Pooris and bhaji, another very popular Indian meal combination, is also comfort food at its best. How can every bite of a spicy potato curry wrapped in deep fried dough be anything else? Pooris are an Indian deep-fried whole wheat flatbread about the size of a largish cookie. The word “bhaji” typically means vegetable and this case refers to the spicy potato preparation that the pooris are eaten with. Pooris can be eaten with chole (spicy chickpeas), dal (lentil preparations or shrikhand (sweetend yogurt cheese), but is something special with spicy potatoes. My daughter used to love eating her pooris with sambhar (this is not considered a “normal” combination) as a child but she seems to have outgrown this preference.
Pooris are originally a north Indian food, but the poori and bhaji combo is something that has travelled the length and breadth of India and stayed on everywhere it has gone. So you can find it almost every part of the country though you might not recognise it when it is referred to as “Bhoori” in some parts of the south! Call it what you will, but I am yet to meet someone who does not like poori bhaji!
Pooris are usually eaten for breakfast, lunch as they can be a bit heavy at dinner time. Traditionally, the rice growing and eating southern part of India, does not consider anything but rice to be “proper” lunch/ dinner, so pooris used to be served only at breakfast there.
Again, like popular food preparations across the world, everyone has their own special way of cooking the potato bhaji. Generally in the north on would find it cooked with spices like cumin and coriander powders, garlic and lots of fresh coriander. In the south, it is commonly cooked with mustard seeds, ginger, asafetida and plenty of curry leaves. Depending on personal preference, the potato bhaji can be a dry preparation or like a stew with some gravy. Some people cook it with onions and tomatoes and some without.
I remember another type of potato bhaji from the train journeys of my childhood. In those days, travelling by train was a bit of an adventure. Unlike nowadays, those trips to anywhere took a minimum of a day. I recollect a trip from Calicut (Kerala) to Mumbai used to take us almost 3 days and 2 nights while today it takes about a day. Of course, we used to travel as a family and carried our “bed rolls” and enough food and water to feed an army. Feed a small army it did, as food was invariably shared with fellow passengers who almost became family for the length of the journey. Food bought out at the stations was considered unhygienic and anyone who had to resort to that was to be pitied!
So, for us children, eating on the station was a treat and a bit of an adventure because it was almost never done. Pooris and potato bhaji was one of what I like to think of as “station foods” in those days. That bhaji had no onions, garlic or any spices beyond mustard seeds, turmeric and salt, and loads of green chillies and fresh green coriander. It had a watery gravy which was from mashing some of the potatoes in the bhaji, and was not one of my favourites.
Here is how I cook my potato bhaji. If I have green peas on hand I like to add some, just enough to add some colour to the bhaji. Use this as a guideline, if you do not have your own favourite aloo bhaji recipe and then tweak it to suit your taste. This combination also makes an excellent brunch.
There are many different kinds of pooris and this one is the basic and regular kind which is made of just wheat flour. There is a Bengali version called luchis which are made with all-purpose flour which we find much tastier. People will tell you whole wheat flour is better than all-purpose flour, but I think once both are in hot oil, the difference is really nothing much health-wise!
3 cups whole wheat flour (atta)
2 tsp oil
1 tsp salt
enough water to bind the dough
oil for deep-frying
You can do this by hand or in the food processor. See this excellent video on how to make pooris before you proceed.
Mix the flour, oil, salt and enough water to make a reasonably stiff dough. The dough should be soft enough to roll our without needing to dust it with flour. Let the dough rest for about half an hour.
There are two reasons for the dough being stiff. The first is that if it is softer, you would need to use flour and when frying the pooris, the excess flour will settle in the oil and burn causing the pooris to get coated with black specks. The second reason is that the pooris would absorb more oil and become greasy. A good poori should barely show traces of oil on itself, after being deep-fried.
Heat the oil for deep-frying in a wok. Use just enough oil win which the poori can be comfortably submerged. The oil should be just hot enough for small piece of dough to rise up when dropped into the oil, without turning too brown.
Knead the dough a few times till smooth and pinch off largish walnut sized portions. Roll each into a smooth ball. Lightly oil both your rolling pin and surface on which you will roll out the pooris. Roll each ball into a flat circle about 3” to 3 1/2” in diameter (should be slightly thicker than a chappathi; if it too thin it won’t puff up).
When the oil is hot enough, gently slide the poori into the oil, along the side of the wok. Using a slotted spoon, gently press down the poori when it rises up. Also use the slotted spoon to ladle some of the oil over the poori. Once the poori has puffed up, turn it over so the other side is also golden brown. Once the poori is uniformly browned, remove it from the oil and drain on kitchen towels. Repeat with all the remaining pooris.
If the oil is too hot the pooris will not puff up and become flat, crisp and very brown. If the oil is not hot enough the pooris will not puff up and will be very greasy.
Serve the pooris warm. Makes 25 to 30 pooris
Aloo Bhaji (Spicy Potato Curry)
8 biggish potatoes
1/3 cup green peas (optional)
1 1/2” piece ginger, minced
2 medium sized onions
2 small tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp oil
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida
2 sprigs curry leaves
2 to 3 green chillies, slit lengthwise
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
salt to taste
I always cook my potatoes (and peas when I use them) before I start making my bhaji. You can steam cook them or microwave them as I do, and then cut them up into largish pieces. Mash one potato very well, to use to thicken the bhaji.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When the splutter, add the cumin seeds and the asfetida. Stir once or twice (take care that the asafoetida doesn’t burn) and add the ginger and sauté for a couple of minutes. Now add the onions and sauté till they become transparent. Now add the tomatoes and cook till they become soft.
Add the turmeric, cumin and coriander powders and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes (mashed one too), peas, green chillies and the curry leaves. Add 3/4 cup (or a little more later if the gravy is too thick) water and salt and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and using your spatula break down some of the bigger potato pieces into slightly smaller pieces. Cook for a bout 5 to 10 minutes till it all comes together with a little gravy.
Take it off the heat and stir in the chopped fresh coriander. Serve hot with the pooris and shrikhand (sweetened yogurt cheese, available in Indian stores) or aamras (sweet thick mango pulp). The combination of spicy and sweet/ hot and cold with the pooris is something else!
This recipe serves 4 to 5.
Before I end this post I want to mention two things. The first is that living with a wife who has been blogging food for 3 years seems to have made my husband decide to “join me if he can’t beat me at it”! Or else he’s been bitten by the “blogging” bug. Either way, he has started writing a blog which he calls Yours Tentatively.
He’s an academic and so writing comes naturally to him, and let me assure you that not all of it is the boring stuff (to some of us) of research literature and journals. While here, I provide you all with food for the body and the eye, his writing is more of the “food for thought” variety. Do go over, take a look, and if you think that what he writes is the kind of thing you would like to read, please follow his blog.
The other thing is that plagiarism has reared its ugly head again! I just wrote my last post about this when Lata discovered one of food photographs on a site called FoodFetish on Facebook. You will notice that I have not linked to this page and that is because I refuse to link to such a disgraceful person/ site! I complained to Facebook and got my photograph removed when I discovered another one of mine there today. I have also noticed that over 80% of the food photographs on that site and its page on Facebook are from blogs or food sites. Would you believe this page on Facebook has 4298 people who “like” it?
Do take a look and see if your photograph has made it there. I know it means an increase in traffic to that site, but there’s no way to avoid that. If more people complain, perhaps that person can be brought to book.