I love to see the widened eyes of unsuspecting guests and students who trust me well enough to open their mouths wide upon command, as I shove in, communion style, a 1- to 2-inch round poori, filled with garbanzo beans and hot-sweet-tart-cool water. I serve the poori in such a fashion because I don’t want them to ponder at the marvelous liquid in a delicate shell even a mere second, as the shell will cave in with the watery weight, creating a mess in their hands. This Indian street food is also a one-bite deal, as the vendor pokes a hole in the poori with his finger and dunks it into his unglazed matka (pot) to fill it with the spiked water, transferring the inviting mouthful to your individual plate in one sweeping motion. No, he does not feed you, as you are supposed to know how to eat it, especially if you are brave (or foolish) enough to trust the dubious water source as the filling’s base in that earthen pot of his. Now, my water source is safe, so you can trust my priestly way of feeding you.
- 2 cups refrigerated cold water
- 1/2 cup sweet-tart tamarind-date sauce (recipe follows)
- 1/4 cup mint-yogurt sauce with chiles (recipe follows)
- 2 teaspoons chaat masala (store-purchased)
- 30 round hollow shells (paani poori/gol gappa pooris) (store-purchased)
- 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
Pour the water into a pitcher or a large enough measuring cup to accommodate all that liquid. Add the two sauces and the chaat masala. Whisk well to mix the potent concoction. You will need to stir before you fill each poori as the flavors tend to settle at the bottom of the pitcher rather quickly.
Poke a finger-thick hole in each poori’s surface to allow the beans and water to fill its inner hollow space. Working with one poori at a time, cup it in the palm of one hand and with the forefinger of the other hand, gently tap into the wispy thin surface (akin to a woodpecker pecking, albeit without the steadfast force), letting the crumbs and small pieces fall in. Repeat with the remaining shells and place them in a single layer on a serving platter.
Just before you serve it, stuff each poori with 4 to 5 garbanzo beans. You can instruct everyone to fill their own. To show them how to eat it, stir the spiked water before filling the poori up to the brim. Immediately pop the entire shell into your mouth to experience a gush of flavored water, akin to a dam gate that flew open, forcing water through that narrow opening with unrestrained force.
If you are using canned beans, make sure you drain and rinse off the brine before use. Also, get all the water completely drained off before you stuff the shells with the beans.
For a more profound impact, heat the oven to 350 F (no, that’s not the shocking part). Place the pooris, after you poke a hole in each, on a dry cookie sheet. Bake them in the oven until they are warm to touch and become crispier, about 5 minutes. Be careful to not leave them in too long, as they can turn black and unpalatable within mere minutes. This crispier shell has a crunchier collapse and a warm contrast to the ice-cold spicy water within.
If the water is too chile-heavy for you, add more of the sweet-tart sauce to create your own balance.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
This chutney along with the Mint Yogurt Sauce with Chiles is a staple in many a Mumbai vendor’s cart. You can even make a double batch and keep half of it frozen. When it is 6 p.m. in Mumbai and 4:30 a.m. in the United States and you get a craving to re-live your experience at the street corner by Chowpatty Beach, thaw out your chutney and whip up this street food favorite.
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
- 1 1/2 cups chopped seedless dates
- A pinch of ground red pepper (cayenne)
- A pinch of coarse sea salt
In 1-quart saucepan, whisk the water and tamarind until the tamarind dissolves. Add remaining ingredients and heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium and simmer uncovered 4 to 6 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from stove and cool, 5 to 10 minutes.
Transfer to blender and puree until smooth. Refrigerate in a glass, plastic or stainless steel container (the highly acidic tamarind will react with certain metals) for up to a week or freeze for up to a month.
Tamarind concentrate is available in plastic jars in Indian, Latin, Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores. The ethnic section of certain supermarkets and natural food stores also stocks this tart ingredient. It is not necessary to store the concentrate in the refrigerator, but if so inclined, by all means, do so!
Fresh dates are delicious in this recipe. Most of the gourmet varieties from the Middle East are available with pits. The pits are long and narrow and are easy to remove. Pry the date apart with your hands or a paring knife and pull out the seed. I prefer Medjool for its cloying sweetness. About 15 medium-size dates will yield the amount you need for the recipe.
Makes 1/2 cup
One of the essential sauces in the world of street foods, this condiment is also great as a potent dip for your potato chip.
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1/2 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon plain yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 6 fresh green Thai, cayenne or serrano chiles, stems removed
- 1 piece (2 inches long by 1 inch wide by 1/8 inch thick) fresh ginger
Pour the water into a blender jar. Pile in the remaining ingredients. Puree, scraping the insides of the jar as needed, to a smooth, bright green sauce.
Transfer this minty-hot sauce to a lidded jar or container. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to a month.