Ragda Pattice

Indian English speakers are usually tempted to change the spelling of this voluptuous street snack — always spelled ‘pattice’ at eateries– to the more correct ‘patties.’ But I say why spoil a good thing by forcing on it unneeded refinement?

There’s nothing proper about this bold, tarty street snack from the swollen crush of Bombay’s streets. It is a hodge-podge of random flavors and textures that no cook in their right mind would dream of putting together. There’s sweet here and spicy and sour and salty. And then there’s creamy and crispy and crunchy and crumbly. The final result is lush genius on a plate.

In Bombay, you can buy Ragda Pattice at the open stalls and carts lining the city’s long beaches and eat it standing right there, your feet burrowing into the soft sand and the sea breeze whipping your hair into a salty tango. Or, if you’re worried about hygiene and all that annoying stuff that gets between a foodie and his/her indulgences, you can order it at one of the city’s restaurants.


When I lived in Bombay, one of our go-to places after work was Vithal’s, a restaurant in the maze-like Fort area. Vithal’s offered almost every snack invented by the ingenious food hawkers of the city’s streets, and although you were sitting in an air-conditioned room that sealed you off from the humidly oppressive heat, the raucous laughter and voices of people young and old at the tables around you could easily make you think you were actually out there.

I had one colleague who never ordered anything at Vithal’s but Ragda Pattice. She was that person who, although a vegetarian since birth, ate no vegetables other than potatoes (doesn’t everyone know someone like that?). And although I can’t think of a veggie I don’t love, I can easily see why Malathy was so obsessed with the mighty Ragda Pattice.

The pattice in Ragda Pattice are two flat patties made of nothing but boiled and mashed potatoes, salt and green chillies, which are then pan-fried to golden perfection. The patties are placed atop a white-pea sauce, or the ragda. White peas are not actually white but rather beige, with a flavor that’s perfectly neutral and therefore perfectly wonderful for this dish, because here’s the secret to a perfect Ragda Pattice: you want the two building blocks — the ragda and the patties– to be as mildly flavored as possible without being bland. That way they can provide the perfect backdrop for all those delicious toppings that go on, like the sweet-spicy-sour tamarind sauce, the crispy, savory sev (tiny yellow squiggles of chickpea flour you can buy in a packet at an Indian store), the pungent onion and the lemony, leafy coriander.

Just so you get the full effect of eating the Ragda Pattice, I wanted to share with you a video of the streets of Bombay, shot beautifully and true to life in this evocative song from a late ’70s movie, Gaman. It’s the city through the eyes of one of those cabbies who ferry passengers around in little yellow and black cabs. The streets of Bombay today are perhaps more crowded and certainly more choked up with cars of foreign make, but you will get the idea. The gentle, pensive voice in the song belongs to Suresh Wadkar who, before he hit the big time, briefly taught music at my school, Arya Vidya Mandir. We kids would call him “Wadkar sir” and he was a really sweet guy.

Finally, here’s the recipe for this perfect comfort snack that’s impossible for even the finickiest eater to resist. Enjoy your weekend, all!

Ragda Pattice

Ragda (White Pea Curry)

Ingredients:

1 cup dried white peas (you can find these at any Indian store). Soak for about 6-8 hours or overnight and then cook until tender, either in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop. To cook on the stovetop, cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer until tender, making sure that the peas are covered with water all the time.

1tsp ginger and garlic paste (you can even skip this, but don’t use more than this because like I said before, you don’t want a too-strong taste to your ragda)

1 onion, minced

1 tsp chaat masala (also available at Indian stores)

1/4 tsp red chilli powder

1/4 tsp turmeric

1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onions. Saute over medium heat, adding a little salt, so the onions sweat and turn translucent but don’t brown.

Add the ginger garlic paste and give it a stir for about a minute to cook the paste.

Add the red chilli powder, turmeric powder and chaat masala, stir to coat with the oil.

Add the white peas and stir together. Add water if the gravy is too thick, because you want it to be fairly runny. Add salt. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

Pattice (Potato Patties)

Ingredients:

4 medium russet potatoes, boiled in their jackets, then peeled and mashed

2 green chillies, finely minced

1/4 cup cornflour

Salt to taste

Oil or oil spray to coat the bottom of a skillet

Mix the potatoes and other ingredients and form into flat patties, about 2 inches in diameter. I got 14 out of mine, but your results could depend on the size of the potatoes you use.

