Chilli Chicken

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Indo-Chineese cuisine, food that has my heart and is the source of some of the fondest memories of family dinning growing up. Story goes that I was a problem child and the one bribe that worked like a charm was a weekend meal of my favorites – Chicken Corn soup, Prawn Pakora followed by Chilli Chicken with oodles of noodles at my favorite restaurant, Alex’s Kitchen. Always a Foodie. According to my mom I also preferred dining out because I loved the ambience of the restaurant. Yes that word became part of my vocabulary very early in life. Food is a sensory experience and the right ambience enhances that experience immensely, just like the mingled fragrance of chilli, garlic, ginger, scallion and soy at the restaurant.

The restaurant had a pretty big menu and the friendly host, Robert was always full of helpful and delicious recommendations. While we tried something new every now and then, Chilli Chicken was always part of our order. And I continue craving it every now and then. This recipe is probably not the real deal, but it is a recreation of the memory I cherish so much. Hopefully it will lead to some of your own.

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 30 mins     Yield: 6 servings     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

  • For the Chicken:
    • 2 lbs Boneless Chicken, cut in 1 inch cubes
    • 3 tbsp corn starch
    • 1 tbsp rice flour
    • 1 inch ginger, grated (or 1.5 tbsp ginger powder)
    • 1 tsp rice vinegar
    • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
    • 3 tsp black pepper powder
    • 1 tsp white pepper powder
    • 1 tsp red chilli powder
    • 1 tsp tomato sauce
    • 1 egg
  • For the Gravy:
    • 4 tbsp soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp tomato sauce or ketchup
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1 tsp rice vinegar
    • 1 tsp brown sugar
    • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 onion, cut in squares
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut in squares
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut in squares
  • 2-3 thai chilli pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • Oil
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • salt to taste

Process:

  1. Make a paste with the ginger, garlic, white pepper powder, tomato sauce, red chilli powder, rice vinegar, corn starch, rice flour and egg. Marinate the chicken pieces in this paste for 3-4 hours.
  2. Heat oil for deep frying in a heavy bottomed vessel.
  3. Carefully fry the marinated chicken. Do not crowd the vessel. Reduce flame and deep fry till cooked and is golden brown. Remove onto absorbent paper and keep aside.
  4. Heat oil in a large wok add half of the soy sauce and sugar.
  5. Add the whites of scallions and sauté for a few seconds. Add the chilli pepper and ginger and stir fry on high for a few seconds.
  6. Add the fried chicken pieces, chopped bell peppers and onion and stir fry on high for 2-3 mins, constantly tossing them.
  7. Reduce to medium heat and add rest of the soy sauce, tomato ketchup and vinegar. Mix well and cook for 2-3 mins.
  8. Toss on high flame for 1-2 mins
  9. Mix a tbsp of cornflour in a little water, make a thin paste and keep aside.
  10. Add the chicken stock  and bring to a boil.
  11. Add the cornflour water slowly and keep stirring till it takes a thick gravy like consistency. Cook for 1-2 mts. Turn off heat.
  12.  Garnish with chopped spring onion greens and/or coriander leaves and serve.
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Vegetable Manchurian

IMG_4267Indo- Chinese cuisine took birth in the streets of Kolkata by a small group of Chinese immigrants incorporating traditional Chinese cooking techniques and seasoning to create dishes catering to Indian tastes. A big part of it was providing a wide range of vegetarian options. Through years of evolution, this cuisine now bears very little resemblance to traditional Chinese food, except may be the use of soy sauce.

Good Indo-Chinese food is almost impossible to find in US, I have followed every lead I got (which includes my cousin driving an hour for a carry out!!) but the food never met expectations. So this became one of those pet projects of mine and I have finally managed the India wala taste. And the best part, this is MSG FREE!
IMG_4279This dish is one of the most popular street food in India, grated mixed vegetable dumplings are first fried and then sautéed in soy sauce (and more) and served hot as is or as a side dish with Hakka Noodles or Fried Rice. Dry version serves as a good appetizer and the gravy version is perfect with some Fried Rice or Steamed Rice. Restaurants add a whole bunch of MSG (may be thats why its so addictive?), I use a tbsp of butter instead to get similar flavor.

