Diwali – bringing joy and light to the darkest days of the year. During Diwali, families give thanks through celebration. They light up their homes, feast on sweets and savouries, and they show appreciation through gift ritual. Known as the ‘festival of lights’, Diwali is celebrated by several religions throughout many countries in south Asia.
This year I learned about Diwali for the first time. I’m struck by the commonality of our ancestors, worlds apart. They made it through the dark by coming together with celebrations of light and feasting. Here in Vancouver November is a hard month. Every day it gets darker, and the rain sticks to your body. All I want to do is stay inside. But then you’re forced to get ready for the Christmas season. You light up your home inside and out. You meet with friends and family – and together you get through the dark days. Suddenly one day you look up and the days are longer. You crossed the hump!
While researching what to make for Diwali, I came across a lovely article called Pani Puri: A Dribbly, Joyful Mess. It spoke to me of togetherness and bonding through food. Broti Gupta writes of fun dinners and of mixing cultures by sharing pani puri, the widely celebrated Indian street food. Pani puri are crispy bite-sized shells that you poke a hole in and fill with coriander, masala, chickpeas and potatoes. Then you pour tamarind masala water into the hole and pop the pani puri into your mouth. As neatly as you can :)
The chickpea-potato filling is easy to make. Gupta’s recipe is a great starter recipe for anyone who can boil potatoes without cooking much else. And it was perfect for me. Good Indian food abounds in Vancouver restaurants and I’ve never felt the need to make my own before. But I will now. It’s not that hard.
Gupta bought his crispy puri shells but I (ahem pat on the back) made my own. They are basically pasta dough that you cut into thin little rounds and deep fry. All the recipes I checked warn that your rounds may not puff up. There is such a sense of accomplishment when your puris go poof! and blow up into little balloons. Puris aren’t hard to make but you’ve got to be meticulous. The recipe I chose came from Veg Recipes of India. Add water carefully to get the right consistency, then knead to bring out the gluten. Roll out thinly and evenly, else your puris won’t puff.
Coriander, Masala, Chickpea Potato Filling
Broti Gupta’s recipe for Pani Puri filling at the New York Times is a good starter recipe. His recipe is well laid out and anyone who can boil potatoes can make it. He nukes his potatoes but I gave up my microwave a few years back. If you need a potato-boiling refresher (like I did), the Kitchn has a simple tutorial and video. (Cut potatoes into similar sizes so they’ll cook evenly, and start with cold water. Bring to a boil, checking regularly, and drain the water as soon as the potatoes are fork-tender, so they don’t get mushy.) Visit your nearest Indian grocer for the ready-made spices Broti mentions. My grocer didn’t mind my 100 questions at all :) If there are no Indian grocers in your town you can buy the spices online. The ready-made spices, “pani puri masala” and “chunky chat masala” are super easy to use and tasty, but next time I will grind my own from scratch to reduce the salt. If this is the first Indian dish you’ve made though, keep it easy with Broti’s accessible recipe.
Crispy Puri Shells
Crispy puri shells are straight-forward and they puff up beautifully but you’ve got to be patient and follow all the steps. You can buy your little shells ready made, but if you do make sure they are freshly made. Veg Recipes of India has a good tutorial with step-by-step pictures. Add water a spoonful at a time so you’ll have the perfect moisture content, and knead well. Else your puris won’t puff up. Roll out thinly and evenly, else your puris won’t puff up. See a pattern here? :) Keep your rounds under a damp tea towel until you are ready to fry them, cuz if they dry out, they won’t puff up.
All of the stories associated with Diwali speak of the joy connected with victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.