Heat the skillet, coat the bottom with a thin veneer of oil and, when hot, place the patties about an inch apart. Let each patty cook about 2-3 minutes on medium heat or until the surface is a rich golden-brown. Flip over and cook the other side.

Date and Tamarind Chutney

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1/2 cup chopped dates (make sure you take out the pits)

2 tbsp tamarind paste or a ball of deseeded tamarind, about the size of a lemon (adjust this up or down depending on whether you like your sauce sweet or really tangy)

2 tbsp jaggery (an unrefined Indian sugar sold in blocks at Indian stores)

1/2 tsp cumin, roasted until a couple of shades darker, then ground to a fine powder

1/4 tsp red chilli powder

Salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, then cook, stirring, about 8-10 minutes or until all ingredients are really soft

Place in a blender and add more water if necessary. Blitz. You should have a fairly runny sauce.

Toppings:

1 cup fine sev (found at Indian grocery stores)

1 onion minced, mixed with 1/2 cup finely chopped coriander

To build you plate of Ragda Pattice, pour some of the ragda into a plate. Place two patties on it, then top with the tamarind chutney followed by the onion-coriander mix and finally with the sev.

Enjoy!

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

Vada Pav

Vada pav

Whether you’re rooting for the Steelers or the Packers, there is no way you can lose at your Superbowl party with this classic snack straight from the streets of Bombay.

I like to think of the vada pav as an Indian hot dog– a spicy, deep-fried, incredibly crispy potato dumpling cradled within a soft, fluffy roll and smeared with some exquisitely red-hot garlic chutney. Its many layers of flavor, textures and its stark, rustic simplicity make it one of the most beloved street foods of Bombay. You can find vendors at practically every street corner in the city frying the red-gold vadas in bubbling hot oil and serving them up to salivating customers faster than you can say “vada pav.”

When I was at school, the cafeteria served up vada pavs for as little as a rupee, which is about the equivalent of two cents. I don’t think any of the kids even considered eating anything else– I certainly didn’t. And although I am sure it costs much, much more now, thanks to rapid inflation in India over the past few years, it is no doubt one of the most affordable snacks you can find anywhere in the city.

I try to make my vada pav healthier without taking away any of the flavor by making the pav, or the tiny roll that the vada is cradled in, with whole wheat flour. This is a recipe I’m really proud to share with you because it’s just so darn good. I used some wheat gluten flour to help build the bread’s structure and it was just as cushiony and soft as the traditionally white pav.

laadi oav, whole wheat


The vada and the pav can both be at room temperature when you serve them, which means you can do most of your work beforehand so you don’t have to be running around when everyone else is having all the fun in front of the TV.

Happy Superbowl viewing, all! And may the best team win.  

VADA PAV WITH GARLIC CHUTNEY:

Batata vada recipe

Batata Vada
 
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Batata Vada is a spicy potato dumpling coated with gram flour and deep-fried. This is one of India's classic street snacks.
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Indian Vegetarian
Ingredients
  • 4 potatoes, boiled and then mashed (I like to leave the skins on, but they typically are peeled, so take them off if you'd rather)
  • A generous pinch of asafetida (hing)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp green chilli paste
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil, like canola
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • In a bowl, mix together:
  • ¾ cup chickpea flour, sifted
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder like paprika or cayenne if you really want to kick up the testosterone in the room
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of baking soda
  • Oil for deep frying
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil and add the turmeric and the asafetida.
  2. Now add the ginger, garlic and chilli pastes and saute just a few seconds. Add the potatoes and salt, mix well, and take off the heat. Mix in the lemon juice.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool before you handle it.
  4. Take the chickpea-chilli mixture and add enough water to make a fairly thick batter, about the consistency of pancake batter.
  5. Make balls with the potato mixture, about 1 inch in diameter. Dunk one at a time into the chickpea batter. Turn to coat and then drop into the oil which should be at between 350 and 375 degrees.
  6. Fry the vadas on all sides until they turn reddish-brown. Don't overcrowd the pan. Remove to paper towels and drain.

