Hopping around some food blogs, recently, I came across a link to the Indian Cooking Challenge and immediately signed up: each month a recipe is given out for participants to attempt, staying as close to the source recipe as plausible, and then blog about the results on the 15th. I’m a little bummed that last month was a dessert and I missed it but this month we’re making Pani Puri (aka Gol Gappe).
Todd & I both adore Indian food (which is why this challenge was so tempting) but we’ve never had this particular dish. It’s a snack or appetizer made up of fried puffs of dough (puri) stuffed with a filling, chutney and some sort of spicy water (pani). This recipe calls for both potato and lentil fillings, a tamarind chutney and a tamarind water. I’m not a huge fan of frying, but I was able to gang up this recipe with a couple of other friend appetizers I wanted to test for the cookbook, so it actually worked out well.
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First, I had to find the ingredients which meant a little bit of deciphering of the recipe.
Pani Puri / Gol Gappe
|For the Puri:
1/2 c Sooji (Semolina)
1/2 T Maida ( Plain Refined Flour)
1/2 t Cooking Soda(1)
Salt to taste
Oil for Frying
1. Boiled Potato, finely chopped /mashed and mixed with salt and red chili.
|For Spicy Pani or Spicy Water
1.5 c Chopped Mint Leaves
1 T Chopped Coriander Leaves(2)
1/3 c Tamarind(3)
4-5 Green Chillies(4)
1 t Ground Cumin Seed (roasted)
1.5 t Kala Namak (Black Salt)(5)
Salt to taste
1 c Cooked Channa or Peas
Salt to taste
1/2 t Chili powder
1/4 t Garam masala powder
|For Red Tamarind Chutney
1 c Tamarind
1/2 c Jaggery(6)
2 T Sugar
1/2 t Red chili powder
1 t Dry Roasted cumin powder
1/4 t Kali Micrch (Black pepper) powder
2 c Warm water
1 t Oil
Salt to taste
(1) Cooking soda I took to mean baking soda but, after reading the comments of those who tried out the recipe before me it seems that baking powder yields a better puff and a more satisfactory puri.
(2) In the US, coriander means the dried seeds of the plant while the leaves, also known as Chinese Parsley, we call Cilantro.
(3) The 2nd hardest ingredient to track down, tamarind is a fruit that was just not available in town until I checked out the International House of Food and found some pressed bricks of it. Upside? Finding them. Downside? The half-pound bricks included bits of the papery husks of the fruit as well as the seeds. There’s a little bit of work ahead.
In desperation I searched for tamarind substitutions and found that for tamarind paste a suitable sub is powdered amchur and lemon juice. What the hell is amchur, I’m sure you’re wondering: powdered mango! So, sure, you could sub some dried mango for tamarind though, after tasting one, I’d say subbing a mixture of dates (color and texture) and cranberries (tartness–tamarind is REALLY tart) or even pomegranate seeds would be the best mixture if you just can’t get tamarind for the chutney.
(4) Green chilies posed a bit of a quandary: there are a LOT of green chilies out there, which ones to use. I picked up 3 jalapenos but I’m sure there are better options out there.
(5) Black salt comes from volcanic islands and IHOF was out. Considering the small quantity here and the short time frame I didn’t have time to order any from a gourmet shop so we just went without.
(6) Jaggery, I’ve learned, is a non-centrifuged sugar with various purported health benefits. Another hard-to-find ingredient I decided to just use Demerara sugar which, while centrifuged, is unrefined and therefore pretty close I think.
Making the Puri
In a bowl take semolina, plain flour, Cooking Soda, salt, 2 tablespoons of oil and knead well to make a stiff dough, leave it bit stiffer than normal. Cover it with a wet muslin cloth and let it rest for 15 mins. Then pinch out very small balls and roll them into small circles. Put the rolled out circles back under the muslin cloth while you are rolling the rest and before they can be fried.
Seems simple enough, right? Well… The first batch of dough wouldn’t come together into anything usable. The second batch, where I used equal parts semolina and all purpose flours held together better so I let it rest and then tried a test run in the hot oil where it promptly disintegrated. I thought it might have something to do with the oil in the mix so tried, yet again, using water this time.
Not only did it resemble more of a dough, it actually held together when I placed the first few rounds into the oil. What they didn’t do, was puff.
