Bhelpuri | DAVID HAMMOND PHOTO
Puffed rice is old-school breakfast cereal. In the ’50s, puffed rice was touted as being “shot from guns,” which sounded cool though few had any idea what that actually meant.
During the 1904 World’s Fair, The Quaker Oats Company promoted puffed rice cereal by shooting it from cannons. The manufacturing process also apparently involved “puffing guns” (not exactly firearms) that pressurized and heated the rice until it popped, kind of like corn kernels.
Bhelpuri, an Indian snack, contains puffed rice, noodles, vegetables and chiles. In Calcutta, we bought bhelpuri (pronounced bell-poor-eee) from street vendors who offer small bunches, wrapped in newsprint, for about a dime.
Bhelpuri is eaten almost exclusively on the street. It’s rarely found in restaurants, though that will change when Monica Sehgal Sharma opens Red Butter next year, a restaurant she says will “specialize in Indian street cart and roadside cafe food.”
Here’s Sharma’s bhelpuri recipe:
1. To 2 cups of bhel mix (crisp noodles available at Indian groceries), add ¼ cup each: garbanzo beans (drained, rinsed), potatoes (boiled, peeled, diced), onion (diced) and tomatoes (diced)
2. Add 1 green finger chile (chopped), 2 tablespoons each of tamarind and mint chutney, and pinches of kosher salt, black pepper, chat masala, red chili powder.
3. Mix in a bowl and add ½ cup cilantro (chopped) before serving.
Sharma adds: “You’ll hear the puffed rice crackling as you mix.”
Serve immediately and garnish with chopped cilantro. Best eaten fresh. Bhelpuri won’t keep because the puffed rice gets soggy.—DAVID HAMMOND