Poori Bhaji

Puri Bhaji

Poori Bhaji(puri bhaji) is about as delicious as Indian food gets: and by that I mean pick-your-fingernails-with-your-teeth-to-devour-every-last-crumb delicious.

This is pure comfort food: the kind that gets made at every festive occasion in an Indian kitchen, no matter where in the world that kitchen is. The kind that kids carry to picnic lunches, the oil from the poori making transparent blotches on the newspaper it’s wrapped in. And the kind I feel like eating when I will settle for nothing short of pure perfection at the dinner table.

It wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say that there are perhaps as many versions of Poori Bhaji as there are Indian cooks. Although the poori, or the puffy, deep-fried bread, remains more or less the same except the addition of spices in some cases, the bhaji, or the vegetable component, varies drastically. It’s almost always made with potatoes but everyone puts their own delicious spin on the versatile spud: gravied, dry, spicy, mild, tangy with lemon, or alive with the spicy pungency of curry leaves.

Poori Bhaji

When I lived in Bombay, one of the most popular places to go to if you were craving a plate of Poori Bhaji was Pancham Puriwala, a famously crowded and unpretentious dhaba/restaurant that sits not far from the grand Victoria Terminus railway station. According to Busybee, the now-dead but still-entertaining chronicler of Bombay’s eateries, it predates the British-era VT building and was started by an immigrant from Agra in north India who singlehandedly cooked and sold his Poori Bhaji more than 150 years ago.

The Pancham I was familiar with had grown into a much bigger establishment, but it still sold nothing but poori bhaji. Hundreds of people who worked around the busy Fort area would pour into the restaurant for lunch. It was — if I remember correctly– a salt-of-the-earth establishment with hardy wooden tables flanked by long benches. There’d be some pickles at the center of the table to spice up the meal. The place was intensely noisy and crowded and hot and humid — a microcosm of the city itself– but you could be sure to get your order fast from one of the skinny, super-efficient waiters for a truly nominal price.

I loved the atmosphere, but I never really acquired the taste and fascination for Pancham Puriwala that some of my friends had– perhaps because I had tasted better in my mom’s kitchen.

We Maharashtrians tend to make a dryer version of the potato bhaji– at my parents’ house, the Bhaji was always an ultra-simple, yellow-hued delicacy specked with the green fire of fresh chillies, the lemony bite of coriander, and the smokiness of cumin seeds. It was a dish you couldn’t help but love.

Yesterday, browsing through some of my favorite blogs, I came upon Miri’s post on Poori Bhaji. Just looking at the picture made me salivate. I drove home from work a woman with a mission: Poori Bhaji it had to be for dinner. I knew Desi would agree, too happily.

I’ve posted a detailed tutorial on making pooris before, so I am just going to send you to that link. And my bhaji is a slight variation of the one my family made: instead of adding the curry leaves whole, and then discarding them as some people do, I chop them into small bits and saute them along with the onions because I love how they complement the potatoes in each bite. And I also mash my potatoes a little because that way they are perfect to scoop up with the pooris.

Here it is, a recipe that can make any day– however humdrum– just a little more special. Enjoy! Poori Bhaji

Batata Bhaji
 
Author:
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Indian
Ingredients
  • 5 medium potatoes, boiled in their jackets and diced. (I prefer russet for these because they mash better, but I had a couple of russet and a few red potatoes yesterday, so I just used a combination. Back home my mom always peeled the potato skin but don’t do that-- most of the nutrients in the potato sit right under the skin so by peeling the potato you will turn this healthy veggie into a blob of tasty but starchy nothingness-- well, almost.)
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 green chillies, like serrano, minced 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 10-15 curry leaves, chopped
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup coriander leaves
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a skillet.
  2. Add the cumin seeds and asafetida. When the seeds sputter, add the onions and curry leaves and green chillies and saute until the onion turns transparent, about five minutes on medium heat.
  3. Add the ginger and turmeric and saute a few more seconds. Add the potatoes and stir them in to combine with the oil and spices.
  4. Mash down the potatoes with a potato masher or a heavy ladle so some of the pieces break up but others remain mostly intact. You want the potatoes to start turning slightly golden and crusty at the bottom of the pan.
  5. Add salt and lemon juice and mix well. Garnish with the coriander seeds or, if you like, some grated coconut.