lasunachi chutney

Garlic Chutney/Lasoon Chutney
 
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Garlic Chutney or Lasoon Chutney
Author:
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Indian
Ingredients
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp peanuts
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 4 dry red chillies (reduce if you really don't want the heat, but 4 doesn't make this chutney too hot)
  • A half-inch ball of tamarind
  • 1 tsp + 1 tbsp oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Heat 1 tsp of oil in a skillet.
Instructions
  1. One by one roast half the garlic cloves and the rest of the ingredients except the tamarind and salt, allowing everything to turn lightly golden brown and putting each into a plate before moving on to the next ingredient. Be very careful roasting the coconut because it will brown very fast.
  2. Place all the  ingredients including the unroasted garlic cloves, the tamarind, salt and 1 tbsp oil in a food processor.
  3. Process until everything breaks down into a coarse powder.

 

ladi pav

Whole Wheat Laadi Pav
 
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A healthy recipe for Whole-Wheat Laadi Pav, perfect with vada pav, pav bhaji or misal pav.
Author:
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Indian vegetarian
Serves: 9 - 12
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • .2 tbsp vital wheat gluten flour
  • 1½ tsp active dry yeast
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
Instructions
  1. Mix the sugar, ½ cup warm water and the yeast in a mixing bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes until the mixture starts to froth, indicating the yeast is alive and well.
  2. Sift all the flours and baking soda into the bowl. Knead on low speed in a stand mixer or by hand for about 3 minutes, trickling in 1 cup of water until you have a dough that's smooth but slightly sticky
  3. Add the oil and continue to knead until the oil has been absorbed by the dough, about 1 more minute.
  4. Now place in an oiled bowl, turning over once to coat all over with oil, cover with a kitchen towel, and set aside for 2 hours until the dough has risen.
  5. Punch down the dough and divide into 9 or 12 balls, depending on how large or small you want your pav.
  6. Shape them into a slightly rectangular shape by pulling at the sides of the dough and tucking under on all four sides.
  7. Place the tolls in a rectangular 9 X 13 inch baking dish smeared with oil and lightly floured, or on a cookie sheet, close enough but not touching each other. Let the rolls rise for an hour. They will join at the ends when they have risen, forming a slab, or laadi in Marathi
  8. Preheat the oven to 370 degrees. Place the pav in the oven and bake 23 minutes.
  9. Brush the tops with a little oil, if desired, for a pretty, glossy look.
  10. Remove to a rack and allow the rolls to cool before breaking them off.

To assemble the vada pav, make a slit through the center of the pav without going all the way through the bottom. Slater the bottom with some of the garlic chutney, place a vada on top, place your thumbs on the underside of the pav and your fingers on top, press the top and bottom together, and dig in.

vada pav

The Laadi Pav goes off to Pari of Foodelicious for her “Only”: Cooking with Bread event.

**

Bombay’s spicy street snacks make perfect Superbowl food. Want more inspiration? Try my Pav Bhaji, another surefire winner. Or my healthy baked Samosas, or flaky Vegetable Puffs.

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

Vegetable Cutlets

Vegetable cutlets recipeVegetable cutlets are kitschy stalwarts of India’s wonderful railway cafeterias. I remember them as flat patties, usually in the shape of a teardrop or round, with specks of sooji or rava or farina. They were served up with ketchup and didn’t taste of any particular vegetable. Heck, they didn’t even taste particularly good. And they tasted the same no matter where you were in the country.

But they were usually available when you wanted something vegetarian and something hot, and sometimes that was good enough.

I have been on a mission to reduce the amount of sweets cooked in my kitchen and that means coming up with recipes to satisfy the snack-seeking Desi when we get home from work late in the afternoon. It’s either that or gobs of peanut butter and jelly on toast. Since that latter option doesn’t appeal to me as it does to him, I try when I can to come up with something different.

These vegetable cutlets are a great option because their lusciousness owes itself to the great spud and not fat. I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it– potatoes are one of the best veggies around, and they appeal to almost anyone, child or adult. What usually gives potatoes a bad rep is the way they are prepared– deep-fried, or topped with tons of unhealthy cheese or sour cream. But find a healthy way to cook it, and you can have your potato and eat it too.

