Saturday, February 26, 2011
There's nothing proper about this bold, tarty street snack from the swollen crush of Bombay's streets. It is a hodge-podge of random flavors and textures that no cook in their right mind would dream of putting together. There's sweet here and spicy and sour and salty. And then there's creamy and crispy and crunchy and crumbly. The final result is lush genius on a plate.
In Bombay, you can buy Ragda Pattice at the open stalls and carts lining the city's long beaches and eat it standing right there, your feet burrowing into the soft sand and the sea breeze whipping your hair into a salty tango. Or, if you're worried about hygiene and all that annoying stuff that gets between a foodie and his/her indulgences, you can order it at one of the city's restaurants.
When I lived in Bombay, one of our go-to places after work was Vithal's, a restaurant in the maze-like Fort area. Vithal's offered almost every snack invented by the ingenious food hawkers of the city's streets, and although you were sitting in an air-conditioned room that sealed you off from the humidly oppressive heat, the raucous laughter and voices of people young and old at the tables around you could easily make you think you were actually out there.
I had one colleague who never ordered anything at Vithal's but Ragda Pattice. She was that person who, although a vegetarian since birth, ate no vegetables other than potatoes (doesn't everyone know someone like that?). And although I can't think of a veggie I don't love, I can easily see why Malathy was so obsessed with the mighty Ragda Pattice.
The pattice in Ragda Pattice are two flat patties made of nothing but boiled and mashed potatoes, salt and green chillies, which are then pan-fried to golden perfection. The patties are placed atop a white-pea sauce, or the ragda. White peas are not actually white but rather beige, with a flavor that's perfectly neutral and therefore perfectly wonderful for this dish, because here's the secret to a perfect Ragda Pattice: you want the two building blocks -- the ragda and the patties-- to be as mildly flavored as possible without being bland. That way they can provide the perfect backdrop for all those delicious toppings that go on, like the sweet-spicy-sour tamarind sauce, the crispy, savory sev (tiny yellow squiggles of chickpea flour you can buy in a packet at an Indian store), the pungent onion and the lemony, leafy coriander.
Just so you get the full effect of eating the Ragda Pattice, I wanted to share with you a video of the streets of Bombay, shot beautifully and true to life in this evocative song from a late '70s movie, Gaman. It's the city through the eyes of one of those cabbies who ferry passengers around in little yellow and black cabs. The streets of Bombay today are perhaps more crowded and certainly more choked up with cars of foreign make, but you will get the idea. The gentle, pensive voice in the song belongs to Suresh Wadkar who, before he hit the big time, briefly taught music at my school, Arya Vidya Mandir. We kids would call him "Wadkar sir" and he was a really sweet guy.
Finally, here's the recipe for this perfect comfort snack that's impossible for even the finickiest eater to resist. Enjoy your weekend, all!
Ragda (White Pea Curry)
1 cup dried white peas (you can find these at any Indian store). Soak for about 6-8 hours or overnight and then cook until tender, either in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop. To cook on the stovetop, cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer until tender, making sure that the peas are covered with water all the time.
1tsp ginger and garlic paste (you can even skip this, but don't use more than this because like I said before, you don't want a too-strong taste to your ragda)
1 onion, minced
1 tsp chaat masala (also available at Indian stores)
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onions. Saute over medium heat, adding a little salt, so the onions sweat and turn translucent but don't brown.
Add the ginger garlic paste and give it a stir for about a minute to cook the paste.
Add the red chilli powder, turmeric powder and chaat masala, stir to coat with the oil.
Add the white peas and stir together. Add water if the gravy is too thick, because you want it to be fairly runny. Add salt. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
Pattice (Potato Patties)
4 medium russet potatoes, boiled in their jackets, then peeled and mashed
2 green chillies, finely minced
1/4 cup cornflour
Salt to taste
Oil or oil spray to coat the bottom of a skillet
Mix the potatoes and other ingredients and form into flat patties, about 2 inches in diameter. I got 14 out of mine, but your results could depend on the size of the potatoes you use.
Heat the skillet, coat the bottom with a thin veneer of oil and, when hot, place the patties about an inch apart. Let each patty cook about 2-3 minutes on medium heat or until the surface is a rich golden-brown. Flip over and cook the other side.
Date and Tamarind Chutney
1 cup water
1/2 cup chopped dates (make sure you take out the pits)
2 tbsp tamarind paste or a ball of deseeded tamarind, about the size of a lemon (adjust this up or down depending on whether you like your sauce sweet or really tangy)
2 tbsp jaggery (an unrefined Indian sugar sold in blocks at Indian stores)
1/2 tsp cumin, roasted until a couple of shades darker, then ground to a fine powder
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
Salt to taste
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, then cook, stirring, about 8-10 minutes or until all ingredients are really soft
Place in a blender and add more water if necessary. Blitz. You should have a fairly runny sauce.
1 cup fine sev (found at Indian grocery stores)
1 onion minced, mixed with 1/2 cup finely chopped coriander
To build you plate of Ragda Pattice, pour some of the ragda into a plate. Place two patties on it, then top with the tamarind chutney followed by the onion-coriander mix and finally with the sev.