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Straight off the carts of Bombay

Times Staff Writer

WHEN a friend, originally from India, invited me to a “street food” party in Simi Valley, I expected a sort of outdoor fair where I would wander among food booths. Instead, I found a fun party in someone’s home where a young caterer, Raunaq Savur, had prepared a buffet of Bombay street snacks.

Savur was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), a city famous for the delicious treats offered by street vendors. Street food is everywhere there, from the beaches to the heart of the city. Popular street fare such as bhel puri, a cross between a salad and a crunchy chips mix, and pav bhaji, spiced mashed vegetables served with soft rolls, have spread to other parts of India. And in recent years, Bombay-trained chefs have put their versions of street treats on restaurant menus in India and L.A.

Savur’s party idea is perfect for casual California entertaining. The food is novel for many people, colorful and fun to eat -- with a spiciness that adds excitement. Guests can pick and choose, arranging their own plates, adding on chutneys and garnishes to taste. Beer’s a good accompaniment, as are summer cocktails such as gin and tonic. For nonalcoholic drinks, try nimbu pani (an Indian limeade: fresh squeezed lime juice with simple syrup and water) or nimbu soda (lime juice, simple syrup and sparkling water).

Plan for a menu of three dishes, along with three or more chutneys. You’ll need to take a list to one of L.A.'s many Indian markets, but once you have the ingredients assembled, the recipes are not complicated. Some have several steps, many of which can be done in advance. The chutneys can be made days ahead of time, as can other elements such as rotis (flatbread) and meat filling.

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As a main dish, try Neela Paniz’s frankie, which is tender flatbread wrapped around spicy, stewed lamb. Paniz, who was born in Bombay, created it for her Bombay Cafe in West Los Angeles. It’s been a great hit there, and much copied by other Indian restaurants.

According to Paniz, the frankie appeared in Bombay in the mid ‘70s as a variation on a Calcutta snack of grilled meat wrapped in a flatbread similar to nan. The Bombay version uses curried meat. “I believe they named it a ‘frankie’ as a takeoff on a frankfurter,” she says. The ends of the wrapper are left open, like a rolled soft taco. Serve them whole or cut into halves or thirds for finger food.

Along with the frankies, offer a bowl of bhel puri, a terrific side dish that’s not quite a vegetable salad, not quite a crunch snack mix. Savur’s shortcut version combines a ready-made Indian snack mix that contains crisp tidbits such as puffed rice and tiny fried puris (a puffy flat bread) with peanuts, sev (fine chickpea noodles), onion, tomatoes, diced potato and sweet and spicy chutneys.

“I think that the best way to enjoy bhel is to have all the ingredients prepped beforehand and laid out on the table separately, very much like a taco bar,” says Savur. In addition to the chutneys and diced vegetables called for in the recipe, you could experiment with accompaniments including chopped cilantro, fresh chiles and lemon wedges, yogurt raita and cut-up fresh fruit.

I first tasted -- and loved -- pav bhaji at Bombay Bite in Westwood. Chef Preet Kamble’s recipe combines pav (bread) and bhaji (vegetables), in this case including potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, green peppers, peas and tomatoes. The vegetables are cooked into a deliciously spiced soft paste. The rolls, cut in half, simmer in butter and the pan juices until impregnated with rich flavor. The idea is to spread the paste on the hot rolls, like an open-faced sandwich.

“Pav bhaji is the top thing on the street in Bombay,” says Kamble, who was born there. “It has become a big fad. All the major restaurants and hotels have put it on the menu, but that in the street is tastiest.”

Toasted rolls traditionally go with pav bhaji, but as a party dip it’s great with chips, wedges of pita bread or Indian breads from a market or restaurant.

Like any small-plates party, a Bombay street-food spread is all about planning. Prepare some elements in advance, make some chutneys and purchase others, mix in a few discoveries from the Indian market and soon you’ll have a festive buffet -- something like that outdoor food fair I imagined, after all.

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Green chutney

Total time: 20 minutes

Servings: Makes two-thirds cup

Note: From “The Bombay Cafe” by Neela Paniz. Dalia, or channa, are small, split chickpeas, available in Indian markets.

