Peanut Bhujia: Crisp Indian Street Snacks

We all know what happens when we go grocery shopping while hungry. Everything looks and smells so good. Into the cart it goes.

So it was on a business trip to New York City some time ago. It was a Friday, and I hadn’t eaten much all day due to being in meetings there. My family was taking the train to the city to join me for a nice weekend. I didn’t want to eat a late lunch or solo early dinner in advance of their arrival, so I hungrily held off eating in anticipation of us all enjoying a good dinner later.

Figuring they would be hungry on arrival to the hotel, I set off to stock the room with some snacks. A quick hop on the 7 Train to Jackson Heights where I knew I could find Indian groceries. At the store there was aisle after aisle of sweet and savory snacks, my only limit was what I could carry back to the hotel on the train. I gathered the max load, and headed back.

Back at the hotel we all dug into the snacks to take an edge off our hunger before heading out on the town. Bhujia are crispy fried morsels made from all sorts of vegetables and legumes. They can be quite spicy, dosed with chaat masala. Our favorite is the peanuts. Whenever I see them on the shelf, I am compelled to buy.

I tasted and tasted until I got it where I liked it, a balance of all of the flavor components that will complement the fried snacks and provide an irresistible deliciousness.

Then, like with many things in other posts, it dawned on me that I can make these nuts at home. Making them starts with making chaat masala, the spice blend for Indian street snacks. Chaat masala is a wonderful blend of salty, spicy, savory, and tart flavors. I asked around, and everyone gave me a different idea of what is in it. It’s an individual preference, just like all the other spice blends, or masalas, of India.

Chaat Masala

You can make as much as you need of this, so I am listing the recipe by parts volume. If you use a teaspoon as a “part”, then this recipe will make about a cup of chaat masala.

  • 12 Amchur (powdered dried green mango)
  • 8 Cumin seed (use regular or black cumin)
  • 5 Tamarind powder
  • 3 Coriander seed
  • 3 Kala Namak (sold as “black salt” it is actually pinkish; this stuff is quite funky…smelling it, you may have trouble deciding if you like it or not, but use it anyway. It adds an essential flavor)
  • 3 Dried mint leaves
  • 2 Ajwain seed (the seed of the Bishop’s Weed plant, an invasive ground cover, it’s like super thyme)
  • 2 Fennel seed
  • 2 Ground mixed super hot chilies (this is quite hot, so you can sub another hot pepper powder of your preference, but I like the tropical flavor of these chilies)
  • 1 Sea salt
  • 1 Ground ginger
  • 1 Anardana (powdered pulp and seeds of wild pomegranate)
  • 1 Pepali (long pepper available in the health and beauty section of Indian spice shops, you can sub black pepper)

Toast the cumin, coriander, ajwain, and fennel in a dry skillet over medium heat until the spices are fragrant. Cool and grind in spice mill or blender (I use a cheap coffee grinder dedicated for spices). Mix with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust to your preference. Store in an airtight container.

Now, for the peanuts. The batter needs to be light, crisp and flavorful. This recipe is enough batter for about 12 ounces of peanuts.

  • 12 ounce raw, shelled peanuts
  • Oil for frying (I prefer peanut oil)
  • 2/3 cup Besan
  • 1/3 cup Rice flour
  • 1t Amchur
  • 1t Garam masala
  • 1/2t Turmeric
  • 1-1/2t Sea salt
  • 1t Baking soda
  • 2-3T Chaat masala (see above)

Measure out 2/3 cup of besan (chick pea flour) and 1/3 cup rice flour into a bowl. Add cool water a few tablespoons at a time, mixing to incorporate each time. The mixture will thicken as it absorbs the water, so take your time on this. Once it reaches the consistence of crepe batter, it is good.

Mix into the batter the following: 1 t amchur (adds acidity), 1 t homemade garam masala, 1/2 t turmeric, 1-1/2t salt, 1 t baking soda (puffs the batter when frying).

Add the peanuts into the batter and stir to coat them. I use raw peanuts, but you can use roasted as well.

Heat about 1″ of oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add 1-2 nuts to the oil to check if it’s ready. When the oil is heated, I take a large serving spoon of the coated nuts from the bowl of batter, and then use a smaller spoon to individually drop the peanuts into the oil. As each peanut drops into the oil, move to a new spot in the skillet for the next one so they do not stick together. I can move fast enough to get 2-3 of the large spoons of peanuts into the oil so they will finish about the same time. Use a strainer spoon (I love the utensil called a “Kitchamajig” (aka “slotted skimmer”) for this) to break up any nuts that have decided to join together; it’s not critical to get them all, but individual nuts are better.

When well browned, skim the nuts from the oil onto a paper towel lined plate. While they are hot, sprinkle liberally with the chaat masala. The nuts will be a bit soft until they are thoroughly cooled. Once cooled and crisp, store in an airtight container.

OK, you may just eat them. You may not need a container after all.

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