Enjoy with hot, puffy pooris. Find that recipe here.

**
We spent the Christmas weekend in the quiet, friendly city of Saint Louis and then in Springfield, Missouri, where Desi’s sister (who lives in Madras) is visiting with her son. I live in the capital city of monuments and I never thought I’d fall in love with another one but the Gateway Arch absolutely fascinated me with its silk-steel grace. They say the arch changes its look with the seasons and time of day. Although it was dark and damp and snowing for most of our stay, we had a room with a perfect view of the arch and we loved every moment of watching it!

There’s something about the arch that inspires one to shoot it from interesting angles that break up its perfection. Desi, who’s otherwise obsessed with symmetry, got some really beautiful shots and I wanted to share some with you today. I love that picture of the tourists bending over to peer out at the city from the small windows at the top of the arch– you get there by enduring a stifling, claustrophobic ride in a miraculous tram/elevator that makes its way slowly up to the top. In the end, well worth it.

***
For those of you who’ve wondered when I’ll post my Portuguese custard tarts, the answer is, hopefully this weekend. I was waiting for our camera to get back from the repair shop so Desi could get perfect pictures of the tarts, but he’s been doing such a great job with the cellphone camera that I might just give in :).

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Ahh my forever favorite! I absolutely love this dish, reading your recipe brought back fantastic memories of learning to cook this at a Marathi friend’s place. Thank you, Vaishali!

  2. says

    I love the pooris :) pillows..
    I have had m y fill at Pancham Pooriwala when my parents were working in VT, sitting on the ‘bakda’, hehe!
    I love the St.L Arch too, we went there in the summer and loved it. Wish I could have taken beautiful snaps as u guys did :)

  3. says

    What a colossal structure Vaishali! And how beautifully captured! Love every shot. And for puri bhaji … an absolute fav … your dish tempts me to make some for breakfast this Sat morning. :-)

  4. says

    Skay, Rachana, Manasi, Happy Cook, Ameya, Sharmila, Thanks!

    Ellen, Welcome! I would advise putting the curry leaves in ice trays, adding water, and then freezing them. When you need them, thaw and use. If you freeze them on their own they would thaw out dark and soggy.

  5. says

    That IS comfort food and it screams lazy SUnday breakfast to me… Infact my daughter is screaming ‘poori poori’ (it’s one of her favorite dishes) after peeking at the screen and wants me to make it now!

  6. Goemkar says

    Your bhaji looks delicious. I make it often and the recipe is very similar to yours, but I use mustard seeds, too. They go in the oil before anything else.

    For the pooris, I add a wee bit of semolina for crispiness. I knead and divide the dough, my five year old presses them using a 6″ chapatti press and the wife fries them.

  7. says

    All time favorite.Never tried with dash of lemon juice .Anyways it is so inviting and wouldn’t be surprised being weekend I make Poori Baaji for dinner tonight.

  8. J says

    Some places I find curry leaves:

    Sri Lankan or Indian grocery/spice stores (not always displayed, so ask.)

    International supermarkets–the big ones comparable in size to regular supermarkets. It doesn’t matter if they appear to be mainly catering to a Korean or Hispanic demographic, they all have them (on most days, at least in Northern Virginia, they all carry them). Sold in bunches or packaged in cling-wrap topped shallow packaging (like meat packaging.) Only thing is, most employees won’t be able to help you locate them. If you don’t know what they look like, approach a shopper who looks South Asian and ask for help.

    I don’t advice vegans to go to the Korean and other North/East Asian supermarkets if they can help it because of all the live animals waiting for their death. When I go, I try and stick to the fresh produce/freezer areas only, but still it’s hard to avoid seeing the sad sights and they occupy a large area of the store. I always come out feeling depressed and down.

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