I’ve no time to chat today, so I’ll leave you with the recipe for these cutlets. They’re easy and they taste better than any vegetable cutlet I ever ate at a railway cafeteria. They’re also versatile– you could add to these grated carrots, green peppers…use your imagination. The best part– like I told Desi, it’s like eating your veggies for a snack.

How great is that?
Vegetable cutlets

Vegetable Cutlets
 
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Vegetable Cutlets
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Indian
Ingredients
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, boiled and mashed. Leave their jackets on-- potatoes hide most of their best nutrition right under the skin, so it's never a good idea to peel them. Make sure, though, that the potato skins are in small bits.
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 cup green beans, chopped fairly fine
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • ¼ cup chopped cashewnuts
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder, like paprika or-- if you want more heat-- cayenne
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • ¼ cup finely chopped coriander leaves
  • ½ cup of bread crumbs (I used panko -- Japanese bread crumbs that crisp up really well). Place in a plate for dredging the cutlets.
  • 1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
  • Spray oil
  • Salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a skillet. Add the cumin seeds, and, once they sputter, add the onions and garlic.
  2. Stir-fry the onions for about a couple of minutes until they start to soften.
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  4. Add the cashew nuts and stir-fry for a minute.
  5. Add the chilli and turmeric powders, stir into the oil, then add the peas and green beans. Cook for another two or three minutes until they are quite tender.
  6. Add the mashed potatoes and stir well together. Add salt to taste, and lemon juice.
  7. Turn off the heat and stir in the coriander leaves and the flour. Set aside so the potatoes are cool enough to handle.
  8. Heat a cast-iron or non-stick skillet.
  9. Spray on a film of oil.
  10. Take a 1-inch ball of the potato mixture and flatten it into a disc.
  11. Dredge it through the panko crumbs so you have a fairly even coating on both sides.
  12. Place the cutlets one by one in the hot skillet, without overcrowding. Cook on each side until golden-brown.
  13. Serve hot with ketchup.

***

 

I’ll leave you with a picture of Bunny, a frequent visitor to our backyard (and my vegetable garden) in the summer months. How cute is she?

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

Vegetable Puffs With Homemade Puff Pastry Recipe

Vegetable Puffs recipe
Train journeys in India are the stuff of mystery, drama and good eats.Mystery because you may have waited an hour in line to get your reserved seat but when you’re actually in the train there’s no guarantee it’s going to be empty and waiting for you. And if you’re the kind that shirks from some yelling and threatening and asserting, rest assured you will be standing for however long it takes to make the journey.Drama because chances are the bathrooms are filthy, the taps will run dry by the time you are halfway into your journey, the window won’t close, and, if you fall asleep despite all this, you will be jolted awake at 3 in the morning by someone hoping to make a buck by wailing a plaintive song in your ear.

And good eats because everyone on the train has packed an endless supply of homemade treats that they often don’t mind sharing. If you are seated next to a Gujarati, you’d no doubt get to savor at least the aromas and usually the flavors of chickpea-flour-based treats like khandvi and dhokla. A Maharashtrian might pack kande pohe or sabudana khichdi (made with sago pearls). And a Tamilian would carry, in one of those multi-storeyed steel tiffin carriers, some tamarind rice, lemon rice, curd rice and maybe a few delicious white idlis with spicy green coconut chutney.

Each railway station the train pulls into is also a delightful punctuation of treats so unique, sometimes, I think, I’d look forward to traveling just so I could eat them.

I remember drinking tea early one morning in little earthen khullads at Bhopal station en route to Delhi. The khullads added their own salty flavor to the tea which took some getting used to, but wasn’t unpleasant at all. I remember wondering how anyone could eat deep-fried foods for breakfast, then nevertheless chomping down phapdas — long, deep-fried chickpea savories– at 7 a.m. on the way to Okha in Gujarat.

After Desi and I were married, we would travel at least once a year and sometimes twice to Madras in south India where his parents lived. The train journey to Madras from Bombay was a long one, stretching over 26 hours. But a great way to make the journey bearable was to line it start-to-end with food.

