Vada Pav

Indian Street food, Vada Pav, a potato patty served on a bun

Vada Voom
One of my favorite things to experience when traveling internationally is the street food. In my opinion, it is the best way to learn about a different culture. And, honestly, while a 3-star Michelin restaurant can be amazing, sometimes the snack from the cart on the corner is the best meal you will have.

Except for the NYC hot dog cart, the US doesn’t really have much street food culture. The closest we come would be food trucks. But, in a place like India, street food is unavoidable. I experienced this firsthand when my then fiancé and I spent some time with a good friend and his family in Mumbai.

Not gonna lie, eating the street food made me nervous. But, here’s what I learned from that experience. It is darn near impossible to avoid GI issues when traveling in India—no matter how careful you are. It may be TMI, but you need to be aware. Just go prepared. Preferably with a prescription.

Trust me it’s worth it because the real flavors of India are found on the streets. Except for that life-changing Tandoori crab…but I digress…

Picking a favorite snack, a.k.a chaat is impossible. But, Vada Pav would definitely be in my top 10. Keep in mind, my sample size in India is small, and consists only of Mumbai and Goa. I haven’t had the chance to go everywhere and find more options….yet.

To be frank, there’s a reason you purchase these. It’s a lot of prep and cooking for something that is just a snack. But, while I am sure someone somewhere is making these in the Bay Area, I haven’t been able to find them. So, when I feel a craving coming on, there’s nothing left to do but roll up my sleeves and get to work!

Vada Pav Recipe
Adapted from Chaat by Maneet Chauhan
Yields 4 servings

Vada Pav (a.k.a. Bombay Burger) consists of a deep-fried potato dumpling placed inside a bread bun. Vada is usually accompanied by green and coconut chutneys and fried green chili peppers. Although Vada Pav originated as a street food in Mumbai, it is now served in food stalls and restaurants across India.

For the Vada
3 russet potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for deep-frying
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon hing (asafetida)
4 fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri or other red chili powder
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled with a spoon and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
1/2 cup lightly packed finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons chaat masala
Fresh lime juice
1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 teaspoon ground coriander

For the Chaat
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 flaky white buns, such as potato or brioche buns
Green Chutney (we recommend Indian Life)
Coconut Chutney, store-bought or homemade
Vada Pav Dry Garlic Chutney
Pan-fried serrano chiles (optional)

Cook the potatoes
In a saucepan, combine the potatoes and enough water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until tender (about 15 minutes).

Drain the potatoes, and once they are cool enough to handle, peel them using your fingers (the skin should slide right off). Place the potatoes in a bowl and mash them with a fork until they are still slightly chunky.

Toast the spices
In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until it glistens. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and sauté until they begin to hiss (about 2 minutes). Add the hing, curry leaves, turmeric, chili powder, ginger, and garlic. Sauté, stirring often, until the garlic is tender (about 4 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat. Season with salt and then transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Make the potato mixture
Add the potatoes, cilantro, and chaat masala to the spice mixture in the bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until everything is incorporated. Season the mixture with lime juice and salt to taste.

Form the patties
Form the potato mixture into four 2-inch balls and arrange them on a plate in a single layer. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside at room temperature.

Make the chickpea batter
In a large bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour and enough water (begin with 1/4 cup) to form a paste resembling a thick cake batter. It should not be runny. Stir in the coriander and season with salt.

Fry the vada
Line a plate with paper towels to absorb the oil.

Pour 5 inches of oil into a deep heavy-bottomed pot and heat the oil to 350°F on an instant-read thermometer. Dredge the potato balls in the chickpea batter until they are well-coated. Shake to remove any excess.

Using a slotted spoon, gently lower a vada into the oil and fry until golden brown on all sides (about 4 to 6 minutes). Turn the patty with the spoon as it fries to ensure even cooking and browning. Transfer the vada to the paper towels to drain and season with salt. Repeat with the remaining vada.

Fry the serrano chiles
Fry the serene chiles (if using) in a pan with a little oil until they begin to blister (about 3 to 4 minutes),

Assemble the chaat
In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Split the buns and place them in the pan, interior-side down. Fry the buns until they are a light golden brown (about 1 minute). Place one bun with the interior sides facing up, on each of the four plates. Slather both sides of the bun with green chutney, then spoon coconut chutney on top.

Place a vada on the bottom bun and top with fried chiles (if using). Serve with additional chutneys on the side.

Punjabi Samosas

Some More Samosas
We all have at least one food item where you can neither eat just one nor a little bit. Unfortunately for me, I have several.