Here I am deep frying the fritters, but in the past I have tried to bake it too. Make the vegetables balls following steps listed below, on a cookie sheet layered with parchment paper place them around 1/2 inch apart from each other,  spray a little oil and baked for 20 mins in oven pre-heated to 400F/205C, then broiled for 5 mins, flipping them halfway. While it definitely is a lot healthier, it doesn’t taste the same.

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 20 mins     Yield: 16     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • Finely chopped vegetables
    • 1/4 cup carrots
    • 1/4 cup green bell pepper
    • 1/4 cup red bell pepper
    • 1/2 cup cauliflower
    • 1/2 cup cabbage
    • 1/2 cup scallions
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 tbsp rice flour
  • 2-3 thai chilli pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, grated (or 1.5 tbsp ginger powder)
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato sauce or ketchup
  • 1 tbsp chilli sauce or siracha
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 3 tsp black pepper power
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

Process:

  1. Heat oil for deep frying in a heavy bottomed vessel.
  2. In a bowl, combine all the finely chopped vegetables. Add salt, mix it in and let it sit aside for 10-15 mins. vegetables (especially cauliflower) will release quite a bit of water.
  3. Add all-purpose flour, corn starch, rice flour, half of ginger, garlic and thai chilli pepper, black pepper, 2 tsp soy sauce. Mix them all in. Add water, if needed, little by little and use only as much water as required to form small balls. You should be able to make small balls as shown in the picture above. Be mindful while adding water and add only 1 tbsp at a time.
  4. Carefully place each ball into the hot oil. Do not crowd the vessel. Reduce flame and deep fry the vegetable balls till cooked and is golden brown. Remove onto absorbent paper and keep aside.
  5. Heat oil in a large wok, add the whites of scallions and garlic, sauté for a few seconds. Add the rest of chilli pepper and ginger and stir fry on high for a few seconds.
  6. Add the vegetable balls and stir fry on high for 2 mts, constantly tossing them.
  7. Reduce to medium heat and add the brown sugar, soya sauce, tomato ketchup, chilli sauce and vinegar. Mix well and cook for 2 mts.
  8. Toss on high flame for 1-2 mts. Turn off heat. Garnish with the chopped spring onion greens and/or coriander leaves.

Notes:

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To make Vegetable Manchurian with Gravy:

  • Mix a tbsp of cornflour in a little water. Keep aside.
  • After following step 5 above, add 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and add the brown sugar, soya sauce, tomato ketchup, chilli sauce and vinegar.
  • Add the cornflour water slowly and keep stirring till it takes a thick gravy like consistency. Cook for 1-2 mts. Turn off heat.
  • Add the fried vegetable balls to the gravy at the time of serving. Garnish with chopped spring onion greens and/or coriander leaves.

Salsa

IMG_4111Superbowl is round the corner and it calls for some easy crowd pleasing finger food that are guaranteed to score! This is one of my favorite game day recipe, a base that gives me flexibility to serve with some chips or a plate of Veggie Nachos or Veggie Quesadillas or as one of the toppings for a burrito bowl. Over the years this has become our favorite game day food for any big sports event… Cricket, Boxing, Tennis.. and MMA, provided the fight goes on for more than a few seconds. Essentially I always have a jar of Salsa in my refrigerator and it has always been a big score for me.IMG_4112I first had Salsa at a mexican restaurant in Mystic CT, the food in Margaritas is average but the salsa is a town favorite. Thats the taste that inspired this recipe and to me it feels like perfection, every bite brings back memories of Sangrias with girlfriends. Play around with the ingredients and find that perfect taste for you. This is also one of those recipes that I am asked about a lot! So here goes. 526102_373643059347155_950859651_nCouple things to keep in mind: First, I use plum tomatoes for this because they have low moisture content, robust flavor and mild acidity making it a perfect choice, but any other type of tomatoes works just as good. Secondly I don’t use a food processor to chop the vegetables because they loose their crunchiness, which I really like. But if thats something your not particular about then just throw all ingredients (except corn and beans) in a food processor and pulse away. Third, allow it to rest for a day before digging in. This helps with all the flavors to really blend in.IMG_4117The picture above shows how I chop the vegetables, they are almost finely chopped.

