Growing up in Bombay, it was hard to miss the delicious flavor of Udupi restaurants, which dot the city (and now other parts of the country and the world), serving fast food that is vegetarian, reasonably priced, incredibly tasty and even healthy.
Udupi restaurants came to be known as such because they were, at least in the beginning, run by people from Udupi in Karnataka, a beautiful coastal state in the South of India. While the restaurants served a lot of popular south Indian dishes, like idli-wada sambar, masala dosa and uttapam, they also often catered to more diverse tastes with dishes like cheese sandwiches (slices of white bread around thick slabs of Amul cheese: remember that one?), vegetable pulao and ragda patties which are potato cakes served in a chunky, spicy pea sauce. Yum.
In a time long past, after a hard day’s work, Desi and I would sometimes congregate with friends at Kamat’s, one of a popular chain of Udupi restaurants in Bombay. This particular restaurant, completely unpretentious with steel-topped, easy-to-clean tables and matter-of-fact waiters, sat close to the Sterling Cinema which always showed Hollywood movies. On Friday nights, we’d often combine a quick but hearty meal at Kamat’s with a night show of whatever was showing at Sterling. At midnight, after the show, we’d dash to make it to one of the last local trains chugging out of Victoria Terminus.
Those were the days.
Even now, when I visit Bombay, I make a beeline for Udupi restaurants when I eat out because I know for sure that’s one place I can always count on to find a delicious vegan meal.
One of my favorite meals at Kamat’s was Chana Bhatura. Or maybe it was called Cholay Bhatura. Chana or cholay would both refer to garbanzo beans or chickpeas. The beans would be served steaming in a red sauce alongside a big, puffy puri, or a bhatura, which is a delicious deep-fried bread. It was bliss to poke a hole in the bhatura and watch it deflate before you could tear it with your fingers, dunk it into the cholay, and bite into it.
This past week, Desi, who is — to put it simply– nuts about puris, was begging me to make some. I try to limit them because they are, after all, deep-fried, but I gave in this time, partially because I just found this bag of whole-wheat chapati flour in my local Indian grocery store during my last visit which takes some of the guilt out of eating even puris.
Because I’d been dying to make some cholay as well, I decided I’d make bhaturas instead of puris. A bhatura, besides being larger and thicker, has some yogurt or potatoes mixed into the dough, whereas a regular puri would just incorporate flour, oil, salt and water. The potatoes and yogurt give the bhatura a more tender and flakier texture.
My bhaturas were smaller than those I remember from Kamat’s, partly because the cast-iron pan I use for all my deep-frying is rather a small one. Also, the bhaturas, although flaky and crisp, didn’t swell up as well as puris usually do, perhaps because of the potatoes which made the dough just a little harder to roll.
I added a chipotle chili in adobo sauce to the chana– it is not a traditional ingredient but I thought the smoky flavor would do well with the spicy chana. And indeed it did. I loved it, but if you don’t have any or would rather not use it, feel free to leave it out.
For the Chana or cholay:
1 cup garbanzo beans or chickpeas, soaked overnight if possible, the cooked until tender. If using canned, use about 3 cups of the beans
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 large red onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 canned whole tomatoes with juice, diced
1 chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce, minced
1/2 tsp red chilli powder or cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
Grind to a powder in a coffee grinder and set aside:
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
2 cardamom pods
1/2-inch piece of cinnamon
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until browned
Add the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute.
Add the ground spices, turmeric, chili powder and the chipotle chili pepper and stir for a minute until the spices are well-coated with the oil and lightly toasted.
Add the tomatoes and cook until they break down and express the oil.
Add the garbanzo beans, enough liquid to make a thick gravy, and stir together. Add salt to taste.
Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, and simmer about 10 minutes so all the flavors can merge.
Turn off the heat and garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve hot with a splash of lemon juice. You can also add a garnish of minced onions which would be delicious.
For the Bhatura:
2 cups whole wheat durum flour (use regular whole wheat if you can’t find this)
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 potato, boiled and mashed
1/2 cup soy yogurt
Place all the ingredients in a bowl. Using water, if necessary, knead into a smooth dough. Set aside for about 15 minutes at least.
Divide the dough into 1-inch balls and roll into circles, about 5-6 inches in diameter.
Heat oil in a frying pan. It should be at least an inch deep.
When the temperature reaches 375 degrees, place one of the bhaturas into the oil, taking care to put it down away from you. Be very careful because you’re dealing with boiling oil here!
Push down the bhatura with the ladle until bubbles start to appear in the surface. This should take just a few seconds. When the bhatura puffs up, turn it over and fry the other side for a few more seconds until golden brown.
Serve immediately with the chana.