There are some Indian dishes which I assumed would be impossible to recreate at home unless you’ve spent half your life sitting behind a giant karhai somewhere in Old Delhi. One of these is Chana Bhatura, that meltingly more-ish chick pea and deep fried bread combo that can make me weak with longing.
Then I met cookery teacher Anita Dhanda, who runs a class at the American School here in Delhi. Over the course of 10 weeks she unlocks the mysteries of parantha, palak paneer, halwa, kheer, keema, dal makhani and much more.
One of the many splendid things about Anita, apart from her winning pinny and kurta combos, is her ability to make it all look so simple. She was also generous with her time-tested family recipes including this, her mother’s recipe for Chana Bhatura. I’ve made this a few times at home and it’s a winner and I’m always instantly transported back to Sita Ram Diwan Chand – the only thing missing is the flies.
So here is Anita’s mum’s easy peasy, home kitchen-friendly, 100% pukka Chana Bhatura – guaranteed to make you feel as if you’re sitting cross-legged at a kharai:
1 and half cups chick peas (chana)
1 tbs chopped ginger
1tsp each coriander powder, roasted cumin powder, red chilli powder, garam masala, mango or ground pomegranate seed (anardana) powder, cumin seeds
salt, bay leaf,bicarbonate of soda.
Wash and soak the chick peas overnight. Drain then add 5-6 cups fresh water. Add the bicarbonate of soda, bay and ginger and boil, covered, until very soft. When the chick peas are ready – this will vary according to the freshness of the peas – add coriander, chilli, garam masala, mango or anardana powder, and roast ground cumin powder. Bring back to the boil and stir well to blend all the spices.
In a small pan or ‘chaunk’*, melt the ghee until smoking. Add the cumin seeds and let them crackle for a few seconds. then pour over the chick peas. Cook for 5-10 minutes. If the mixture is too watery, mash some of the chick peas into the liquid to thicken. Check seasonings, add a few pieces of cooked potato if desired. This next bit requires restraint but the Chana is even better if left for a few hours to let the flavours meld before devouring greedily with fresh bhatura.
*My ‘Chaunk’, also known as a ‘Tarka’, is a new favourite piece of kitchen equipment. It’s like a small frying-pan on the end of a long handle and is used for ‘tempering’, just before a dish is served: oil or ghee is melted until smoking then spices like whole cumin, or mustard seeds are added and left to sizzle for a few seconds. It fills the kitchen with the most intensely inviting smells before adding that final flourish to a dish. According to Anita, it’s a process which many modern cooks don’t bother with but I’m a convert – it gives the food a freshness and pep it wouldn’t otherwise have.
The Bhatura is a little trickier and you may not get that magnificent balloon shape first time, but the ones in the picture were made by us first-timers in the cookery class and they tasted delicious.
Purists be warned – Anita’s recipe contains non-traditional mashed potato. She says her mum always puts it in for extra crunch.
1 cup plain flour (maida)
1 cup semolina (sooji)
1 potato boiled and mashed
2 tbs yogurt
2 tsp oil
half tsp salt
extra oil for deep frying
Mix all the ingredients together and bind to a soft dough with water. Leave to ferment for 5-6 hours. Break off pieces of dough and roll into balls. Dip each ball into oil then roll out thinly. Heat oil in a karhai until really hot – to test if the oil is hot enough, drop in a small amount of dough – it should instantly rise to the top. Carefully put in one of the rolled out discs. With a metal slotted spoon, press the bhatura down in the centre of the oil and it should instantly puff up. Quickly remove the bhatura to drain on kitchen roll. The cooking process takes only a few seconds. If your first bhatura is very oily, it means the oil wasn’t hot enough.
As well as slices of onions, Anita had also prepared a ‘Sonth’, a sweet and sour dip which complemented the other savoury dishes perfectly
1 tbsp dried mango powder (amchur)
3 tbsp sugar
half tsp roasted cumin powder
quarter tsp each of red chilli powder, salt, garam masala
quarter cup water
Mix all ingredients and cook on low flame till thick and syrupy
‘Sonth’ is also good with snacks like samosas and pakoras