Time for Prep: 20 mins      Time to Cook: 5 mins     Yield: 16oz (2 cups)      Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 cubanelles, chopped
  • 2-4 jalepenos, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 english cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Red Wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp chili paste or Tubasco sauce (optional)
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 cup sweet yellow corn, cooked (Optional)
  • 1 cup black beans, cooked (Optional)

Process:

  1. In a mixing bowl, mix in the chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, cubanelles, jalepenos, onion, cilantro and cucumber.
  2. Add tomato and chili paste, mix it in.
  3. Add yellow corn and black beans, mix in.
  4. Add salt, cumin, cayenne and red wine vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning based on preference. If you want a runnier Salsa, add more tomato paste and/or red wine vinegar.
  5. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Stays good for around 14-15 days.

Onion Fritters

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Last few days in California felt like the monsoon season in India. Peaks of sunshine in between rainy days, glorious rainbows and slight chill in the air. The only thing missing was the ‘geeli mitti ki saundhi saundhi khushboo’, the sweet aroma of the soil when it first gets wet after the hot dry summer days. The special smell of the soil back home!

I love rain. There is something so calming about walking in the rain, soaking it all in and jumping in the little puddles of water (yes, sometimes I am like a 5 year old and I love it). It transports me to childhood days when as soon as it rained, we would go out for a drive to Tank Bund (in Hyderabad) in search of a Bhutta Wala (street vendor selling corn on webs), watching greedily as he grilled a delicious corn on the cob on a bed of coal, once done he would dip a half a lime in salt and then rub it on the corn before handing it over to us.

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On other days my foodie dad would convince mom to make bhaja boda and cha (onion fritters and tea). Hard to find a Bhutta Wala in California, so I just made some fritters instead. When we lived in Connecticut, this was a favorite for snowy days.

Here I am deep frying the fritters, but in the past I have tried to bake it too. I dropped spoonful of batter on a cookie sheet layered with parchment paper around 1/2 inch apart from each other,  sprayed a little oil and baked for 20 mins in oven pre-heated to 400F/205C, then broiled for 5 mins, flipping them halfway. While it definitely is a lot healthier, it doesn’t taste the same.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 15-20 mins    Yield: 4-6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup chickpea flour/gram flour/besan
  • 2 tbsp rice powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp ajwain / carom seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 2-3 green chilli pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 inch ginger, grated
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • water if required
  • oil for deep frying

Process:

  1. In a mixing bowl mix the sliced onions, ginger, garlic, ajwain, cumin, cayenne and salt. Let it sit aside for 20-25 mins. Onions will release quite a bit of water.
  2. Add in the chopped cilantro and green chilli pepper and fold it in.
  3. Heat oil for deep frying on medium heat.
  4. While oil is heating, add rice flour and chickpea flour, mix it in to form a thick batter. Add in water if needed.*
  5. Mix it in really well (I use hands at this point), all ingredients need to be evenly distributed or you will get pockets of intense flavor and pockets of bland batter.
  6. When the oil is hot enough* (around 375F) add spoonful of batter into it one by one. Depending on the size of the vessel your frying in, don’t over crowd. I was frying 5-6 spoonful at a time.
  7. When the fritters are slightly cooked, turn with a slotted spoon and continue frying.*
  8. When the fritters get an even golden brown coat and look crispy remove them with a slotted spoon. Place on kitchen paper towels to soak out the extra oil.

Serve hot.

Notes:

  • Be mindful while adding water and add only 1 tbsp at a time. The batter needs to be thick and just enough to coat all the onions to get a crispy fritters. If you add too much water you will get soggy /meaty fritters instead.
  • Also add a couple (2 or 3) teaspoon of hot oil in the batter and mix it in. This makes the fritters crispier and they tend to absorb less oil while frying.
  • To test if the oil is hot enough, take a tiny bit of the batter and drop it in the oil, if it floats up and begins to get brown, the oil is ready.
  • The oil should not be too hot, otherwise the fritters will get brown quickly but will remain uncooked inside.
  • You will probably need to turn the fritters a couple times to get it evenly fried.
  • If you are not comfortable frying and want to bake instead then. Drop spoonful of batter on a cookie sheet layered with parchment paper around 1/2 inch apart from each other. Spray a little oil and bake for 20 mins in oven pre-heated to 400F/205C, then broil for 5 mins, flipping them halfway.

Quinoa Cakes

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Quinoa has been a staple grain in south america for centuries. But in recent times it has become increasingly popular around the world with its nutty flavor and high nutritional value. This is one of my favorite ways to cook quinoa and perfect for fall evenings when there is a little bit of chill in the air and all you want to eat is something warm and something snacky or as husband likes to say ‘Chakna’.