12 to 14 serrano chiles, coarsely chopped

3 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves

1 cup loosely packed mint leaves

1 tablespoon dalia or channa

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

4 to 5 tablespoons water

Combine the chiles, cilantro, mint, dalia, lemon juice and salt in a blender and puree, adding the water as needed. Scrape the sides of the blender down several times with a spatula. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Each tablespoon: 10 calories; 1 gram protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 215 mg. sodium.

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Bhel puri (Snack mix with vegetables)

Total time: 55 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

Note: From Raunaq Savur of Rasa Catering. Sev, fine, crisp chickpea flour noodles, and Khatta Meetha, an Indian version of Chex Mix, are available at Indian markets. Serve with red chili chutney, green chutney and date and tamarind chutney. The chutney can be made in advance. This is a spicy dish. To reduce the heat, use one-half jalapeno or reduce the amount of chutneys added.

Red chili chutney

1/2 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

5 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon red chili powder

1 tablespoon paprika

2 tablespoons sev

Combine the lemon juice, water, garlic, chili powder, paprika and sev in a blender and blend until all ingredients are incorporated. Makes two-thirds cup.

Snack mixture

1/2 cup roasted peanuts

1/2 cup sev

3 cups (about 8 ounces) Khatta Meetha

1 cup chopped onions, divided

1 cup diced de-seeded Roma tomatoes, divided

1 1/2 cups diced, boiled, peeled russet potatoes, divided

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 tablespoons date and tamarind chutney, plus more to pass

3 tablespoons green chutney, plus more to pass

2 tablespoons red chili chutney, plus more to pass

Salt, pepper

1. Mix the peanuts, sev and Khatta Meetha in a baking pan. Bake at 250 degrees for 15 minutes.

2. Place the baked mixture in a large serving bowl. Add the one-half cup onions, one-half cup tomatoes, three-fourths cup potatoes, the jalapeno, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons date and tamarind chutney, 3 tablespoons green chutney and 2 tablespoons red chili chutney.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well and serve immediately. Place the remaining onions, tomatoes and potatoes in small bowls and set out with additional amounts of the chutneys for guests to add as desired.

Each of 6 servings: 343 calories; 12 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams fiber; 23 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 491 mg. sodium.

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Pav bhaji (Spiced mashed vegetables with soft rolls)

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Servings: 10

Note: From Preet Kamble of Bombay Bite. Cumin seeds, pav bhaji masala (spice mix), ginger-garlic paste and Indian red chili powder are available in Indian markets and in the Indian food sections of selected grocery stores.

2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1/2 cup chopped cauliflower

1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1/4 cup peas

Salt

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 1/4 cups diced onions, divided

1 teaspoon pav bhaji masala

1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste

1/2 teaspoon Indian red chili powder

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1 teaspoon lemon juice

10 small soft dinner rolls

20 serrano chiles

10lemon wedges

1. Combine the potatoes, carrot, cauliflower, bell pepper and peas in a large (3 1/2 --quart) saucepan. Add 2 3/4 cups water and one-half teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook on medium-high heat until very tender, about 30 minutes. Do not drain. Use a potato masher to mash the vegetables and the liquid together to make a fine paste. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the cumin seeds and fry until they sputter, about 1 minute. Add 2 1/2 cups diced onions and fry until translucent.

3. Add the pav bhaji masala, ginger-garlic paste, salt to taste and the chili powder. Stir to combine. Add the tomatoes; stir and cook 4 minutes. Add the mashed vegetable paste to the onion-tomato mixture and mix well. Cook 5 minutes.

4. Add the butter and lemon juice. Stir to combine.

5. Remove the vegetables from the pan, spooning into a serving bowl and leaving about a tablespoon of the mixture in the pan. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and stir to incorporate as it melts. Place the rolls cut side down in the pan and cook in the butter-vegetable mixture until lightly toasted.

6. To serve, garnish the mashed vegetables with cilantro leaves. Serve with the toasted rolls, chopped onions, whole serrano chiles and lemon wedges.

Each serving: 209 calories; 5 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 160 mg. sodium.

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Lamb frankie

Total time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Servings: 8

Note: The rotis can be made in advance and frozen, uncooked (no need to thaw before cooking). The lamb masala can be made in advance. The lime-cilantro onions should be made about 1 hour before serving. Serve with green chutney and tamarind and date chutney.