Soon after leaving Bombay, you could snack on batata wadas (deep-fried potato dumplings) in Karjat, or chikki (peanut brittle) in Lonavala. The next day, when you’d run out of your homemade food, you could buy some dosas for breakfast at Guntakal and tamarind rice or curd rice for lunch in Renigunta. Even the watery coffee sold by tiny boys carrying oversized kettles and yelling “kapi, kapi,” tasted amazing when you had the sliding landscape for company.

But it isn’t just the vendors weaving in and out of trains who supplied you with food. Most railway stations around the country, including Bombay’s commuter train stations like Victoria Terminus and Churchgate and all the stops along the length and breadth of the city’s railways, peddle their own treats at railway-run cafeterias.
Vegetable Puffs with homemade puff pastry recipe

When I worked for the Independent, a Bombay newspaper, our office in the Times of India building was across the street from the Victoria Terminus. Often, after putting the edition to bed, some of us who’d missed the last train home would find ourselves at the VT cafeteria that was open all night.

At that hour all the cafeteria offered, besides tea and coffee, was packaged foods like over-sweet, dense slices of Monginis cake, and donuts that looked or tasted nothing like, and were spelled on the large price board hanging on the wall as “do nots.”

Sometimes, if you were lucky, you might get a vegetable sandwich which was usually two slices of white bread slathered with a spicy green chutney and cradling thin slices cucumber and tomato, although chances were they were not very fresh. And. if you were really lucky, you might get a vegetable puff.

Vegetable puffs were, in fact, popular railway-station eats, although you could just as easily buy them at bakeries. These small, golden-brown packages filled with spicy vegetables and sometimes meats, were a delightful treat good for any time of day– or night.

Desi loves them, so when I decided to make some vegetable puffs this past weekend, I thought of buying puff pastry, as I usually do (the brands available in stores are usually vegan), but then I got a little adventurous and decided to do something I’d wanted to do ever since I saw Jacques show Julia how to hammer some butter and flour together into crispy deliciousness.

So I made puff pastry from scratch and although I am no Jacques Pepin, I must say it was quite amazing. In fact, I discovered it was easy as …well, puff pastry, although it did take some patience with all that rolling and folding and freezing and rolling and folding and freezing and so on. If you’re the kind that likes to get things done at a single stretch (the way I usually like to), you might be better off going with the store-bought kind.

Here it is, then, a recipe for my vegetable puffs and my vegan puff pastry. It was all quite delicious, but you don’t have to take my word for it– try it instead!

puff pastryHomemade Vegan Puff Pastry

 
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An easy-to-follow recipe for homemade vegan puff pastry
Author:
Cuisine: Vegan
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks (1 ciup or 16 tbsp) vegan butter like Earth Balance + ¼ cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Water as needed
Instructions
  1. Place the two cold sticks of butter, straight out of the fridge, on a chopping board or the kitchen platform. Sprinkle the ¼ cup of all-purpose flour over it and, using a rolling pin or something heavy, beat the butter until it flattens out quite a bit but is still quite solid.
  2. Pat the edges of the butter to form a square. Place in a container and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. In a bowl, place the 2 cups of flour, salt and, using enough water, knead into a smooth and pliable dough.
  4. Allow the dough to rest for a few minutes, then roll it out into a square large enough so you can wrap the square of butter in it.
  5. Once you have wrapped the butter, making sure it is well-sealed, then roll out the dough into a rectangle about 7 inches wide and 10 inches long. Do this preferably on a metal baking sheet so you have a cool surface and also so you can easily transfer the dough to the fridge. The rolling might take a little work because the dough can be resistant, but be patient.
  6. Now lift the edges of the rectangle along the long side and fold over one another so you have three layers. Place the sheet with the puff pastry in the fridge and let it stand for at least 15 minutes. Then remove and roll out again and fold again to make three more layers. Repeat four more times.
  7. After you've let the dough stand in the fridge for the last time, divide the puff pastry into two. Freeze half and use the rest for the vegetable puffs.
  8. How easy was that? Enjoy!

