Thursday, May 6, 2010

For whom the Bhel tolls

Back in November I visited Burnaby, B.C. (that's British Columbia, not Before Christ for any Americans who may be reading this). While I was there I ate at a terrific Indian restaurant, the Bombay Bhel. I've had Indian food many times before, but this time I had something I'd never tried before. It's an appetizer called "bhel poori" (or bhel puri as it's sometimes written). Not technically a salad, but a "chaat". A chaat is a savoury snack usually consisting of crunchy bits, chutneys and cilantro. There are many variations on this theme, as I've come to learn. Bhel poori is essentially puffed rice, sev (crunchy noodle shaped bits made of chickpea flour), onion, tomato, cilantro, and tamarind chutney. A quick internet search reveals that no two recipes are exactly the same but those basic ingredients seem to be the standards that define this dish.

As I've said, bhel poori is a chaat, not a salad. But what is a salad, really? We cannot define it based on its ingredients, since a caesar salad, bean salad, and potato salad hardly share any of the same ingredients, and yet, we all know them to be salad. The word salad comes from the Latin word salata meaning "salty". Merriam-Webster defines a salad as:

1 : any of various usually cold dishes: as a : raw greens (as lettuce) often combined with other vegetables and toppings and served especially with dressing b : small pieces of food (as pasta, meat, fruit, or vegetables) usually mixed with a dressing (as mayonnaise) or set in gelatin

This definition, particularly part b, suits my concept of salad quite nicely. Let's think back to bhel poori: Usually cold? check. Small pieces of food? check. Mixed with a dressing? Hmmm... what constitutes a dressing? Merriam-Webster tells me that a dressing is "a sauce for adding to a dish". Well, I'd say that chutney counts as a sauce for adding to a dish. Thus, I deem that bhel poori meets the criteria qualifying it to be a salad, and thus, a valid entry in the Salad Challenge!

The recipe I more or less followed is found (ironically) at No Recipes. Funny that one should find recipes on a blog entitled No Recipes, but I'm not one to judge. It's actually an excellent blog with beautiful photography, I suggest you give it a browse.

The unfortunate thing about bhel poori is that proper ingredients are not always easy to find. The local superstore only carried mango chutney, and I couldn't find any sev. I did find a snack mix called "Jaffna mix" at the local bulk barn, and it did list the main ingredient as chick pea flour, so one can only assume that the little noodle-like sticks in this snack mix is indeed sev. I did come across the occasional bhel poori recipe that called for mango, so I thought the mango chutney would suffice, especially given the loose definition the dish has to begin with. With that, I give you my very own take on bhel poori.

Ash's Bhel Poori
Serves 1

1 small potato, cooked & coarsely mashed
1/2 roma tomato, chopped
2 tbsp red onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup puffed rice
1/4 cup Jaffna mix
2 tbsp mango chutney (or enough to coat all the ingredients)

Mix all ingredients together and serve immediately. This recipe won't keep (the rice & sev will go all soggy). I really liked this recipe, it was quick and easy, but I would really like to try it again with tamarind chutney (this seems to be pretty important and I get the feeling that without it I'm sort of missing the mark a bit). Maybe I'll try to hunt some down in Ottawa sometime, cause I doubt I'll find it anywhere in Brockville.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 18 Salads left: 34


  1. Hi! Greetings from India! Try squeezing some lemon juice on the bhel-puri next time as the tamarind chutney is quite sour. Also, you can add some chopped green mango (don't know if that is available)...

  2. Oooh! Thanks for the tip! Now that I've moved to Ottawa I'll have to try to find some tamarind chutney somewhere and give this another shot. I'm sure I'll be able to find green mango at one of the asian markets in town.