Every other Friday I arrive for a playdate at my friend Dalia’s place with my boys in tow. Dalia always makes me a comforting cup of tea, and I look very forward to the sharing of tea and conversation with a good friend. On one occasion, I peer at Dalia’s stove and find thin crispy toasted poha resting in a pot. Poha is flattened rice, commonly available in big bags at Indian grocery stores. I am surprised and immediately excited: toasted and seasoned poha is always found in my mother’s cupboard, made when the cook has some time and stocked for those times when you crave a crunchy snack. You can buy ready made brands from manufacturers such as Haldiram’s, but I so far I have never encountered freshly made chivda made hot, in time for tea. As we chat and the boys run around and the tea boils, Dalia heats a little bit of oil and puts in the seasoning: a spoonful of mustard seeds, several sweet curry leeves (meetha neem patta), a red dried red chilli, a couple of sliced green chillies, some raw peanuts, and her secret ingredient, some dry shredded coconut. The seasoning gives off a wonderful smell of sweet curry leaves and green chillies and toasted coconut. The poha is then tossed into the seasoning, with a little salt and sugar. It’s a heady, warm and crispy snack, perfect with masala chai or coffee. I try various versions of it at home, always surprised by how easy it is to make, how good it tastes and how I can adjust the seasoning to my taste: raw cashew nuts instead of peanuts on one occasion, more green chillies on another, golden raisins another time. Turmeric is commonly added to this snack, but I enjoy the bright colors of the red peanuts and green curry leaves against the white chivda. Each time I savor a sweet-salty-spicy mouthful, I’m reminded of good friendships and of the flavors of Calcutta.
4 cups of poha, preferably thin
1/2 cup or more of raw peanuts, cashews, or dry roasted chickpeas
1 tsp of black mustard seeds
1-2 dried red chillies, whole
1-2 green chillies, chopped or whole
10-12 sweet curry leaves
1 tbsp of dry shredded coconut
Generous pinch of sugar (preferably brown turbinado sugar)
Salt to taste
About 2 tsps of oil
1. Heat a little oil and toast the poha over a low flame in a pan. Note: thin poha toasts more rapidly than thick and is also crunchier. Stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom and burning. It will take about 15-20 minutes to toast. Taste to see if the poha is done. It will taste crunchy but will have no flavor when ready. Remove from flame and set aside.
2. In a separate pan, heat the remaining oil on medium heat. Add the mustard seeds, peanuts, red and green chillies (chop into smaller bits if you want spicy mouthfuls), coconut, curry leaves. Let these roast for a few minutes while stirring occasionally, until the peanuts start looking a pale golden. Add in the toasted poha, and stir to combine. Remove from flame. Toss in salt and sugar to taste. Everything, especially the peanuts, should become beautifully crisp upon cooling. Serve immediately or store in airtight containers.