Vegetable Puffs
 
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Delicious, crispy vegetable puffs
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • ½ recipe vegan puff pastry
  • 3 medium potatoes, boiled and chopped into a medium dice
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 2 green chillies, finely minced
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • A generous pinch of asafetida (hing)
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
  • Salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil and add the cumin seeds and asafetida. When the cumin sputters and crackles, add the ginger, stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the turmeric. Stir quickly to mix, stir in the chillies, then add the potatoes.
  2. Saute, stirring frequently, for a few minutes until the potatoes are well-coated with the turmeric and oil. Add salt, mix in the coriander leaves, and set aside to cool.
  3. Roll out the puff pastry into a square of about 8 inches. Cut with a pizza cutter into six pieces by making one cut down the middle and then three cuts horizontally.
  4. Take one of the squares and roll separately into a slightly larger square. Place a couple of heaped teaspoons of the filling in the center, moisten two sides, and fold over the puff pastry in a triangle. Press down on the edges to ensure they are sealed.
  5. Repeat until you have 12 puffs.
  6. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45-60 minutes on an ungreased baking sheet until they are crisp and lightly golden-brown.
  7. Serve hot with some chutney or even ketchup.

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

Baked Samosas with a Chickpea Filling

Samosas
My first job as a journalist was for a then brand-new (and now defunct) newspaper in Bombay called The Independent published by the Times of India group. Our offices were on the fifth floor of the vast, domed, Gothic Times building in south Bombay, just across the street from the buzzing Victoria Terminus where trains from all over India chug in and out all day and night.The Times building was home to several publications, including magazines and newspapers in English and other local languages. The look of the office of each publication varied drastically based on which one, of course, brought home the most biryani. The Independent, which still had to prove itself, was just a nondescript mess of cubicles and desks. In contrast, on the third floor was the designer-decorated, purple-painted home of the publishing group’s cash cow– the Times of India — which, despite being one of the crummiest newspapers you’ll ever read, also has the distinction of being India’s top-selling English daily.On the second floor were the offices of the advertising department which resembled a posh five-star hotel. Sandwiched between the Times and the Independent, on the fourth floor, were the offices of magazines like the once-illustrious Illustrated Weekly of India and the women’s magazine Femina.But the most interesting floor of all was the sixth floor which was the cafeteria.

It was a long, plain room with white walls, steel-topped, clinical tables and a view of the roofs of other buildings crowded together. You didn’t have a choice of dishes for lunch, dinner or any in-between snacks– you ate whatever was dished out that day, which was usually a flavored-down version of a typical Indian meal: bone-dry rotis, white rice, a sambar or dal, and a subzi, all of it accompanied by a fiery-hot pickle and papads.

You ate out of huge steel plates the size of a tray, each with three or four divisions, one to hold the rice, another for the dal, and so on. The silverware– or rather aluminumware– was made up solely of scratched, bent spoons. While that didn’t bother most of us because we either used a single spoon or — in true, sensual-Indian style– our fingers, Desi, who likes his silverware to be just so, improvised with two spoons.

The cafeteria staff was made up of a number of young men from Udupi, a place in the south Indian state of Karnataka that could, in all fairness, be called the birthplace of the south Indian fast food industry. That’s because it was folks from Udupi who set up all around Bombay and the rest of the country those restaurants that sell healthy, cheap and delicious South Indian fast food like dosas and idlis and vadas and sambars.

Anyway, these young men who worked in the cafeteria spent almost all their time between those four walls with the exception of some of the youngest workers– still children– who attended night school. Most were new immigrants to Bombay, lured to the big city by jobs that surely didn’t pay well. They slept at at night in the long dining room and worked extra-long days from morning through night to save enough money to send home to their families, including the wives and children they had left behind.

Despite what must surely have been incredibly tough lives, these guys were unfailingly cheerful. I particularly remember one curly-haired guy with a ready smile named Janardan who would make the rounds of the newsroom, his small frame bent under a huge steel container of food slung over one shoulder, bringing us hot tea and snacks during those long, dreary night shifts. You could tell which snack Janardan would have by which day of the week it was. One day it would be bondas– plump, deep-fried lentil fritters served with a chutney. Another day it would be a chivda, a dry mix of rice crispies and peanuts and spices. Yet another day it would be upma, a savory dish made with cream of wheat, or farina.

