Diwali

The Spicy, Crunchy Snack I'm Making for Diwali This Year

Cookbook author (and Great British Baking Show contestant) Chetna Makan shows us a speedy, satisfying recipe to celebrate the festival of lights.

October 24, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist: Yossy Arefi. Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

On your mark, get set, bake! Food52 contributor and Great British Baking Show contestant, Chetna Makan, is here to give us the lowdown on the kind of food she makes at home: simple, Indian-inspired weeknight wonders, showstopping sweets, and so much more.


Diwali is one of the biggest holidays in India, celebrated in mid-autumn. It's the festival of lights, signifying the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and many a diya ("tealight," in Hindi) and sparkler are lit to commemorate. It is also a rare occasion when everyone in the family stops work and gets together to celebrate. Of course, in India, Diwali is a national holiday, and schools and work are off for the day. While this is sadly not the case in the U.K., where I live, we try our best to fit in as much of the festival on a workday as we can!

In my family, if Diwali falls on a weeknight, we tend to have a mini-celebration that evening itself—usually after a long day of work and school. But then we also have a big celebration the weekend following, so we don't miss out on any fun. This year, Diwali thankfully lands on a Sunday (October 26), but my family will likely celebrate for a few days anyway.

Food is a huge part of Diwali celebrations, too, often involving special dishes for the big dinner: biryani (fried rice with spices, vegetables, and often, meat), chole puri (spiced chickpea stew served with puffy deep-fried wheat flatbread), and milky rice kheer, with plenty of cardamom. Most importantly, though, we make lots of snacks and sweets on Diwali, to fill the hearts and bellies of our loved ones.

Growing up in Jabalpur, in central India, I lived on a cul-de-sac with my family, and we were surrounded by some lovely neighbors from different parts of India: Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, and Kerala. So there were amazing Diwali treats from all these regions to enjoy. Typically, a lot of the foods we'd eat were fried or sweet—what better way to celebrate a special occasion?

The choices were seemingly endless: There was coconut ladoo (sweetened coconut and ghee balls), from Kerala; poha chivda (deep-fried flattened rice with spices and peanuts), from Gujarat; puran poli (layers of chickpea flour crepes sandwiched with a delicious, sweet filling of coconut, jaggery, and dried fruit), from Maharashtra; and chakli (a crunchy deep-fried, golden-hued spiral of spiced rice flour batter), sev (thin, deep-fried ribbons of chickpea flour batter), and barfi (a sweet, milky fudge made with cashew or almond meal), which are ubiquitous to many places in the country.

On Diwali morning, my parents and their friends would each prepare one big thali—meaning “giant platter” in Hindi—filled with small portions of all the snacks. The tradition was to then take this thali to friends’ and family’s houses, and get a similar festive thali from every other house, so that everyone would enjoy an array of homemade treats from one another. My parents still live in the same house next to the same neighbors, and to this day, they keep up this amazing tradition.

Since food is so important on Diwali, and has been such an important part of my family’s celebrations of the holiday throughout my life, I thought I would share one of my mother’s favorite recipes for you to try, tweaked just a little bit to fit my tastes and lifestyle: Papdi, or crunchy, crumbly wheat-flour crackers, with a zingy, herby chutney. Typically, my mum would deep-fry these, as no Diwali feast is complete without deep-fried foods. She’d then serve them with mango pickle or any fresh chutney she had in her kitchen on that day.

In the spirit of preserving my mum’s tradition, but making it a little more manageable for a weeknight Diwali celebration (or just freeing up some time for the rest of the big weekend festivities), I decided to bake the papdi in this version. I serve them with my take on the fresh, flavorful coriander chutney I ate growing up.

Papdi are often made with just all-purpose flour, but I mix in a bit of chapati flour, or chakki atta, to the dough, as it adds a lovely texture. Chapati flour is whole-wheat flour milled more coarsely than all-purpose flour, making it slightly heartier and adding a bit of texture and nutty flavor to the crackers. If you can’t find chapati flour, you can use whole-wheat or whole-wheat pastry flour. Next, ghee, or clarified butter, is kneaded into the mix, which is essential in making the dough slightly crumbly.

The two main spices I use to season these crackers are essential store cupboard spices in my home: chaat masala (a spice blend made with cumin seeds, fennel seeds, ground pepper, asafetida, ground ginger, black salt, and mango powder, or amchur), as it gives it a slightly spicy and sour note to the crackers; and carom seeds, or ajwain, which add a complex aniseed flavor to the papdi, making them even more multifaceted and delicious.

The rest of the spices are salt, chile powder, and ground turmeric, which add warmth and balance. All of this is kneaded together with some water, and then left to rest to hydrate the dough and make it softer and easy to work with. After resting, the dough is formed into balls, rolled into thin circles, and then baked until crispy and lightly golden.

Papdi, of course, are great on their own, dunked in chutney and with a festive glass of bubbly on the side. But they’re also extremely versatile and can be served in a number of ways:

  • As the base of a canapé, with some cubes of boiled potato on top of each papdi and a drizzle of my sharp and spicy cilantro chutney.

  • Dipped in any Indian-style pickle of your choice, mango pickle being my personal favorite.

  • Alongside a bowl of hummus, as the crunchy texture of the papdi goes wonderfully with the thick creaminess of the chickpea dip.

  • As chaat (meaning “savory snack” in Hindi), with a few fresh ingredients on top. First, break up the papdi on a plate, drizzle plain yogurt on top, and garnish with some chopped onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, drizzling tamarind chutney and some sev (crunchy deep-fried chickpea-flour confetti) all over the top.

If you want to get a bit festive, like my mum, then you can deep fry the papdi instead. Do this for 3 to 4 minutes, turning halfway through, in 320°F (160°C) vegetable oil.

Regardless, the best part of this recipe is that, once baked and cooled, the papdi last in an airtight box for 2 to 3 weeks—which means you can pretty much always have a spontaneous snack, for days after Diwali has ended.

What foods do you eat to celebrate Diwali? Let us know in the comments!

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Chetna Makan

Written by: Chetna Makan

2 Comments

vaughan October 25, 2019
I love coriander chutney. Would it freeze well? It would be nice to make up a batch and divide it up and be able to just use it as I needed it.
thank you
 
Kala G. October 27, 2019
Coriander chutney freezes beautifully.