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Friday, February 26, 2021

The Back Burner: Kutchi Dabeli, the quintessential Gujarati street snack

How to make dabeli that is bursting with flavours and has many contrasting textures

Written by Pooja Pillai | New Delhi |
January 16, 2021 2:18:08 pm
katchi dabeli, snack, indianexpressGarnish with more sev, peanuts, pomegranate seeds and coriander leaves and serve. (Source: Pooja Pillai/Canva/Getty Images/Thinkstock)

The first dabeli I had was from the canteen in my school in Ahmedabad. It was a pitiful little thing, in retrospect: just a greasy pav with a bit of the dabeli-masala potato stuffed inside and a peanut or two. There were no chutneys; one could eat it with a bit of ketchup on the side if one so desired. Still, that first bite (I must have been 12-13 years old) was enough. I ate far better dabelis later – in Ahmedabad, as well as Bhuj and Mumbai – but the sad little school canteen dabeli was what made me fall in love with this snack.

Apparently, dabeli was invented by one Keshavji Gabha Chudasma in the port town of Mandvi, in Kutch, sometime in the 1960s. Given that this is India and we’re talking about a street snack, we get this information via oral history only. However, what we do know for a fact is that dabeli quickly became popular beyond Kutch and is now found pretty much all over western and north India. And if you’ve ever had one, you’ll know why. A well-made dabeli will be bursting with flavours, thanks to all the chutneys, butter and the special dabeli masala. It will have many contrasting textures, from the softness of mashed potatoes, to the juiciness of fresh pomegranate seeds, to the crunch of peanuts and sev.

Once you have the various components of dabeli before you, it isn’t very difficult to assemble: slice open a pav, slather with chutneys of choice, stuff generously with spicy potato filling, pan-fry in some butter ( and press down the stuffed pav while doing so, because ‘dabeli’ means ‘that which is pressed down’), garnish with lots of sev, peanuts and pomegranate seeds and serve.

The dabeli masala, however, is what takes a little time (but again, not more than 10-15 minutes). If you don’t want to make dabeli masala from scratch, you can buy it packaged. Most major masala manufacturers in the country make it. And if you can’t find packaged dabeli masala, you can combine garam masala, with some coriander powder, cumin powder, rock salt, powdered sugar, desiccated coconut powder and oil to make an almost-as-good substitute.

Ingredients

Dabeli masala:

Coriander seeds – 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds – ½ tbsp
Fennel seeds – ½ tbsp
Cloves – 4
Black peppercorns – 1 tsp
Cinnamon – 1 inch piece
Star anise – 1
Black cardamom – 1
Bay leaf (broken) – 1
Dried red chillies (broken) – 5-6
White sesame seeds – 1 tbsp
Desiccated coconut (grated) – 2 tbsp
Rock salt – 1 tsp
Kashmiri red chilli powder – 1 tbsp
Powdered sugar – 1 tbsp
Peanut oil – 1 tbsp
Potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed – 2 cups
Mint-coriander chutney – 1 cup
Tamarind-jaggery chutney – 2 cups
Masala peanuts (packaged) – 1 cup
Fresh pomegranate seeds – 1 cup
Nylon sev (packaged) – 1 cup
Butter, as needed
Pav – 6 nos
Chopped coriander leaves – ½ cup
Peanut oil – 2 tbsp
Salt, to taste

Method

Dry roast coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom and bay leaf on low flame, till aromatic. This should take 2-3 minutes. When done, spread out on a large plate and allow the spices to cool.

katchi dabeli, snack, indianexpress Dry roast coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom and bay leaf on low flame, till aromatic. (Photo credits Pooja Pillai)

Next, dry roast the desiccated coconut, sesame seeds and dried red chillies for about the minute. Allow to cool.

katchi dabeli, snack, indianexpress Dry roast the desiccated coconut, sesame seeds and dried red chillies for about the minute. (Photo credits Pooja Pillai)

Grind the spices along with the coconut mixture, along with rock salt and red chilli powder.

kutchi dabeli, TBB Add powdered sugar and oil and mix properly. The final masala will be only slightly greasy. (Photo credits Pooja Pillai)

To the resulting masala powder, add powdered sugar and oil and mix properly. The final masala will be only slightly greasy.

Next, heat oil in a frying pan and fry the dabeli masala for about a minute, then add the mashed potatoes, 1 cup of tamarind-jaggery chutney (adjust according to your preference), masala peanuts, nylon sev, pomegranate seeds, coriander leaves and salt and mix them all together. Once all the ingredients are properly incorporated, turn off the flame. The potato filling is ready.

TBB, kutchi dabeli recipe, indianexpress Mix masala peanuts, sev, pomegranate seeds and coriander leaves with the dabeli potato mash. (Photo credits Pooja Pillai)

Slit each pav through the middle (horizontally) and apply the mint-coriander chutney on the inside, followed by some tamarind-jaggery chutney.

Fill generously with the spicy potato mash.

TBB, kutchi dabeli recipe, Stuff the pav generously with the potato filling. (Photo credit: Pooja Pillai)

Press each side of the stuffed pav, where the potato is sticking out, into some sev, so that the sev adheres to it.

Heat some butter in a pan and place the pav in it. Once the underside of the pav stars to crisp up, press down and then turn it over to crisp the other side.

Serve, garnished with more pomegranate seeds, coriander leaves, sev and masala peanuts

TBB, kutchi dabeli recipe, indianexpress The Kutchi Dabeli is ready. (Photo credit: Pooja Pillai)

Note

Along with the two chutneys already mentioned, you can also use red garlic chutney.
Onions, tomatoes and grated cheese can be added to the garnish, or to the potato filling.
Don’t stint on the butter. It’s no use pretending you’re eating this for the good of your arteries.

[The Back Burner is a blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]

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