Crossing continents has meant adapting to new ways. And for the most part this has been fairly painless. But sometimes I do miss the most ridiculous things. Like tea-time. Not because tea-time is ridiculous, oh no, far from it. It’s ridiculous because I wasn’t much of a tea-drinker back home and yet, I feel a twinge of nostalgia thinking of it. Or maybe that’s just that horrible cup of yoghurt that I ate for lunch today. (Raspberry yoghurt can’t be blue, I tell you!)
Food-minded as I am, I liked how the day was clearly marked into meals, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Without tea-time there just seems to be too long a time between lunch and dinner. You see all kinds of food products and fast food vying to be your ‘in-between go-to food’. But then of course, they are promoting the wrong fourth meal. Tea-time is where it’s at. And the reason I was so fond of it was while everyone else savoured their tea, I loved the snacks that went along with it.
If you are thinking along the lines of delicate madeleines and cucumber sandwiches, let me stop you right there. That’s not what tea-time is about where I’m from. Bring out the Nan khatai (yummy shortbread) and the khari biscuits (a rough kind of puff pastry biscuit that’s heaven dipped in a cup of tea) and Parle-G. Sometimes it was stuff you got in stores. Sometimes it was home-made, like this recipe I’ve mentioned before. But that’s the stuff you had on an ordinary day. When it was a special tea-time, (which in case you’re interested could be anytime between 3 and 5 in the afternoon), the day we had guests, especially a collection of her friends, tea was an absolutely special meal. Such times were also known as the days my mom lost her sense of humour.
Mummy and her friends all met together once in a month or so. They didn’t even consider meeting up in a restaurant, such a frivolous notion around such seasoned cooks. So they always met at the house of each one on a rotating basis and would make a day of it, lunch and tea being on the menu. Mom would start planning days in advance. Vegetables and groceries would arrive a day or two ahead. The house would be scrupulously shiny and clean, a mini spring-cleaning ritual in itself. She tried to prep everything she could the night before. But inevitably, tons would be left for the day itself. As a result, on the big day, my mother always gave the impression of a ponderous stampede. She would rise early, wake us up early to be done with giving us breakfast and then rush around for the rest of the day; tugging a pillow upright, furiously shaking my younger sister awake, my elder sister off the phone or snatching my book out of my hands, alternating between mumbling incoherently under her breath and prodding us loudly to “Get off the sofa!” or “Don’t eat that, it’s for later!” or “Don’t try to feed your cereal to the cat!”. Try as we might to be sanguine about what, after all, wasn’t our friends coming over, me and my sisters couldn’t help being swept up in her frenzy and as a result at the end of the day, we all felt like we’d run a marathon. This and the incessant errands made us dread these days, but only just a little. Because we’d put up with a lot for the food that came with these days.
Friends arrived for an early lunch and everyone tucked in. Then we tried our best to let mom enjoy her friends’ company as we gave our best imitation of model children and cleared the table and dishes. But she’d be up on her feet in a little bit to get tea together. For me this was the best part really. It was like the second scene of a really good play. Lunch-lite. And of the several things she made over the years, my favourite times were the ones she made sev-puri.
Sev puri is snack food heaven in my world. In the real world, it is the snack that can be seen in similar forms in several cuisines. Tacos have a lot in common with sev puri. The concept is similar, corn chip becomes a flat flour cracker-type shell called a puri. Couple of chutneys take the place of guacamole and salsa. Add onion and potato for the bulk and sev instead of cheese. Voilà!
Hard Puris for the base (in a pinch you can use Kettle Chips Black Bean Tortilla chips)
Thin yellow sev
Potatoes – 3 large, boiled in salted water and mashed on cooling
Red Onion – 1 large, finely diced
Cilantro -few chopped leaves
> Sweet date and tamarind red chutney
Seedless dates – 10 to 12
Tamarind paste – 2 tsps
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Cumin powder -1 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
Salt – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – a pinch (optional)
Jaggery – a couple of 1/2″ pieces
– Boil the dates with enough water to just cover them. Then move off the heat and cool them down.
– Add the dates into a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients and blend into a smooth puree.
> Spicy cilantro and mint green chutney:
Cilantro – 1 bunch
Mint – 1/2 bunch, leaves picked
Green chillies – 2
Onion – 1/4
Lemon – 1/2, juiced
Butter – 1 tbsp
– Add all ingredients into a food processor and grind into a fine puree, adding water only if required.
To assemble the sev puri:
– Start with laying out the puris on a plate.
– Next add about 1/2 tsp of mashed potato on top.
– Add about 1/2 tsp each of the sweet red and spicy green chutney
– Top with a little bit of diced onion on each puri.
– Liberally pour the sev on top of this.
– Sprinkle some coriander leaves (cilantro) over the dish
Serve along with the chutneys so that people can top off with more if they like.
Jaggery is made from sugar cane and is often used as a sweetener for many an Indian dish. If you can’t find it, I would use plain honey as a sweetner, sugar may not work here. In India, in the summer, this dish is topped off with diced raw mango which adds a wonderful layer of flavour. But it’s not crucial to the dish. The tortilla chip alternative I’ve noted here works, though the chips are quite a bit more salty than puris are, so adjust the salt accordingly. The puris used here are small and hard versus the large and soft kind that come to mind when you think of them. Sev is made from gram flour and is a key ingredient here. Both ingredients are easily available at Indian stores.
It’s hard to quantify this recipe. The quantities here should easily make 20 to 25 puris, with a little bit leftover in case you need more. The chutneys described here can also accompany other snacks. The spicy green chutney is yummy slathered on bread for quick and easy sandwich. The sweet chutney can take the place of ketchup in many an instance. They will keep well in the fridge for a week and can be frozen almost indefinitely. Butter is added to the green chutney to slow down the oxidation process. Adding it will prevent it from going black. Sev Puri never fails to remind me of large gatherings and wonderful tea-times.