the hot water for half an hour. Strain the liquid, squeezing and mashing the pulp to get as much out as possible.
- Combine the tamarind liquid with the other ingredients and process in a blender until smooth.
- Adjust the seasonings.
9 Comments Add yours
Oh Erin, thankyou!! Thankyou!! I haven’t had Bhel Poori in years and you’ve jolted my memory and greed. I ate it in Mumbai for the very first time. It’s not typically South Indian at all, so I didn’t come across it at home or in Kerala. It is, as you say, incomparable. The closest thing it comes for me, in essence, are thai salads which have the same principle of sweet, sour, salty etc. I am desperate to make this and all the ingredients are down on my shopping list.
With regards to the tamarind chutney (one of the best in my opinion, you can’t have a samosa without it! ) I make a much simpler one using tamarind paste, cumin and sugar, but I am curious about the one you’ve gone for, so shall be using that too.
So much of my contact with Indian food has been through your blog! And I quite like the fact that I am being educated by an American about my cuisine! There’s is a touch of poetic spice to it. 🙂
Ha! That is amazing! Indian cuisine is just so vast and varied isn’t it? It would be impossible to become familiar with all of it. Someday I will go live there for a spell and really indulge my obsession with it!
I am happy that you like bhel-poori as much as I do. The comparison to Thai salads is an apt one. I love those too!
It is very much so and within the states itself, the differences are tremendous. Kerala is one of the smallest but there is clear division in style between the north and south of the state. Mumbai is, I am ashamed to say, as ‘north’ as I have travelled. I am clueless about the richer, more Persian influenced Indian curries that have become so familiar in Indian restaurants the world over.
Now, when are you going to do a show and tell about butter chicken, then? 🙂
I’ll have to get permission from Sangeeta. It is her family recipe!
Just remembered…its been SEVENTEEN years since I had Bhel Poori. What a waste!