In some cases, it is a dish that reminds me of my childhood. (And, yes, there are days when I would like to go back to when I had no responsibilities whatsoever. Please and thank you.) If I am being honest, most of the time I overindulge it is because whatever I am eating simply tastes so stinking good.

Punjabi Samosas are one of those things. I am not a one-and-done girl when it comes to samosas. I will eat them for dinner, and I will eat them for breakfast the next morning. This is why whenever we order takeout, I always get extra. They come in a wonderful variety of fillings, but I always circle back to the tried-and-true Punjabi version with potatoes and peas. They are the perfect combination of spices and carbs.

I do not make them at home too often—mainly because of the hassle of deep frying. But I have recently bowed to public pressure and purchased an air fryer. I didn’t want to love it. But, I’ve found that I kind of do. So, my next order of business is to try the samosa recipe below using my air fryer. This could be dangerous for my waistline!

If you don’t have an air fryer, you can certainly do them the old-fashioned way or bake them in the oven.

Punjabi Samosas
Adapted from Indian Healthy Recipes
Yields about 10 samosas

Punjabi Samosas are a crisp Indian chaat (or snack) with spicy potato and peas filling. They are one of the most commonly eaten snacks in India. Serve these with a tamarind or mint chutney. They can be deep-fried, baked, or air-fried. Read more…

Tandoori Prawns

Tandoori Prawns with lime and cilantro on skewersTandoor Oven Dreaming
Long ago, on a continent far, far away, I ate a meal that I can still taste twenty-three years later. I have talked about the trip I took to India a few times through the years, but I don’t think I have specifically talked about the night we went to Trishna in Mumbai. (If I am wrong, I apologize. I ask that you indulge me and let me reminisce…)

I can’t remember what I was expecting food-wise when we decided to go to India. Did I expect some really good curry? Yes. Did I expect to eat it for breakfast? That would be a no. Did I expect the most amazing and uber-authentic hot Chai every morning despite the oppressive heat outside? No. Was it the greatest way to wake up ever? Absolutely one hundred percent, yes.

The fact is there is no way to visit India without tasting some of the best things you will ever taste. I mean Indian spices have been revered for centuries for a reason, right? I was surprised to find that not everything I ate was screaming hot. I mean, sure, there were plenty of chilis involved no matter what we ate.

But, the best thing I ate was super simple—the tandoori crab from Trishna. Known for its amazing seafood, Trishna’s menu is immense, but the crab is the one item on the menu that you just can’t miss. It was essentially an entire crab drowning in butter, some chilis, and an insane amount of garlic. The crab was either cooked in a tandoor oven or in a wok. (I am not completely sure which.) I am certain there was more to it than that because I have tried to recreate the dish but can’t no matter how hard I try. (Guess we just have to go back. Oh darn…)

And despite how fondly we both look back on that dinner, my husband draws the line at installing a tandoor oven in the backyard. He’s no fun…

The one dish I have been able to recreate from that night is the Tandoori Prawns. So much flavor!! Full disclosure, the prawns we ate were giant Indian Ocean tiger prawns. You would be hard-pressed to find some here but definitely opt for a larger prawn to make these, though medium prawns will work too, especially for a crowd.

Tandoori Prawns Recipe
Yields 4 servings

These Tandoori Prawns are fairly quick and easy to throw together and make a nice change of pace for a mid-week dinner when the temperatures go up. Read more…

Homemade Naan

 Homemade NaanSecond to Naan
The other night we ordered Indian food from our favorite takeout spot. We order the same things every time because we’re boring. And, we eat there often enough to know what our favorites are. Tikka masala, lamb biryani, tandoori, multiple orders of samosas (I like them for breakfast.), and absolutely without fail, way too much naan to go with it all.

Just like the basket of bread on the table at your favorite restaurant, it is impossible to just eat a little bit of naan. When it’s still piping hot I’ll eat it plain by the handful. When it cools off a bit, there is no better way to soak up every last drop of saucy goodness than by swiping your plate with the naan.

I had never made my own naan—mainly because I never thought I would be able to get it right without using a tandoor. And, frankly, it was just easier to order it. However, on those nights when I throw together a quick chicken curry at home, it would be nice to have some fresh naan that didn’t come from a package at the store.

So it will come as no surprise that I was very happy to find this recipe for making naan in a cast-iron skillet. It’s simple and the bulk of my everyday pans are cast iron. Yay me. The good news? Naan can also make a great flatbread sandwich which is good because I plan to make these again this weekend…curry or no curry.

Homemade Naan Recipe
Adapted from Rasa Malaysia
Yields 8 pieces

This recipe for homemade naan turns out delicious, soft, puffy, airy, bread with beautiful golden brown spots on the surface. They taste just like the best Indian buffet restaurants! Read more…