Bhel Puri, the classic Indian savory cereal-esque snack, is often served on the bustling streets of India in paper cones and doused with spicy, sweet and tangy chutneys. So much that the snack needs to be eaten within minutes of serving otherwise the dry mix consisting of puffed rice, whole wheat cracker bits, chickpea noodles and spices becomes a soggy (yet still tasty!) delight.
Though it’s a street food often in India, we grew up here in America eating bhel puri as a party food or often as a light lunch because of Mom’s nostalgia for the taste of home. I now still serve it at parties and as a snack food to my family, and it’s a mainstay in my Indian Street Food cooking classes, but this version allows me to enjoy the original flavors yet with a more healthful, nutritious twist.
The plentiful spinach adds vitamin C and iron and the sweet potato adds fiber and Vitamin A. Mangos (which for me can be upped anytime!) contribute Vitamin C and A, fiber, folate, and other anti-oxidants like beta-carotene. The chutneys add a flavorful punch and stay true to the original Bhel Puri creation but if you don’t want to make the chutneys try a store-bought dressing like creamy French dressing and increase the mango for sweetness. And the dry mix can be purchased at any Indian grocer or bought online as well. Most brands are “clean” without added preservatives; I like the Garvi Gujarati brand mix. Store the dry mix refrigerated in a sealed bag for up to 6 months. The dry mix tastes superb on its own, even with a cup of chai!
Serves: serves 4
- 2 cups packed fresh baby spinach leaves
- ½ cup diced mango, any firm-textured variety like Ataulfo or Keit
- ¼ cup raw OR roasted peanuts
- ½ cup finely chopped cilantro
- ¼ cup finely diced sweet yellow onion
- 1 small/medium sweet potato, boiled and cooled, then peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 cup bhel puri mix (see note below)
- 2 tablespoons cilantro chutney, thinned with water if needed to a pourable consistency
- ¼ cup tamarind-date chutney (see note below)
- In a serving bowl, lay the spinach leaves along the bottom of the bowl.
- In a separate mixing bowl, combine mango, peanuts, cilantro, and onion. Gently stir in the sweet potato cubes so as to not mash them. Add the contents of this bowl to the spinach.
- Mix the cilantro chutney with the tamarind-date chutney in a small bowl and pour over the salad.
- Top with the bhel puri mix only when immediately ready to eat and serve. You can mix it all together or have each person combine in his or her own bowl or plate.
*A good non-Indian dressing for this salad would be a French dressing.
Recipe for Tamarind-Date Chutney:
Imli Chutney (Tamarind-Date Chutney)
(Makes 2 cups)
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
1 packed cup tamarind pulp (don’t worry if there are seeds)
2 cups water
1 cup chopped pitted dates (approx 20 dates) (If using Medjool, then 10 dates enough)
½ teaspoon chili powder, like Kashmiri chili powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1) Heat water in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
2) Add tamarind pulp to hot water. Lower heat and cook for 10 minutes, breaking pulp with wooden spoon. Turn off heat.
3) Strain into a cup and discard pulp and seeds if there are seeds. You will be left with about 1 cup of tamarind water.
4) Place tamarind water back into saucepan. Turn heat to medium-low. Add chopped dates.
5) Add chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, and salt. Stir well, slightly mashing dates with wooden spoon.
6) Cook 10 minutes. The mixture will slowly reduce and begin to look like a chutney.
7) Turn off heat. Pour mixture into blender or mini food processor and blend, adding water as needed, up to 1 cup.
8) Add brown sugar to taste. (The addition of this depends on the sweetness and variety of your dates).
9) Serve with roasted papadums, samosas, chaat, or pakoras, or in a peanut-butter sandwich!
This chutney is traditionally made with jaggery instead of brown sugar. Jaggery is a wonderful mellow-tasting raw unrefined sugar made directly from sugarcane. Dark brown sugar is a good substitution.
Tamarind concentrate could be substituted for the pulp to save time, but the flavor won’t be as fruity and pure as it is with using the pulp. Tamarind pulp can be purchased at Asian or Indian grocery stores.
For a very short shortcut, you could use 2 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate dissolved in 1 cup warm water. Blend this with a 16 oz. jar of apple butter (yes apple butter!). Add the above listed chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, and salt and you have a fairly good and tasty substitute!
©Shefaly Ravula/ Shef’s Kitchen