If you’ve chatted to me inebriated this year, you’ll know one of my many plans for 2015 was to get to know the people I talk to on social media everyday better IRL. This has meant arranging at least four semi-hilarious meet-ups with friends made through Instagram and Twitter- and a lot of new vegan and sometimes-vegan friends!
Rupa, who I can’t even remember how we got talking to each other, works near me, so I think I first suggested we should do a vegan day out together after she gave me a great recommendation for some vegan falafel. So a few Saturdays ago I went off to meet Rupa and go on a mini tour of Ealing Road, up in Wembley, as she wanted to show me all the Gujarati cafes and shops she grew up visiting at the weekend with her family.
Deciding we should eat as a priority (the best kind), Sakonis was our first stop- which is a big vegetarian restaurant down Ealing Road that’s recently had a bit of a makeover. Rupa explained how strange it was to see the place with kinda jeujy chairs and wallpaper, but I was a bit too distracted by the huge canteen-style buffet at the centre of the room. If you’re looking to take some vegetarian friends somewhere other than Tayyabs (which unfortunately is really tricky for vegans to eat at), take them to Sakonis.
Although Rupa explained that a lot of the curry and rice dishes on the buffet would have had ghee added to them, the staff were super helpful in checking that the snacks we ordered were vegan. Rupa picked out proper Gujarati samosas (they’ve got to be made with a kind of filo pastry and have really pointy edges, according to Rupa- and these ones WERE amazing), dhal, chilli tofu that tasted almost exactly like paneer and fried mogo chips (which are cassava but looked almost exactly like potato chips- they tasted like something similar to a parsnip but not as squidgy?... hard to explain!). We then explored the nearby cash and carry shops to pick up some Gujarati ingredients not easily available near me or really anywhere I’ve been to shop for curry supplies.
Before I get on to my Pani Puri recipe, I have to say, Wembley seriously isn’t that far for a food trip. There was so much to try and pick up, and so many specialist ingredients, that if you’re planning on doing a special curry for friends or family any time soon, I’d totally recommend spending 15 minutes on the overground from Euston to Wembley and stocking up. If you’re someone like me, that spends a lot of time trying to make their go-to curries just that 5 per cent better, and reading all the curry recipes you can- a trip to Ealing Road is probably going to get you a lot further. Plus, if you have a friend who’s familiar with the area, it’s also going to be a lot more fun. Rupa helped me pick out the best pani puri to buy and showed me the best kind of lentils to try to make khichdi with- so thank you so much Rupa for showing me around!
Some notes on Pani Puri
I first tried pani puri when some family friends brought them up from Birmingham for us. If you’ve never had them before, they’re like little deep fried balls you fill yourself with a dry curry mix, a spiced water, a tamarind chutney and a few other toppings. You have to eat it all in one go, or it will start to leak, so they’re the perfect street food snack. If they’re getting time to rest on your plate you’re doing this wrong. They’re also the perfect way to start a curry night with friends. Buy the pani puri shells in a box- (I haven’t worked out how to make them and I don’t plan to), and then all you really need to prepare is a dry curry mix and the chutney. Serve them up as someone else sorts the beer out, or you wait for the last of your mates to arrive, and it’ll keep everyone entertained in the best way while you work on the final stages of that huge, over-ambitious curry you planned.
nb: The idea of making a chutney for this might sound like a long haul, but just make it right at the start, before you start doing anything else, and get over it, bucko.
Pani Puri with pomegranate seeds and date and tamarind chutney
For the chutney
1 cup of pitted dry dates
2 tbsp tamarind sauce
½ cup muscovado sugar
½ tsp chilli sauce
Pinch of salt
For the dry curry
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ cm cubes
5 carrots, peeled and cut into ½ cm pieces
1 white onion, chopped down small
Stalks of one bunch of coriander
2 red chillies, chopped small
Juice 1 lime
Salt and pepper
One box of pani puri shells, one pomegranate’s worth of seeds, extra coriander leaves and lime for topping. One tsp of pani puri mix stirred into a glass or jar of water. If you cannot find this mix, look for a simple pani puri water recipe online.
First off, make your chutney so it has plenty of time to develop in flavour. Blend the dates, then add to a saucepan on a low heat, with the tamarind sauce, sugar, chilli sauce and salt. Add 1 cup of water at the start of cooking and another ½ cup if it becomes too dry. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, then transfer to a jar and cool in the fridge until you’re ready to serve everything.
While that’s happening, you can get on with the dry curry mix. Boil the potatoes and carrots in water for about 15 minutes until they are cooked through but not too soft. In a large pan or wok, heat a little oil, then add in the chopped onion and cook until it softens down. Then add in the coriander, cumin, chilli powder and curry powder, and the lime juice. Stir so all the flavours can combine and heat until it’s a really fragrant pan. Add in the boiled potatoes and carrots, and once it’s all mixed together, check the seasoning and add some salt and pepper if needed. Turn off the heat and transfer to a dish ready to serve.
Now all that’s left is to prepare your pani puri water, deseed the pomegranate and pick a few coriander leaves for serving. Set up your table so everyone can help themselves to make their own pani puri, and get stuck in!