It’s a good thing I’m not easily discouraged as I might have given up then and there. Being the determined sort, I headed online to find another recipe that might tell me what I’m doing wrong. I found one that used no leavening and 3 different flours: 1 part whole wheat, 2 parts semolina and 2 parts all purpose. Using just enough water to make a stiff dough and then adding a bit of oil at the end, I thought I was on the path to success.
There were signs of puffing but still not the round little puffs the pictures all of the Internet led me to expect.
I can certainly understand why everything I’ve read suggested buying them pre-made.
Making the Pani (spicy water)
Extract pulp from the tamarind.
And here we run into the real reason I’m never doing this again. (And by “this” I mean dealing with tamarind that isn’t already cleaned and pulped and ready-to-go, not the challenge or Indian food in general.)
Considering the pressed, blocky nature of what I had I thought it might be best to soften things up a bit. I heated some water to just below boiling, poured it over the broken-up blocks of tamarind and let it sit for about 5 minutes before straining.
Then began the almost 3 hours of scraping and picking and ick that yielded barely 3/4 c of finished tamarind and burning fingertips–tamarind has a certain amount of acid (which makes it a great cleaning product, apparently) and my nail beds are still stained from this endeavor.
Add mint leaves, coriander, ginger, chillies and dry roasted cumin seed to the tamarind pulp. Add little water and blend to a smooth paste. Add salt and black rock salt to taste. Put it in the fridge to cool down. Add water as required.
As tamarind pulp was in short supply and this was for the “spicy water” I opted to use the tamarind “tea” left over from prepping the godforsaken fruit instead. But what I don’t quite understand is what it was cooling down from (it’s not cooked at any point) and the adding water as necessary? The pictures I’ve seen and the description of how to eat these suggest that there should be a LOT more water involved.
But we’ll move on for a bit.
Making the Red Tamarind Chutney
In a pan dry roast the cumin seeds and the cloves. Pound them into coarse powder. To the tamarind pulp add jaggery, sugar, red chili powder, black pepper powder, roasted cumin powder, cloves and salt. Put the mixture in a pan and heat for 5 minutes on medium heat. Remove from heat and let it cool down. This will tend to thicken up, so add warm water if it becomes too thick. Once it cools, blend the contents in a blender to a smooth paste.
I’ve made chutneys before so I was pretty confident on this step. It was, however, approaching 9pm on a Saturday night and this was only 2/3 of dinner. I just tossed everything into the pot and let it cook, only then realizing that 2 cups of warm water was WAY too much for any chutney.
That’s when I started to wonder if maybe the water should have gone into the Pani mixture (it would have explained the cooling down bit and the whole submerging step for the eating), not the chutney. Still, it wasn’t like I could remove it now so I dumped half a packet of liquid pectin inside, hoping it would gel a bit more, and just decided to work with what we had.
On the left is the "spicy water", on the right the chutney--what's wrong with this picture?
The potato filling was the most simple thing in the world: peel and chop a potato, boil til tender, mash and add salt and chili powder. I also added 2 Tablespoons of milk to smooth out the mixture a bit, but that’s personal preference.
The lentil filling called for chana or peas–I had frozen peas available so used them. While they are both legumes, little green peas are not actually lentils, but I figure there’s wiggle room in the recipe since it did give them as an option. I microwaved the peas with a bit of water ’til cooked and then added the spices and microwaved another minute to heat.
Assembling and Eating
Poke a small hole in the center of the Gol Gappa/Puri. Add a tsp of mashed boiled potato/Channa in the middle of the puri. Add a little of the red tamarind Chutney. Dip it in the spicy water/pour some spicy water in it. Gulp it down.
Notes: Alternatively you can mix small quantity of Tamarind Chutney, Spicy water and pour this on stuffed puris and gulp down too.
Since our Puris didn’t puff very much we used them more as crackers or platforms for the toppings fillings, spooned a bit of the not-watery pani on top and then drizzled with the very liquid chutney. We also suggest chewing, not merely gulping 😉
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The verdict: Way too much work but that might have more to do with the limited availability of certain ingredients which meant extra work and aggravation. The flavor combinations of the fillings were *really* tasty and will get added to our usual repetoire of side dishes. In the future, however, I will leave this particular recipe to the pros and look forward to next month’s challenge.