Somewhere on a random food blog I found a reference to Chaat, a broad category of street snack food sold in India. There was a mention of puffed rice and various savory vegetables and spices, so I was interested. It turns out these puffed rice dishes are called Bhelpuri
, or sometimes Churmuri
, or by many other names. (A lot seems to depend on the flavor variations and ingredients used.)
My first thought was "does anybody puff brown rice?" which is another way of asking "can you get whole grain puffed rice?" My second thought was "Damn, I will probably have to buy that at Whole Foods, and it's going to be expensive." Sadly, the normal puffed rice product available in U.S. supermarkets is Rice Krispies brand and its many imitators, and that stuff has quite a bit of sugar and malt added.
Then about ten days later, I walked into a Big Lots (discount/overstock store) and found huge bags of puffed rice selling for a buck and a half apiece. Ingredient list, in its entirety: "Puffed whole grain brown rice." Woohoo! That's the stuff for me! I bought about six bags. They also had puffed whole grain kamut, so I bought some bags of that as well.
Now, where can I find a good Bhelpuri recipe that will work for us?
So I did a lot of Google searches. None of the recipes worked for me by themselves -- they used spices or condiments I don't have, they called for fried Indian snacks that are oily and that I cannot make or get, or they involved flavors I don't like (tamarind). But I quickly discerned that there are as many different Bhelpuri recipes as there are people who make it. So I took notes, jotted down some ingredients, and did some experiments. Eventually I created my own recipe that is healthy and that I like very much. It's not authentic Indian, it's something I made up after Googling lots of other recipes. But I want to share it.
Note well: There are two keys to making this stuff properly. First of all, you want to minimize the liquid in your vegetable ingredients, as these will make your puffed rice soggy before you can eat it. Second, although you can prepare the other ingredients the day before and refrigerate them, you really can't get away with stirring in the puffed rice until right before you are ready to eat. If you do, the rice will get soggy. The dish still tastes good after that, but it's very different and a lot less fun.Ingredients:
1 medium tomato (I use a large Roma for low juice), diced
1 medium onion, diced fine (I like sweet red onions but any will do)
1 medium-to-large Jalepeno pepper, deseeded and minced
1/2 of a 15oz can garbonzo beans (chickpeas), well drained
1 medium or large mango, as ripe as possible, diced (see below)
~2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice (I usually use juice of 1/2 small lime)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or just to your taste)
1 teaspoon garam masala (see below)
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (if available)
Salt to taste. Do not over-salt. I keep using half a teaspoon and finding the dish too salty. You need a little salt to help mask any bitterness in your onions or hot pepper, but the primary flavor profile you're going for is sweet (from the mango) and savory (from the spices) but not salty.
When the above ingredients are prepared and mixed and you are ready to eat, stir in:
2 cups puffed whole grain brown rice (kamut is good too)
Serve, eat. I hope somebody enjoys this as much as I do!A note about mango:
I consider the diced ripe mango an essential ingredient of this recipe ... but good mangos can be hard to find sometimes. I've played around with substituting other fruits, because I don't enjoy this dish unless it has a hefty dose of fruit sweetness. A diced banana works for sweetness, but doesn't have the sharp acid fruity notes needed to balance out the onion and hot pepper. I've also used frozen berries, but they tend not to be sweet enough unless you cheat and sweeten them slightly when you thaw them before you add them in. I have not yet tried berries and banana in the same mix, but that's my plan for the next time I don't have a mango handy.A note about garam masala: garam masala
is a Hindi phrase that means something like "hot mixture" -- it's a prepared spice blend and no two of them that you can buy are alike. However, a strongly flavored common ingredient is cumin. The one I am currently using to make this Bhelpuri has a lot of what I think of as "holiday baked goods" spices, which contribute to sweetness and a dessert character to the dish: Sadaf brand "Garam Masala seasoning" containing cumin, coriander, chili, cinnamon, cloves, mustard, black pepper, nutmeg, and cardamom. If I didn't have the Garam masala, I'd probably substitute 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and 1/8 tsp each of clove and nutmeg.