Thursday, February 06, 2014

Koraishuti ba Narkel diye Chire Bhaja -- Crispy Poha

Chire Bhaja

Unlike  where I live amidst snow, bitter cold and temperature dropping to negative, winter is a joyous time in the plains of Bengal. Because it is not really "cold" cold but merely a delusion of  being "cold". Also this is the season when it is not really hot and you are not sweating at the mere prospect of a bus ride. That is a lot of "not"s. In fact winter is so pleasant that you can wear a sweater or wrap a shawl or sit in the sun after a bath in a bucket of water warmed by the same sun and yet not lose an ounce of body fluid by perspiration.

Of course this luxury is only for the plains and the lower range of  Himalayas in the far north of the state get severely cold and suffer from a case of proper winter. But we will not talk of severe winters as they are not as fun as the mild ones.

So in the plains of Bengal, winter is the season to show off napthalene scented Kashmiri shawls and to indulge in heavy eating. Not that the other seasons see any less of  the last bit but Bengalis love to think that a cold weather demands more of fatty food, sweet desserts and variety of dishes made with fresh vegetables like cauliflower, sweet peas and carrots which grace the markets only in the months of December and January. Okay, okay, now you do get these vegetables around the year but even then you cannot deny the pleasure of aloo-phulkopi chingri'r dalna, narkel-khejur gur pur diye pati shapta, piyaajkoli diye maach and beet-gajor er chechki on a winter afternoon which has the prospect of a nap under sun soaked quilt later.

The erudite Bangalis also believe(and rightly so!) that the umpteen cups of hot tea or coffee gulped down to abate the so-called-cold, needs to be served with some deep fried deliciousness on the side. So, croquettes are fried, stuffed kochuris are rolled out and battered fish sizzle in a kadhai full of oil.

Now, though it is the Egg Roll, Fish Fry, Chicken Kobiraji, Beguni and Aloor Chop which are the more famous deep fried snacks, there are several humble counterparts that are made at home with minimal effort and with ingredients easily found in a home pantry.

"Chire Bhaja" or "Crisp Fried Poha" or "Crispy Beaten Rice" tops the chart in that category. It was the most frequent snack made by Ma, winter or no winter and especially on the arrival of an impromptu guest for cha. And guests were almost always impromptu in those times. Like most mothers of that generation, my Ma believed in the code of conduct set by the ancient Sanskrit verse "Atithi Devo Bhavah" which means "A guest is like God". Translated it meant -- "it is necessary to ply all guests with food and beverage irrespective of their desire to consume food". 

In summer this meant sherbet, sondesh and mangoes and when the weather turned cooler it was always tea and fried goodies. Since we lived in a small town, where getting shingara and mishti from the stores was as long winded as placing a telephone call, Ma always served something made at home. It could be nimki, which she would make by jarfuls every few months, or home made sabu papad and chips, which were made in winter. Most of the time those jars would be emptied by us, without her knowing, and so she had to resort to the default choice of "Chire Bhaja" on many a evenings. 

It was quick, easy and inexpensive. All it needed was chire or beaten rice which was a pantry staple, raw peanuts and gallons of oil. Heat enough oil in a kadhai --> fry the peanuts and remove--then fry the chire in a kadhai full of oil until those flat dry pieces puff up snowy and crisp. Simple.

During winter when the sweet peas were a plenty and Ma already had some shelled peas at hand, she would throw in boiled and lightly sauteed peas with the chire bhaja. That Koraishuti diye Chire Bhaja was my favorite. Sometimes if she had left over grated coconut after the pati shapta stuffing was done, she would mix the fluffy, soft "narkel kora" with the fried chire and sprinkle a little sugar on it. That gave the savory chire bhaja a sweet undertone which instantly took my fancy. The dregs of sugar and salt mixed with the oil at the bottom of the bowl was a delight to lick and it was perfectly ok to wipe down those oily fingers on the pleats of skirts or the sari, whichever was easily available.

Oil, then was not a bad word. Chire Bhaja needs to be fed oil. Period.

But now, it is the oil which makes me freak out every time I have to fry chire. The result, I would rarely make chire bhaja, hyperventilating at the memories of oil stained fingers until my Ma-in-law showed me a less oily way to fry this stuff. She would first dry roast the chire in a kadhai and only then fry it in oil. This step cut down the oil dramatically. The chire turned crispy even with very less oil. Voila !! A trick worth learning.

I went a step further, as is my habit to always take a different step for better or worse, and these days I toss the chire with little oil and roast in the oven as the first step. Only then do I fry it in very little oil in the Kadhai. Works wonders every time. Well, I mean not exactly same "wonder" as frying in gallon full of oil. And the oily dregs of sugar-salt-pepper are missing. And definitely that more oily chire baja tasted better than this less oily one. But this was one tastes very good too. Only a teeny-tiny bit less good.

We will settle for that I say.

Koraishuti ba Narkel diye Chire Bhaja

Option 1 -- Badam diye Chire Bhaja or Crispy Poha with Peanuts

Toss 3 cups of  chire/thick poha/flat beaten rice with 1 tbsp of Vegetable oil.

Next spread them in a layer on an oven safe tray and bake in the oven at 300F. After the first 7-8 minutes, take it out and toss it around. Pop in the oven for next 7-8 minutes. keep a watch to see that the chire is not getting brown and burnt.

At the end of this oven time, the chire should be crisp, brittle and no longer raw

Now heat 2 tbsp of oil in a small kadhai.

When the oil is hot add about 1/4th cup of peanuts and fry till light brown. Remove the peanuts and keep aside.

