I almost forgot about the glorious Bengali evening snacking ritual of chop-muri (deep-fried croquettes and puffed rice) until my parents came to the US last month. My evening snack is pretty much limited to the yogurt-fruits-fruits-yogurt routine. In West Bengal, my home state in India, it was a completely different story, at least when I lived there. I would love to believe that this is still true, so the rapid change in snacking style from chop-muri at the local choper dokan (roadside tea stall) to falafel at the latest Western-style coffee shop is very upsetting for me. I know societies change and I should accept it, but it still upsets me. In my heart of hearts, I still hope that for many years to come, as the sun sets on my native Chandernagore, chop-muri finds its way into many home and the saucepan sits on the stove ready for the daily ritual of watching horrendously trashy, ill-produced and overdramatized Bengali serials before dinner.
The chop in West Bengal can come in a hundred different flavors, a few of which will be sold by every roadside choper dokan (chop shop).). There is a specific way of eating chop muri…you take a handful of muri, throw it in upwards into your mouth from a distance, bite into a green chili and then eat a small portion of your chop. Then, with your cheeks swollen with all of these, you start chewing with a vengeance. At first you can barely move your mouth. Then quickly the airy puffed rice vanishes and you are ready for your second portion. It’s not as gross as it sounds, but it’s not a dainty affair either.
The vendor sells the chops in a thonga (packets made out of old newspaper) and by the time they reach home, the packets have a typical oil-soaked look. The oil (actually dalda or vegetable shortening, pure saturated fat in case you were wondering) used to fry the chops is at least a couple of days old and almost black but still the chops came out super tasty. You can try cutting down on the carbs and fats some other time…but not while eating chop muri.
My favorite chopper dokan food was singara (Bengali samosas) and then a few others tied closely for second. These were machher chop, bhejitebil chop and deemer chop (chop made with fish, vegetables and eggs, respectively). Although samosas have gained a prominent spot in Western culture, other chops didn’t quite make it. I really wish they did. Vegetable chops are best in winter when beets (or beet root, as Bengalis call it), carrots and peas are in season. Peanuts are mixed in to add a little bit of bite to the vegetables. This chop is supposed to be slightly sweet in taste with a crispy shell outside. Below is my mother’s vegetable chop recipe which is pretty close to the one from the roadside shops. Muri and green chillies can be found in your local Indian store.
Here I am again with my Maa’s recipe and without any measurement. If I ask Maa for proportion, she will say “Oshab janina…chhobi tobi tolar dorkar nei…khaa toh” (I don’t know all these, you don’t need to take a picture, just eat it). So, no table spoon or tea spoon here…just eye ball it. J All she could say is, she used 2 large beet roots, two smallish potato and four small carrots. Peas are optional.
Vegetables: Beet root, carrots and potato.
Spices: Roasted and ground together: Cumin, coriander, red chili, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
To make a paste or grated: Ginger
Oil for deep frying
- Peel and boil the vegetables. Do not over-boil them…they will be super mushy.
- Drain and let them cool. Mash them together and try to make a smooth dough sort of thing.
- Add everything above ‘to fry’ list. Mix well. My mother cooks the mixture on the stove top for a while just to make sure there is no extra moisture left (but this is optional).
- Form balls or any other shape you like.
- Make a batter with the cornstarch. Add a pinch of baking powder to it.
- Dip the vegetable balls into it, coat nicely and roll them over the breadcrumbs.
- Finish making all the balls.
- Start heating up enough oil to deep fry the balls. You can start the oil while making the balls.
- Deep fry them. Do not over crowd the pan while frying.
- Once they are medium-darkish brown color, take them out and drain them on absorbent paper.
- Enjoy them with puffed rice/mamra or Muri or just itself.
Please let me know if you do not understand anything in the recipe. Again, the whole thing happened on my absence, so no first hand knowledge. If you need any other information, I’ll try to get it from my Mother.