Vada Pao

Mumbai is fuelled by street food and every street has a cart of tasty morsels stoking the engines of it’s multitude. Vada Pao is possibly the most popular choice, found wherever you turn. It’s often referred to as “poor man’s food” because it’s cheap and filling, I’d add delicious to that list of reasons to try making some of these flavourful vegetarian potato burgers.

The potato patties are best eaten straight after cooking but they’re also good reheated in the oven, which makes them great to cook in advance.
Asafoetida, a spice indispensable to Indian cuisine, is a resinous gum extracted from a species of giant fennel. It’s often used to replace garlic and can enhance the flavour of dishes. It is also thought to reduce flatulence so is often found in bean, lentil and vegetable dishes. Asafoetida and chickpea flour (besan or channa flour) are available in health food stores and Indian food stores.

For the batter

1 cup of fine­ground chickpea flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
a pinch of asafoetida powder, if available
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
Combine the chickpea flour, rice flour, baking soda, chilli powder, turmeric, asafoetida and salt in a bowl then stir in the water. Mix to a smooth batter. Set aside.

For the vada

1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
3cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 green chillies, finely chopped
leaves from 2 stalks of curry leaves*
3 large agria potatoes , peeled and boiled
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup (loosely packed) coriander leaves, chopped oil for deep frying

To serve

16 small soft bread rolls
Butter, optional
coriander chutney
Fresh coriander and red chilli powder to garnish, optional .

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add mustard seeds and cook 1 minute. Add the onion, ginger, chilli and curry leaves. Sauté for 5 minutes then remove from the heat.
Place the potatoes in a bowl and roughly mash. Add the onion mix, turmeric, salt and coriander and mix well. Divide into 16 and shape into small, palm sized patties. Heat the oil in a deep fryer or in a large saucepan (no more than 1/3 full) to 180C. Dip the patties, one at a time in the batter, coat well and deep fry 2­3 minutes until golden brown. Drain on crumpled kitchen paper.

To assemble, split the bread rolls in half, butter if using, add a hot vada and top with coriander chutney. Garnish with a dusting of red chilli powder and coriander.
The vada can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in the fridge. To reheat: heat the oven to 200C, place the vada on a baking tray and cook for 8 minutes until hot.

Coriander chutney

1 clove garlic, crushed
4 large, mild green chillies, seeded and chopped 3 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cups coriander, leaves and stems, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 tablespoon sunflower oil

Place the garlic, chillies, ginger, coriander and sugar in a small food processor or a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. While mixing, slowly add the lemon or lime juice and oil. If needed, mix in enough water to make thick but spreadable paste. Use within 2 hours or it will discolour.

*Curry leaves are available at Indian food stores, some green grocers and supermarkets. They usually come in a package of stalks with about 16 leaves per stalk.