Rotis

2 1/2 cups flour, divided

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1/2 to 3/4 cup milk

1. Sift 2 cups of the flour, the sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the flour and add the yogurt. Mix with your fingers while adding the milk, one-fourth cup at a time. Use only enough milk to form a soft, pliable dough. Dust with a little of the remaining flour and set aside, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts and roll each into a ball. Dredge in flour and flatten into disks 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. Roll out into thin 8-inch rounds, using flour as needed to keep them from sticking.

3. If freezing or refrigerating, layer between pieces of wax paper or parchment and seal tightly in plastic, then in aluminum foil.

Lamb masala

6 cloves garlic

1 (2-inch) piece ginger root, peeled and cut in half

3 tablespoons oil

2 large onions, thinly sliced (about 3 1/2 cups)

1 1/2 pounds boneless lamb leg meat, cut into 1-inch cubes, fat and silver skin trimmed if necessary

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

2large tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced

3 serrano chiles, halved, seeded and sliced on the bias

1 teaspoon salt

1. Puree the garlic and half of the ginger in a blender using a little water as needed, 2 to 3 tablespoons. Set aside in a bowl. Slice the rest of the ginger into thin matchsticks and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over high heat. Add the onions and saute until they turn dark gold, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir frequently so the onions do not burn at the edges. Reduce the heat to medium if the onions start to burn.

3. Add the garlic-ginger puree and the lamb and continue to brown until the meat juices have almost dried up, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper and turmeric and mix well. Mix in the sliced tomatoes, chiles, reserved ginger and salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the meat is tender enough to cut with a fork, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Lime-cilantro onions

1 medium onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup lime juice

One hour before serving, combine the onion, cilantro, salt and lime juice to taste in a bowl and toss together. Cover with plastic and set aside.

Assembly

8 rotis

1/4 cup oil

3 beaten eggs

1 recipe lamb masala

1 recipe lime-cilantro onions

3 tablespoons green chutney

1/2 cup tamarind and date chutney

1. Heat a large griddle or heavy skillet over high heat. Place a roti on it and turn after about 30 seconds. Brush lightly with oil and turn again. Oil the second side. Pour about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the beaten eggs onto the roti and spread to cover surface. When the egg starts to firm, flip the roti to cook the egg into a light omelet-like coating on that side, about 30 seconds.

2. Remove the roti to a plate, egg side down. Place 3 to 4 tablespoons of warm lamb masala in the center lengthwise. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of lime-cilantro onions, 1 teaspoon of green chutney and 1 tablespoon of tamarind and date chutney. Fold the bottom end of the roti over about 1 1/2 inches and roll like a burrito. Repeat with the remaining rotis. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 532 calories; 26 grams protein; 52 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 25 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 140 mg. cholesterol; 1042 mg. sodium.

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Tamarind and date chutney

Total time: 35 minutes, plus overnight soaking

Servings: Makes about 2 cups

Note: From “The Bombay Cafe” by Neela Paniz. Tamarind pulp can be found in Indian and Latino markets. Asafetida, black salt and jaggery (solid sugar) are available in Indian markets.

1/4 pound tamarind pulp

2 cups boiling water, divided

1/4 pound pitted dates

1 tablespoon cumin, roasted and ground

Pinch asafetida

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons black salt

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the dates

3 ounces jaggery, chopped

1. Place the tamarind pulp in a bowl. Pour 1 1/2 cups of boiling water over the top, cover and allow it to soak overnight. Place the dates in another bowl, pour the remaining one-half cup of boiling water over the dates, cover and allow them to stand overnight.

2. Knead the tamarind with your fingers to break up the lumps. Pour the pulp and soaking liquid into a fine strainer set over a nonreactive saucepan. Scrape a wooden spoon over the pulp to force through to the saucepan. Scoop out the pulp remaining in the strainer, return it to the bowl and add about one-fourth cup of hot water. Knead again, then pour the pulp and soaking liquid into the strainer and press the pulp with the wooden spoon. Discard pulp remaining in strainer. Follow the same procedure with the dates.

3. Add the cumin, asafetida, black and cayenne peppers, black and regular salt, sugar and jaggery. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the jaggery melts, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust for sweetness.

Each tablespoon: 40 calories; 0 protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 146 mg. sodium.


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