Walking along Bombay’s Marine Drive or on the beaches of Bombay Chowpatty or Juhu, colorful market carts sell not only vibrant fruit and vegetables but many have been converted to sell the street food varieties India is famous for. And Bhelpuri is one of Bombay’s quintessential street food, not to mention one of the most loved snacks in India.
Typically, Bhelpuri is based on a snack food called bhel-mix, which is a combination of puffed rice and chickpea noodles, it is then mixed with a variety of ingredients, including boiled potatoes, onions, peanuts, a tangy spice chaat-masala mix, some tamarind chutney and herbs. It’s an iconic snack, spicy, but also sweet, tart, and salty and can be adapted to enhance any of those characteristics. The versatility in taste is the beauty of bhelpuri. In Eastern India, for example, one will find bhelpuri recipes that include raw mustard oil, which gives the salad an incredible kick. Every suburb in India has its own friendly “bhelwala” a bhelpuri vendor and each will have their own inimitable blends of chutneys and masalas. Fact is – if you ever find yourself in India hungry for a quick yet incredibly flavoful snack or salad – get yourself to the nearest bhelwala.
Often the salad is served in bowls made of banana leaves or put into cones made from newspapers and with a wooden spoon you scoop the tangy-sweet mix into your mouth. Get ready for true fireworks as the melange of aromas and flavors hit your tongue and leave you wondering “What did I just eat?”
Many people I meet here have a fear around Indian food and seem to think there is a lot of mystery around the cuisine. We use a liberal and wide range of spices in our food, which is probably one of the reasons people are intimidated. My advice to anyone venturing into Indian cooking as a beginner is basically what my mum taught me a long time ago and I have mentioned a few times on varies recipes on the blog.
When Indians eat, they want the receptors on the tongue to pick up all of the tastes with each bite – the sweet, the salty, the bitter, the sour and the umami!
When I create dishes at home based on Indian recipes I keep that in mind as a basis of all my recipes. I tweak and adapt the recipe until it fits our tastes. I also want people living outside of India to be able to relate to these dishes and find them easy to re-create in their own kitchens.
My inspiration for this salad comes from my childhood memories of vacations in Bombay. My aunt lived directly on Juhu beach, at the age of 15 I vividly remember one of my first rituals, when we visited her was heading out to the beach and finding a bhelwala for a quick fix of bhelpuri. I have given my version of the bhel a slightly different twist with ingredients readily available to me here in Germany. I have made a bit healthier using puffed quinoa and chickpeas instead of the fried chickpea noodles. I also add some avocado and lots of sprouts.
An integral part of this recipe is the “kala namak” – black salt, also known as Black Himalayan salt, which is made from Indian volcanic rock salt. It starts out as Himalayan Pink Salt and is then heated to extremely high temperatures and mixed with Indian spices and herbs including the seeds of the harad fruit which contains sulfur. It also contains trace impurities of sulfates, sulfides, iron and magnesium which all contribute to the salt’s color, smell and taste.
It has a very distinctive pungent smell, almost like hard boiled eggs and a delightful salty and tangy flavour, which is why I substituted the salt for the usual chaat-masala mix in this salad. Although black salt has a very strong smell at first but it disappears when cooked and the finished dish does not smell like eggs at all. It is the kala namak here that gives my version of the bhelpuri that wonderful savory umami flavor! I have added a healthy dose of lime juice for the tanginess, ground cumin for the earthy flavors and chili flakes for the heat.
- 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 red onion finely chopped
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 cucumber, diced
- 70g mixed sprouts, I used chickpea, mung, alfalfa, bean sprouts and lentils
- 100g unsalted peanuts, roasted
- 120g puffed quinoa
- Large handful of finely chopped coriander leaves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon black salt
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar
- Juice and zest of 2 limes plus more to serve
- In a large bowl place the chickpeas, green bell pepper, onion, avocado, cucumber and mixed sprouts. Season with the black salt, chili flakes, and palm sugar. Add the lime zest and juice and drizzle the oilive oil. Give everything a nice toss to make sure everything is coated in the dressing.
- Just before serving add the peanuts, puffed quinoa and chopped coriander leaves. Mix and serve immediately.
- Kala Namak might sound a bit exotic but can be found in Indian stores or organic shops.
- This salad is a great healthy snack and can be pimped up to your own liking.
- You can enjoy this as a snack on it’s own or as a side to grilled meats and poultry.
- The most important thing to remember is to enjoy it as soon as you add the puffed quinoa. As it starts to soak up the dressing it tends to get soggy.
I love this salad as it is perfect for warmer days. It’s light and healthy and so versatile. A go to salad when I am craving fresh, crunchy, sweet and tangy all at once – but also when I want a quick Indian fix! It is great for a vegen/vegetarian diet, is gluten-free and contains all the good complex carbs, keeping the energy levels balanced for a longer time.
You might like these great summer salad ideas from What’s for lunch, Honey?:
All photographs and written content on What’s For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2018 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First