Manisha Pandit, creator of the popular food blog Indian Food Rocks, is a master behind the stove and camera lens. In her monthly column, she shares Indian recipes and cooking techniques that are as pleasurable to see as they are to swallow.
In this post, Manisha leans on mashed potatoes and local chard to expand our knowledge of vegan kababs.
Kabab usually conjures up images of marinated ground meat, wrapped around skewers and grilled over charcoals. Not so much the hara bhara kabab, which literally translates into a kabab that is filled with green vegetables, with no meat in sight. Kababs came to India via Persia and the Middle East, and -- like everything else that came down that historical route -- they were adapted to suit the local palate and transformed into an indigenous version.
Over 30 percent of India's population is vegetarian, mostly because of religious beliefs, and the rest out of choice. India's tropical climate and agricultural economy ensures an abundant supply of a wide variety of vegetables all year round. Because of this and the fact that most vegetarians in India were never meat eaters, processed foods like soy-based meat substitutes have not played a significant role in the Indian vegetarian diet as they have in western countries. When meat and seafood recipes were adapted for vegetarians, the culinary wizards used real vegetables. Case in point: these vegetarian hara bhara kababs, made with spinach, green peas, and cilantro, and formed into a delicious patty that is usually deep fried and served as an appetizer or a snack.
There are as many versions of hara bhara kabab as there are cooks, with one constant: potatoes. Some people like to purée all the vegetables before mixing them into mashed potatoes. Others like to include finely crumbled paneer. I like the texture that chopped vegetables give these kababs, so I prefer not to purée my vegetables. I also take the liberty of using locally grown greens like chard, especially when they are in season (like right now!).
While there's no doubt that spinach is nutritionally superior to chard, the latter appeals to me mainly for its flavor profile. It has a slightly bitter edge and the leaves don't wilt as easily as spinach. I use every part of the leaves, including the stem, making my version of hara bhara kabab a little more memorable -- in my mind, of course!
I use dried mango powder (a.k.a. amchur) to add a sour note to the kababs. I recommend against adding lemon juice as that increases the amount of liquid in the kabab mixture, making them difficult to shape into patties. Lately, I have seen suggestions for substituting amchur with sumac. Cornstarch is used as a binder instead of egg whites to make these kababs popular with all vegetarians, including vegans.
Hara Bhara Kabab
8 ounces chard
2 medium red potatoes, boiled
1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
3-4 Thai green chiles, finely chopped
1/8 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup green peas
1 teaspoon amchur (dried mango powder), optional
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Oil for shallow frying
Like this post? See Manisha's previous topic: Cauliflower Rassa.
All photos by Manisha Pandit.
Manisha writes the food blog Indian Food Rocks, spiced with eclectic Indian food and entertaining anecdotes.