I have served this at brunches, as appetizers and as part of the main course. And its been a hit all around. In this instance I used a boiled potato to bind the quinoa dough but you can also use eggs (2 eggs lightly beaten), see notes for instructions.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 30 mins     Yield: ~8 Servings     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tbsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tsp cumin, roasted and ground
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3-4 fresh green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 medium sized potato, boiled and mashed.
  • Oil

Process:

  1. Cooking the Quinoa:
    1. Rinse the quinoa first always, this helps wash away the bitter coating. Make sure to use a fine mesh strainer.
    2. Heat a sauce pan, melt 1/2 tbsp of butter, add the quinoa and sauté for a couple mins. This really brings out a slight nutty flavor.
    3. Add salt and 1/2 tbsp ground black pepper, 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 10- 15 mins in low heat or till all of the water is absorbed by the quinoa.
    4. Turn of the heat and let it sit for 5-10 mins to let it cool down.
  2. Making the Cake Dough:
    1. Heat a griddle, dry roast 2 tsp of cumin, until you smell the aroma. Transfer to a work surface and using a rolling pin roll over and roughly crush the roasted cumin.
    2. Combine the cooled quinoa, salt, cayenne, roasted  and ground cumin, cilantro, fresh green chili and the mashed potato.
    3. You should have a slightly moist dough.
  3. Cooking the Quinoa Cake:
    1. Heat a skillet or griddle pan, lightly oil it. Take around 1/4 cup of the quinoa mixture and form into a ball.
    2. Flatten it into a pancake around 1/4 inch thick.
    3. Place on hot griddle and cook, flip and cook until golden brown on both sides . Takes around 5 mins.
    4. Remove from pan and serve warm.

Notes:

  • I used potatoes here as a binding agent for the quinoa and that made it easy to shape the cakes with hand.
  • You can also use eggs (2 eggs lightly beaten) instead of the potato. In that case you will have a slightly wet mixture. So take around 1/4 cup and make it into a ball. Place it on the greased hot skillet and using a spatula flatten it into a pancake about 1/4 inch thick.
  • This is a vegetarian version, but I have made this by adding chopped cooked shrimp to the quinoa mixture to indulge by seafood cravings.
  • You can also add chopped carrots, grated beet roots etc..,. to the mixture. Have fun experimenting!

Bengali Deemer Chop (Egg and Potato Cutlet)

Durga Puja is round the corner and this time of the year always makes me nostalgic about good ole days. Growing up in a Bengali family, this was by far the most important event of the year. I have been often asked by my non-Indian friends what is Durga Puja and why its so important to me. Here’s why – memories of  good food and good times shared with friends!

I am hazy about the details around the religious aspect of things. To me its always been the entire community coming together for a 5 day cultural celebration of the victory of good over evil. A celebration filled with food, color, music and festivities. People gathered in large festive tents called ‘Pandal’, laughing together, sharing the delicious spread of Bhog (food offering to goddess), the smell of Kichudi, flowers and incense, the sound of Dhak (Drum), the Adda (chit chat), song, dance and theatre….  the layers and layers of festivities.

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Some of my favorite memories growing up are of the days leading up to it, the shopping of new clothes, planning what I would wear on each day and the rehearsals at Hyderabad Bengali Samity of plays and dances to be performed. Kids rehearsals followed by parents, the fights over badminton rackets or a game of carroms, Patiently waiting for the resident director Goshwami Kaku (Who ran an IT company for his day job) to say ‘Cut’  so that the egg roll and egg chop from Utpal Kaku’s canteen would appear along with some ‘Cha’ (Tea). Its been years since my last visit to Bengali Samity, but every time I bite into an egg roll or an egg chop, I am transported right back.

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Time for Prep: 45 mins     Time to Cook: 10 mins     Yield: 4 Servings     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, hard boiled and cut in half
  • 4-5 small potatoes, boiled and skin removed
  • Salt to taste (I prefer Rock Salt)
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp chaat masala (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 2-3 green chili pepper, chopped
  • 2 tbsp onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp corn flour
  • 2-3 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs, on a plate.
  • Oil for frying

Process:

  1. Making Potato Mixture:
    1. Mash the potatoes, be careful not to overdo it, or they will get starchy.
    2. Add the spices, chopped onions, cilantro and green chili pepper. Mix well
    3. Divide into 4 portions.
  2. Assembly:
    1. Take a portion of the potato mixture, flatten it and place one of the half egg in the center.
    2. Cover the entire egg with the potato mixture, make sure there are no gaps.
    3. Repeat with other 3 halves.
    4. Refrigerate for 20 mins
  3. Mix the corn flour with a pinch of salt, pinch of ground pepper and water. Blend into a smooth paste.
  4. Dip the chilled cutlets in the cornflour paste, then roll it the bread crumbs.
  5. Place on a plate and chill for another 10 mins.
  6. Heat oil in a wok or deep fryer and fry in medium heat till golden brown.
  7. Remove and place on paper towel to soak out excess oil.
  8. Serve warm.

