Just like eating a salsa-dripping taco off a truck in L.A., eating a raj kachori should not be done with a white shirt on. The chaat wallas don't hand out a bib like crab curry places, and eating it is a fairly messy affair. But several rehearsals later, you usually get deft at picking the right ratio of crunchy poori, sprouts, chutney, and garnish—all in the tiny bowl of your spoon. But still, please just keep those ivories away.
The concept of a poori—deep-fried flour-based bread—finds a mention in few of India’s oldest scriptures like Manasollasa and Mahabharata. But it wasn’t until the Mughal invasions in the 17th century that the concept of chaat is believed to have been introduced to the subcontinent. A relatively newer style of dish, chaat, which literally translates to “lick” in Hindi, suggesting that the category of dishes is so good, you’ll want to polish every one of them clean.
Raj kachori is a combination of these two ideas—where a very traditional savory puff, the poori, meets elements of a newer-school chaat.
What makes raj kachori stand out from other varieties of chaats—like sev puri, bhel, dahi vadas—is its larger-than-life personality. That it is not just a play on textures just like the others, but also showy and glamorous with a variety of colors that don it. Each ball is crushed from the top, and on it you’ll find splotches of emerald coming from the chutneys and a sprinkling of finely chopped cilantro leaves; the ruby red of the pomegranate gems; a dazzling white pool of yogurt; and a pop of yellow from the chickpea-flour vermicelli that goes right on top. And all the while, the humble creaminess of the potato and lentils hide inside.
Unlike characteristic Indian dishes that are best eaten with bare hands, this one is so large, you’ll usually be handed a spoon to break it into bite-size pieces. The trick is to get an equal amount of each of the above elements into a full bite that taste like magic.
Besides, really, who are we to question why this chaat overrules the others? The very word “raj” in Hindi means “to rule” and a mighty plate of raj kachori does just that.
Here is how to make it from scratch.
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Recipe by chef Surender Mohan, Bombay Bustle
Prep time: 35 mins, plus soaking time
Cook time: 60 minutes
For the puri:
- 300 grams all-purpose flour
- 80 grams semolina
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 15 ml rapeseed oil
- 10 ml water
- Rapeseed oil, for frying
For the chaat:
- 1 medium-size potato, boiled
- 50 grams split green gram lentils
- 50 grams yellow split peas
- 50 grams mixed sprouts, boiled
- 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons tamarind-date chutney
- 2 tablespoons mint chutney
- Kashmiri red chile powder
- Cumin powder
- Chaat masala
- Spiced Bengal gram lentils)
- Roma tomato, finely chopped
- Red or white onion, finely chopped
- Cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- Pomegranate seeds
- Beets, peeled and julienned
- Sea salt, to taste
For the poori:
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
- Mix in the semolina, water, and oil and knead it into a tight dough.
- Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
- Portion the dough into 60-gram balls (you should have about 6). Flatten the balls with your palm and roll them out into circles approximately 4 inches in diameter.
- In a large saucepan or high-sided skillet, heat enough rapeseed oil to come up a few inches up the sides of your vessel. While this is happening, prepare a large plate lined with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. Once the oil is hot, add one dough circle at a time into the hot oil and fry for a few minutes on each side. Once they puff up and turn golden-brown in color, remove from the heat and let the cooked pooris rest on the prepared plate.
For the chaat:
- In a large bowl with enough water to cover them, soak the green gram lentils and yellow split peas overnight. The next day, drain the water and boil them together until tender, about 45 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Take a prepared poori and make a small hole in the top layer.
- Fill it with the potatoes and cooked lentils and set it on a plate.
- In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt and dollop about half on to the filled poori. Add half of the mint and tamarind chutneys.
- Finish with a smattering of garnishes in whatever proportions you like best: Start with the chile powder, cumin powder, and chaat masala. Then add on the vermicelli, spiced lentils, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, boondi, pomegranate seeds, and julienned beets.