“At the hostel, we were only given a mug of tea – no milk or sugar – in the evenings. So our group of 5 would buy mudi1 (puffed rice) on the way back from college, take our mugs of tea and gather in one room. A sheet of newspaper would be spread open, the mudi poured onto this in a heap and the lot of us would settle down for an evening of gossip-tea-mudi. On special occasions, we would buy some vegetable chop for our evening snack,” said maa, thinking about her days as a student in the University of Calcutta, her face alight with memories as pishi2 taught me how to ‘shape’ a vegetable chop.
The idea of making vegetable chops came after maa and pishi returned home one evening, struggling under the weight of two overflowing bags filled with fresh vegetables. “We couldn’t resist the sight of the fresh vegetables. So we bought them,” said maa. Astounding that they even had two bags to shop considering they had supposedly gone for an evening walk!
From the corner table, I observed as the mention of vegetable chops got baba3 super excited.
“I remember buying them for a few pennies. Back in our days, they were served in paper bags with a handful of mudi and a slice or two of fresh coconut.”
With so much nostalgia swimming through the house and conversations in a Bengali that is too pure for my understanding, the day and date to make chops was decided in a jiffy. Of course that meant yours truly jumped into the fray, eager to learn.
None of them, I mean none of them, however, told me this thing is NOT easy! It’s no rocket science and I would definitely put it in the healthy food category but for so much of grating! Lucky for me pishi was kind enough to do the prepping because I just could not get it right! And since I always end up grating my nails or fingers, it was deemed safer.
This vegetable chop, again, is something that is customised as per your taste. Add fresh green peas, replace the red chilli powder with chopped green chillies, spice up the vegetable chop by crackling some cumin seeds in the oil, the options are aplenty. I once tried seasoning the oil with some garlic granules before sautéing the vegetables. Not a bad idea I would say.
Recipe origin: Streets of Kolkata
Time: 45 minutes (including prep)
Serves: 15 (approximately)
Carrot (grated) – 1 ½ cup
Beetroot (grated) – 1 ½ cup
Potato (boiled) – 1 cup
Ginger (grated) – 1 tablespoon
Peanuts – ½ cup
Besan/chickpea flour – 1 cup
Water – ½ cup (as required)
Bread crumbs – 2 cups
Turmeric powder – 1 teaspoon
Red chilli powder – to taste
Salt to taste
In a non-stick frying pan/kadhai, heat ½ tablespoon oil. Sauté the peanuts till gleaming brown, remove and set aside.
Add a tablespoon of oil in the pan and heat. Pour in the carrots, stir and make a hollow in the centre. Now pour the beetroot into this hollow, or vice versa. Or not! Just pour the carrots and beetroot into the pan and mix them. But do take a minute to enjoy the rich colours in the pan.
Sauté for a few minutes, add the ginger, salt and chilli powder. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the potato and mix well. Allow it to cook until the carrot and beet are tender but not wilted. Add the peanuts, give the vegetables a quick stir and set aside.
In a separate bowl, make a batter by mixing the besan/chickpea flour, salt, turmeric and water. Be careful. Don’t make a mess like I did! You have to pour in the water slowly. Like… pour some water, mix and check batter consistency. Pour some more water, mix, check again. Repeat the process until the batter is like creamy melted ice cream.
Spread the breadcrumbs in a flat plate.
Now place the frying pan back on the flame, or use a new one, pour enough oil to submerge half of a chop and allow the oil to heat.
Meanwhile, take 3 tablespoons of the vegetable mixture in your hand, roll it into desired shape, preferably a little disk or that strange oval shape that all the mothers have mastered. Chops I rolled look like the head of the alien in Independence Day! Make several of these and line them up in a plate like toy soldiers lined up for an imaginary war.
And then gear up for the tricky part!
Pick up the chop in your right hand, dip it in the batter and drop it in the bread crumbs. Use a fork to roll the cutlet in the breadcrumbs. Then with your clean and dry right hand, pick up the cutlet and deftly (if you can) put it into the frying pan. Repeat until all the cutlets have been fried.
Serve piping hot with kashundi or a spicy dipping sauce, onion rings and some hot tea.
If you prefer the mushiness of potatoes, increase the amount by ½ cup.
Peanuts are optional but unless you are allergic to them, do use them for the added flavour and crunch. Later, you could just shove the offenders to the corner of the plate like I do.
You CAN roll the chops in bread crumb by hand but then you need to clean your hand each time you work with the batter. If not, the chops will be a soggy mess.
Some love for kashundi here please. A mustard-based spicy dip from West Bengal, it is a sauce you MUST try. In India, kashundi is available in stores selling Bengali wares. You can likely find the sauce at the Indian market in your city. Or ask an Indian friend to get a bottle for you.
1 Mudi – Word for puffed rice in Bengali language; pronounced moo-dee
2 Pishi – Endearment for father’s sister in Bengali language
3 Baba – ‘Father’ in some Indian languages
Photos: Vaibhav Tanna