Whenever I go home, I’m always spoiled with a plethora of delicious Indian dishes, and inevitably, I head back to Charlottesville dreading the return to repetitive, boring food from my go-to Corner spots. Over spring break, however, my mom made one of my favorite Indian snacks, bhel puri, and I realized that her recipe was simple with fairly accessible ingredients, making it perfect for anyone’s chaotic college schedule.
Essentially, bhel puri is a snack made of crispy puffed rice, fresh vegetables — including tomatoes, potatoes and onions — a sweet tamarind chutney, a spicy, vibrant coriander chutney and sev, small, crunchy noodles made from chickpea flour and seasoned with salt, pepper and turmeric. Typically, my family prepares a batch as an afternoon snack with tea or as an appetizer before dinner — but we often end up eating so much that we get too full for the actual meal. Either way, bhel puri never disappoints.
The exact origins of bhel puri are unknown. Some stories say Gujarati housewives created and popularized the snack while others say one Gujarati migrant single-handedly formulated the bhel puri recipe in India. Another legend attributes the creation of bhel puri to Shah Jahan, a Mughal emperor. After his doctor required him to eat light, spicy dishes, Jahan’s kitchen staff first prepared the snack. Although the origins are not entirely concrete, bhel puri gained popularity as a delectable Mumbai street food, eventually spreading to other parts of the country.
Before you recreate this recipe in your own kitchen, I recommend taking a trip to India Bazaar, which is around four miles away from the University, to pick up some tamarind chutney, coriander chutney and sev — crucial parts of the snack. The remaining ingredients can be found at Harris Teeter, Wegmans, Kroger or wherever you get your groceries.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Yield: 6 portions
- ½ box of Rice Krispie cereal
- ¼ teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- Pinch of red chili powder
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts
- 1 tomato, diced
- ¼ boiled potato, diced
- ½ red onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons tamarind chutney
- 2 tablespoons coriander chutney
- Sev for garnish
- Chopped cilantro for garnish
- Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large pan over medium heat.
- Add turmeric, salt and red chili powder to the oil when the pan is warm, and turn off the heat.
- Add the Rice Krispies to the pan and mix thoroughly until they are evenly coated.
- Add Rice Krispies to a large mixing bowl.
- Add the potatoes, tomatoes, onions, peanuts and the chutneys to the mixing bowl with the Rice Krispies, and mix thoroughly.
- Sprinkle sev and cilantro onto the mixture, and serve.
The puffy rice, in addition to adding a textural element to the dish, provides subtle notes of saltiness, serving as the perfect base for the snack. Also, the fresh vegetables and cilantro make all the difference — the tomatoes add a nice acidic undertone, the onions pack a sharp punch and the cilantro brightens up the bhel. My favorite parts, though, are the two chutneys and the sev topping. The tamarind chutney is both sweet and tart, beautifully complementing the spicy coriander chutney. Personally, I always end up piling a few more spoonfuls of the tamarind chutney onto my own plate after making the batch. Lastly, the sev topping is thin and crispy, adding a crunch and rounding out the snack.
Ultimately, the flavors packed in bhel puri are explosive, satisfying every type of craving. If you want to bring a taste of India to Charlottesville, I highly recommend trying out this recipe.