To the same oil, add a cracked red chilli and a small piece of ginger julienne.

Add the crispy baked chire gradually, tossing it in the oil. Sprinkle little salt while tossing. The chire will puff up a little more.

Now switch off heat and pour out the fried chire in a bowl. Mix with the fried peanuts. Sprinkle salt and black pepper powder to taste

Option 2 -- Narkel diye Chire Bhaja or Crispy Poha with Coconut and Sugar

After the last step, where you have poured out the chire and added salt/pepper etc., add a fist full of grated coconut and about 1/2 tsp of sugar to the piping hot chire bhaja. Toss quickly and eat.

Option 3 -- Koraishuti diye Chire Bhaja or Crispy Poha with Green peas.

If using fresh peas, then shell and boil the peas till tender. If using a bag of frozen peas, then microwave the peas till just done. I love these sweet peas ad so we will be generous and use 1 cup of cooked peas.

Bake the chire in the oven as described earlier

Now heat 2 tsp of oil in a small kadhai.

When the oil is hot add a cracked red chilli and a small piece of ginger chopped in julienne.

Now add the cooked peas and toss with salt and black pepper powder. Saute for a couple of minutes. Take out the peas and keep aside.

Add about 2tbsp oil to same kadhai and heat.

Add the crispy baked chire gradually, tossing it in the oil. The chire will puff up a little more.

Now switch off heat and pour out the fried chire in a bowl. Add the sauteed peas. Sprinkle with more salt and black pepper powder to taste.


  1. Option 1 ta amar samner robibarer jolkhabar. Thank you Bong Mom.

  2. Bless you for that bake option ... kotodin dhore chire bhaja khete icche korche kintu amar haater jonne oi otokkhon naar te hobe bole parchilam na .... aaj e shondhebela korbo kochi koraishuti diye ... thanku thanku :)

  3. Chire bhaja might not be rocket science but I am so scared to make it. I am afraid that I might not be able to make it like Maa. She is like the queen of making chire bhaja (as all the Bengali mothers are). She will make a large batch and either send it with me to the US or make it before she leaves for India. I am yet to put my hands on those crispy things. You reminded me that I ran out of my stock :(

  4. Very intriguing- this is like Maharashtrian chivda perhaps or a cross between poha and chivda. I love poha in all its avatars.

    And speaking of winters, where we live now (GA) has those kind of wonderful mild winters, where the cold is not freezing but just an excuse to show off hand-knit scarves. But this winter is relatively harsh.

  5. Sandeepa, can this be stored, with the green peas and ginger? I guess not.

  6. My mom too made chire bhaaja topped with freshly grated coconut and some sugar. She had another.speciality for the kids. She would heat a little homemade ghee in a kadhai and put in muri and roast the muri.when nearly done she would sprinkle sugar and the caramel issued sugar would coat the muri .

  7. Dear Bong Mom,
    It was a few years ago. I was looking up a recipe for Murighanto on the web. I hit the search button. I clicked on a link that took me to the first food blog that was going to be my internet comfort zone for a long time to come. Your writing made my day for many a days. I had so much laugh over your hilarious writing, read aloud so many paragraphs to my husband, friends that I can not tell. I could relate to many happenings in life, specially children growing up in USA. OK, my eldest one is in college already, but still. I always thought that I should leave a comment over many a great recipes but never did so. When you announced that you were going to publish a book, I was very happy and announced it to my husband and friends too. I thought this was the right time for me to leave a comment. That moment passed too. After I read the chire bhja recipe I thought that I am supplied with another moment so I can do what I was supposed to do a long time ago. Leave a comment. In my friends circle, I am the chire bhaja guru. Gallons of oil make me freak out too. That is why it is made may be once a year. In my chire bhaja which I learned from my maa, who else, I add papar bhaja and raw onion, green chili too in addition to all the things you said except karaishuti. Also I add raw julienne ginger without frying it in oil. It is purely bliss in a cold winter evening with a cup of tea. Thank you for the tip of toasting it before frying it. Actually we do that too sometimes. heat only a little oil and add some kalonji, shukno langka and shallow fry the chire until they become crispy. This is our kam tele chire bhaja.
    You are an awesome writer. Even my son who is a foodie read your posts from time to time. Thank you Sandeepa.

  8. like your blog. Kerala and Bengal have some things in common . fish is one of them. had been in Orissa and had a Bong friend too. haven't missed any of Satyajit's movies. like the way Bongs drape their sarees would like to see you in one!

  9. Sandeepa, this brings back such a sharply distinct memory for me - of my pishi's house, and this as an evening snack. She would serve the chire bhaja with boiled peas, choto-choto-chouko alu bhaja and black pepper. I can smell it now :)

  10. This reminds me of my Pishi's house in Gariahat - chire bhaaja used to be the regular snack whenever we dropped in to visit her in the evening, especially in winter. She'd serve it with boiled peas, choto-choto chouko alu bhaja and a sprinkle of black pepper. I can smell it now :)

  11. It's 1:34 AM and I live alone away from my hometown. It's near month end so not left with enough money to go out to eat. I have poha with me but didn't know how to cook chire fried. I wanted to have it since morning but didn't call Maa about it. Now, that I am really hungry, I searched for it online and open the first link. I must say for a moment, I forgot about my hunger and was lost in my child memory. I could relate to all the incidents you mentioned, it seems all bengalis are same. I cooked chire the way you mentioned but I have mixed it with sugar as I used to do at home. Never tried the peas though, have tried coconut and nuts.
    Thanks for this wonderful writing and the tips for chire bhaja.



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