My nani amna's house was located in the E.I. Lines area near Avari Towers and the kachori vendor ─ our favourite ─ was just down the road, occupying one of the many street corners in the Saddar. Nani amma knew how much I loved having the savory snack ─ and so, I always had kachoris waiting for me at the dining table every time I stopped by after work.
The wholesome, leavened bread, with a side of aloo ki sabzi and carrot achar, made for a perfect after-work snack. When complemented with a cup of hot chai, it became a sure shot match made in heaven ─ because there is nothing like home-spun happiness, simple pleasures and down-home desi bread.
Nostalgic for the time spent with nani amma and how we would bond over tea and kachori, I decided to craft this delicious carbohydrate goodness for my own family this Eid.
The origins of Kachori
Looking to learn more about the delicacy, I came across an article published in The Hindu, titled "Of Samosa and Kachori" wherein Sumit Paul, the author, claims kachori is completely an innovation of the Indian subcontinent.
"Serendipity gave birth to it," he says, adding the claims of some food historians who say kachori was an evolutionary product of masala puri.
"However, kachori's outer shell is harder than that of masala puri," Paul adds.
"The Bengali polymath Nirad C. Chaudhury mentioned one Shashikant Dhar of Khulna (Bangladesh), who used to make kachori by frying puri and stuffing it with garlic and asafoetida, (or heeng). That was at the fag end of the 18th century," the food blogger said in his article.
Paul further shared that while researching the origins of the desi delicacy, he came across old texts in a library in Kakul Valley near Abbottabad, Pakistan. The ancient Turkish and Persian texts he examined suggested that kachori may have come from Punjab's Jhelum, claiming the Hindu pandits in the valley used to make a similar food item using white flour (maida), ground pulses and condiments with a dash of tamarind.
"Allama Iqbal’s Kashmiri Hindu ancestors also prepared this item, [widely considered] a kind of precursor to kachori," Paul said.
However, the blogger's recent trip to Tunisia in northern Africa left him unconvinced about its Hindustani origin. After having something which tasted almost the same as kachori, he asked around and learned that that particular snack was a local fare, dating back to the 10th century.
In the subcontinent, the wholesome, homemade chappati (the wholewheat Tortilla) is a staple at every meal; it's variants such as paratha and puri are often part of breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, not to forget sehri and iftar. I wonder if all these different kinds of desi breads were simply an innovation of the abundance of dal (pulses), mashed with wheat.
The 1999 food encyclopedia, the Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, describes kachori as stuffed puri, which could also be compared with the popular folded goodness we call samosas.
"They are made with a dough usually based in wheat flour, and come in two types; flat patties about 1.5 inches in diametre and 0.25 inches thick, popular for Tiffin snacks and as a travellers' food; and thinner ones (which may be called dal puri). Shapes vary; between round, crescent, etc.
Fillings are usually savoury, but can be sweet (for example, a besan kachori contains a sort of chickpea fudge with finely chopped dried fruits and nuts in it. Savoury examples are matar kachori and aloo kachori, and radhaballabhi kachori, popular in North India in the winter months, filled with a spicy lentil mixture."
Sangeeta Khanna, in her article From Nagori to Banarsi Kachori: An ode to one of India’s most loved snacks, says the kachori was an innovation of the Marwari people who settled across India, and were the pioneers of trade and commerce.
"All street food evolved around bazaars where traders needed to eat and drink while dealing their business. Ancient trade routes have always passed through Marwar [in India's Rajasthan state], and the Marwaris always had access to the best produce passing through their region," Khanna says.
"Marwaris are vegetarians, and they know how to spice up their food even with limited local produce," she says. "The kachori in the desert has spices that are usually known as thanda masala, essentially dhaniya (coriander) and saunf (fennel seeds) along with some haldi (turmeric), making these kachoris well-suited for the climate."
She further adds: "One of the best examples of Marwari kachori excellence is Jodhpur’s Mogar kachori that doesn't use any fresh produce and can be made in the desert any time of the year. It is stuffed with skinned mung beans (aka mung ki dal) in the form of a crumbly paste and spiced with local spices and souring agents. The outer pastry is always white flour (maida) with loads of shortening, and it is kneaded in such a way that it becomes flaky when deep-fried on low heat for almost half an hour. A Delhi version of this kachori, served with a tangy, hot aloo sabzi, [much like the ones found across the border in Pakistan]."
Adding to the mix, Khanna says that Gujarati people make lilva kachori and lilva na ghugra, both of these snacks use the same ingredients but are crafted in a different in shape.
"The lilva na ghugra is a delicious crescent-shaped kachori," she says.
Then there is the gol kachori of Banaras, a variant of samosa whose shape makes a difference to its overall taste, Khanna argues. "It is crushed lightly and is served drowned in aloo ki sabzi and green chutney," the food enthusiast adds.
When it was time for me make the delicious kachori, I used Shakuntala Aunty's recipe, crisp, fabulous, perfect. Here it is, from my kitchen to yours.
For the dough, you need:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. oil
1/4 cup cold water (as per needed)
For the filling, you need:
1/4 cup mung ki dal
1 tsp. fennel seeds, coarsely ground
1 tsp. coriander seeds, coarsely ground
1 tsp. chillie flakes
1/4 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. mango powder
Salt according to taste
1 tbsp. oil
2 tbsp. water
Oil for deep frying
To prepare the filling, soak mung dal in a damp cloth and grind till it is in powder form.
Roast the ground pulse in a pan over medium heat, adding oil as needed. Stir until the dal changes colour.
Then add all spices to the roasted pulse and set it to cool for a bit. Add two tablespoons of warm water afterwards and stir well.
Finally, cover the mixture with a damp cloth and set it aside for 10 to 15 minutes.
For the dough, take flour, salt and oil, and mix gently. Add chilled water gradually in the mixture; do not knead.
Cover the dough and set it at room temperature for 15 minutes.
And finally, to craft the kachori, knead dough for a minute. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts, roll them into balls and flatten them into 3-inch discs, leaving the centre thicker than the edges.
Make a crater in the disc, adding a teaspoon of the filling in the centre.
Pull the edges of the disc to wrap the dal filling and let it sit for a few minutes.
With the seams facing up, use the base of your palm to flatten the discs completely.
Heat oil over medium heat, and deep-fry on medium low heat (for a crispy result) for 3 to 4 minutes each side, turning once they puff.
Fry until golden-brown on both sides. Do not fry on high heat.
Serve with desired chutney, sabzi, or plain. Store at room temperature in an airtight jar for a week.