I don’t have very many memories of my birthplace, India. My father, in search of peace and greener pastures, flew us far, far away when I was quite young. Being so young, I had no emotional attachments and carried very little memory baggage with me. I never yearned to return and establish myself, nor did I have any urge to find my roots.
Our vacations to India were few and rare and inevitably involved a wedding or two. Weddings were a riot of elaborate colour, rituals and traditions that extended over a few days. As soon as wedding festivities ended, we would embark on family visits. After a few days, I would always start to feel overwhelmed. Shopping and street food were a welcome relief.
It’s painfully hard to resist eating street food when visiting India. Dropping all our hygiene standards, my nieces, nephew and I would elbow our way through crowds and find our usual vendor. With spices making my nose run and coal smoke stinging my eyes, I was not giving up my last bite of ‘pani-puri’.
Street food forms an integral part of an average Indian. It’s a way of life.
I have a vivid memory of an old hawker who used to frequent our family home selling delicious little potato croquettes (aloo tikkis). His daily visits were marked by a distinct, loud whistle to which I would drop whatever I was doing, grab my five Rupees and run towards the main door. The old man would have my tikkis ready in a neat bowl made of dried banana leaves and give me a generous serving of pickled red onions and beets on the side.
Even if I tried, I could not replicate the flavour of the hawker’s tikkis. I did, however, make my own version of them with an added ingredient, Quinoa. This was my first attempt at using Quinoa other than in a salad and it worked deliciously. The only thing missing was the banana leaf serving bowl.
Ingredients (Serves 6-8)
3 large russet potatoes (boiled and mashed)
1 cup quinoa cooked according to package instructions
6 green onions or scallions finely chopped
1 cup cooked peas
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 cup fresh coriander finely chopped
1 tbs cumin powde
2 tsp garam masala
2 eggs beaten
Breadcrumbs, enough to be spread on a dinner plate
Salt to taste
Half cup canola oil
1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the eggs and bread crumbs and canola oil. Make sure all the ingredients are well combined. Use your hands if necessary.
Quinoa will tend to to toughen up the mixture. If that happens, add some more canola oil.
2. Once the mixture is well blended, use your hands to shape the dough into croquettes the size of your palm. Press down on the patties and neaten along the edges, making sure they are not oozing.
3. Beat the eggs into a large bowl. Once all the potato mixture has been used up, dip the croquettes into the egg mixture and then lightly toss in the bread crumbs. Ensure they are covered well with the bread crumbs.
4. Heat the half cup canola oil in a large, wide skillet over medium heat. Slowly slide in enough croquettes so the pan is not too crowded.
Once the croquettes have browned on one side, slowly flip over to the other side.
Drain on a paper towel.
5. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve warm, preferably with tamarind sauce.