My favorite day– I think it was Thursdays– was the day he brought us samosas which was one of the few offerings from the cafeteria that was actually delicious. It was always served with a sweet-sour tamarind chutney.

No one needs to be told what a samosa is– if you’ve ever eaten in an Indian restaurant, you’ve most likely had one. It is easy to see why this divine, deep-fried treat made up of a crisp jacket around a delicious stuffing of potatoes would brighten up anyone’s day– or night.

But deep-fried foods don’t get to feature in my kitchen on a regular basis. So when I make samosas, I prefer to bake them.

Baked samosas are actually great– they give you the same satisfaction, the same crunch, the same deliciousness, and all of it for way fewer calories. You do need to be careful about how you make the dough which almost resembles a pie dough, and roll it out pretty thin.

Another great thing about samosas is that you can stuff them with just about anything. While a stuffing of potatoes and peas is traditional, I like putting in all kinds of things, from other veggies to lentils and, this time, chickpeas.

So here’s my baked samosa recipe, a true treat and one that never fails to bring back memories of those sweet, unsung cafeteria workers in the Times building who worked so hard for so little to make the lives of the rest of us who worked there just a little more easier.
chickpea samosas

Baked Samosas with a Chickpea Filling
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Indian
Ingredients
  • For the samosa dough:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (DON'T substitute whole-wheat flour here because you won't get the flakiness that's so important in a samosa crust)
  • ½ tsp ajwain (carom seeds-- these are easily found in Indian grocery stores. They have a distinctive, sharp and spicy flavor that's great in the samosas)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable shortening (make sure you buy one without any trans fats)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Cold water to knead
  • For the filling:
  • 1 cup of chickpeas, soaked overnight if possible, then cooked until tender but not mushy. Drain out all but 2 tbsp of the cooking water.
  • 1 medium potato, cut into a very small dice, then cooked until tender
  • ½ medium red onion, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 2 green chillies, minced
  • 1 tsp chaat powder
  • 1 tsp
  • garam masala
  • Juice of ½ a lemon or lime
  • ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
Instructions
  1. Make the dough:
  2. Place the flour in a bowl, mix in the salt and ajwain, then add to it the vegetable shortening. With your fingers, crumble the shortening into the floor until the shortening is evenly distributed and the flour looks grainy. This will ensure your crust is crisp.
  3. Now, adding just a little cold water at a time, knead the flour into a stiff dough. Don't overknead it-- stop as soon as you have a mass that holds together because you don't want to overactivate the gluten.
  4. Cover and set aside while you make the filling.
  5. Heat oil in a skillet.
  6. Add the onions and saute until they just start to brown, about 4-5 minutes on medium heat.
  7. Add the ginger, garlic and the green chillies. Saute for another minute without letting the garlic burn.
  8. Add the chickpeas with the 2 tbsp of reserved cooking water and potatoes, then the garam masala and chaat masala. Add salt.
  9. Stir well to mix together. Allow the stuffing to cook without covering the skillet until all the water has evaporated. Mix in the coriander and set aside.
  10. To assemble the samosas:
  11. Break off a lime-sized ball of the dough and roll it into a ball between the palms of your hands.
  12. Roll it out into a really thin round, about 5 inches in diameter
  13. Now roll in a single direction to make an oval.
  14. With a knife or a pastry-cutter, cut into two so you have two semi-circles.
  15. Smear water along the edges of each semi-circle. Now bring the edges together to form a cone. Press with your fingers to seal the edge.
  16. Place 2 tbsp of filling into the cone, stopping short of filling all the way to the top.
  17. With your fingers, push together the top of the cone, making a little pleat in the back if necessary. You want to get a tight seal so nothing stumbles out during baking.
  18. Prepare the rest of the samosas the same way. Place them on an oiled baking sheet.
  19. Mix 1 tsp oil with 1 tbsp soymilk. Brush the tops of the samosas with this mixture to get a nice, golden-hued crust (it of course won't be as brown as when you deep-fry the samosas).
  20. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40 minutes or until the edges of the samosas are golden-brown. If desired, flip the samosas over halfway through baking.

I served them hot with this cilantro coconut chutney. I added a couple of sprigs of mint to the blender for a slightly different but exquisite flavor.

Enjoy, all!

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