Several years back our friend, Alf, prepared a traditional bhel puri to whet our appetites before dinner. These tangy, spicy bites were such a hit that hubby and I both went after more during the main course. This is no small statement, as Alf is a gifted cook; so in addition to delicious curries and vegetables appearing for the main course, we kept indulging in the bhel puris.
Bhel Puri is an iconic snack of India, often identified with the beaches of Mumbai. Traditionally it is a puffed rice snack, or chaat. The flavors of my salad version feature quintessential Indian flavors. Cilantro-mint and tamarind chutneys mingle with diced potatoes, tomatoes, avocados and cucumbers. A bit of diced red onion, a sprinkle of spices and your taste buds are doing a happy dance.
We’re fortunate living in the East Bay, where Indian restaurants and grocery stores are plentiful. Given the size of India, and its many cultures, the wide variety of preparations offers ample opportunity for exploration. Procuring ingredients is easy, sometimes with a bit too many options!
I enjoy going to Vik’s Chaat & Market on Fourth Street in Berkeley. I often grab a snack, chaat, to be precise, and do a bit of stocking up for my pantry in their adjoining market. Indira Chopra began the operation back in 1989. It’s still a family business, with her son, Amod Chopra at the helm these days. But if you’re fortunate, you may find Indira behind the counter of their well-stocked grocery section. She’s friendly and happy to provide guidance to those needing to expand our familiarity with Indian ingredients.
Our local farmers’ markets also provide an opportunity to taste Indian foods. In addition to fresh and preserved chutneys, local producer/purveyor Suhki’s, offers samples of their samosas, naans and more.
One could prepare the chutneys from scratch as well. If you’re already making your own fresh chimichurri or salsa verde, you’ve got a handle on making the fresh cilantro-mint chutney. And the ingredients are readily available. Tamarind is found at most Asian produce aisles, and I’ve seen it at Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods too. Give tamarind-date chutney a whirl too!
Summer’s firm-ripe tomatoes make it a perfect time to enjoy this salad. The options are nearly endless here, after all, it’s salad! I encourage you to mix-and-match ingredients to make this your own.
A few advance tips:
- The size of the diced pieces is not so important and ensuring they’re fairly uniform. You don’t want to dice them so small they mush and meld together; and not so large they dwarf the pieces of bhel puri when you mix them in. You might leave the tomatoes and avocado pieces a bit larger than the potatoes and cucumber, as the former do tend to mash or break down a bit.
- I prefer the herbaceous cilantro-mint chutney; and less of the sweeter tamarind chutney. But give them each a taste and use a ratio that suits your taste buds.
- Adding some minced jalapeno pepper for a bit of heat may suit those who favor it.
Bhel Puri-Inspired Chopped Salad
About four salad course servings
- 1 medium potato, boiled and diced into 1/ 4” – 1/ 2” cubes; about 1 cup (Use a waxy potato such as Yukon Gold, French fingerling, etc.)
- 1 large tomato, diced into approximately 1/ 4” – 1/ 2” pieces; about 1 cup
- 1 medium cucumber, diced into 1/ 4” – 1/ 2” pieces; about 1 cup
- 1 large avocado, firm-ripe, diced into 1/ 4” – 1/ 2” pieces; about 1 cup
- 1/ 2 cup red onion, diced fine
- 1/ 2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped fine
- 2 – 3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped fine
- 2 – 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons cilantro-mint chutney, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon tamarind chutney, or to taste
- 1/ 2 teaspoon ground cumin powder
- 1/ 2 teaspoon ground coriander powder
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Just prior to serving:
- 1 cup bhel puri snack mix, or amount to preference
- 1/ 4 – 1/ 2 cup sev, fine; or amount to preference
- Minced cilantro, for garnish
- Chopped peanuts, for garnish (optional)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, chutneys, cumin and coriander powders. Stir to blend. Add the diced potatoes, tomato, cucumber and red onion; stir until mostly well mixed. Gently fold in the diced avocado, minced cilantro and mint. Taste and adjust spices, add salt and pepper.
- Just prior to serving, add in the bhel puri snack mix and gently fold into the salad. Transfer to serving plates and sprinkle on the sev. Add cilantro and peanuts to garnish.
- The bhel puri and sev will begin to soften very quickly once added to the salad. The salad is best eaten whilst they are still crunchy, immediately after they’re added. If you need to make it in advance, set aside the chopped vegetables in the refrigerator; adding the bhel puri and sev just prior to serving.