Notes:

  • Instead of corn flour paste, the cutlet can also be dipped in beaten egg before rolling in bread crumbs.
  • If you want to avoid frying, Spray with cooking oil and  bake at 400F/200C for 30 mins. Make sure to flip once in between.
  • For a vegetarian/Vegan version, replace the egg with piece of tofu or paneer.

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Koraishutir Kochuri – Puri Stuffed with Green Peas

A few years back my husband and I took wine classes at the Devine Wine Emporium in Niantic CT. Ken, the wine educator started the 6 weekend long class saying (and I am paraphrasing here) “Good wine is like a trip down memory lane. Each layer of aroma and flavor is transcending, taking you back to a memory”. Good food has the exact same effect on me.

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Koraishutir Kochuri (Puri stuffed with green peas)

This dish brings back numerous good memories. My dad coming back from his evening walks with a bag of fresh green peas, all of us helping with peeling pea pods, eating half of it in the process, chit chat, laughter and so much more fun. And the fact that my husband absolutely loves this (Even learnt to say it like a bengali) is an added bonus.

Hope that you make some wonderful memories of your own while trying out this recipe.

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Traditionally this is made in winters (because fresh green peas are available in abundance in the season) for breakfast and served with Aloor Dom (potato curry). Husband likes to eat this as is, so I usually don’t make the potato curry, unless entertaining.

Time for Prep: 30 mins     Time to Cook: 30 mins    Yield: 10 Kochuri     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

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For the puri:

  • 1.5 cups All purpose flour or whole wheat flour or a combination of both.
  • 1/2 cup warm water (Plus more if needed)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp oil or clarified butter (I prefer using Clarified butter)

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For the stuffing:

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp pepper corn
  • 4-5 dry red chili
  • 1/4 tsp asafetida
  • salt to taste

Process:

Poori dough if making by hand: (I make it in the food processor)

  1. Sieve the flour. Make a well in the center and add salt and oil/Ghee. Mix it together till it looks like crumbles
  2. Once again make a well in the center and pour warm water, little at a time to make a soft dough.
  3. Cover with damp cloth and let rest for 30 mins to an hour.

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Stuffing:

  1. Wash and clean green peas in water, if using frozen peas then thaw them first.
  2. Put the peas in a microwave safe bowl and cook for 5 – 6 mins or until cooked. This can be done on stovetop by adding the peas to a heated heavy bottom pan and steam it. Set it aside to cool.
  3. Heat a non-stick sauce pan and add the cumin, fennel, pepper corn and dry red chillies to it. Dry roast them for 3-4 mins. Set it aside to cool.
  4. Corse grind the spice mix in a coffee grinder.
  5. In a food processor add the green peas and pulse them. Mix in the spice mix, salt and asafetida.
  6. If the stuffing is wet, dry it out by cooking it a little in a non-stick pan

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Assembling or putting it all together:

  1. Make small balls from the dough
  2. Take one ball at a time, press gently with your thumb to make it bigger and flatter. Be careful not to make the center to thin. Make it bigger by gently streching at the edges.
  3. Add a ball of filling to each flattened ball, bring together the edges to seal the stuffing inside.
  4. Grease your work surface and roll out the stuffed balls. Be careful not make any cracks by over stretching the dough.

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Cooking:

  1. Deep fry each stuffed puri one at a time.
  2. Gently slide the rolled puri in hot oil. It will go to the bottom first and then slowly float up.
  3. Gently press the center with a spatula. Two things will happen at this stage: The puri will puff and will turn golden brown, flip and let the other side get some color too. Remove when it gets a golden brown color and place on paper towels to rid off the excess oil.

Serve them hot!

Note:

  • The stuffing needs to be dry or it will be really difficult to roll them out.