One of my favorite places in Mumbai is Chor Bazaar, or Thieves Market. It used to be where the vagabonds and villains in the city would offload their stolen loot. These days you can find ancient tiffin boxes and all sorts of knick-knacks there, and right in the midst there’s a man with the best hara bara kebabs I’ve ever eaten. Packed full of as many greens, or “hara,” as he can stuff into them, they’re soft and charred but bright with fresh herbs, chile, and lemon. I’ve tried to re-create them here as best I can.
Makes 18 kebabs (enough for 4 to 6)
FOR THE RAITA
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 lime, quartered
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
FOR THE KEBABS
1 pound baking potatoes, such as russet or Yukon Gold
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
2 Indian green chiles
1½-inch piece of ginger, peeled
½ pound spinach leaves
1½ cups peas (fresh or defrosted)
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
11/3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons garam masala
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped
First make the lime raita. Put the yogurt into a bowl. Put the oil into a small frying pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the lime wedges. Fry for a minute on each side, or until the sides have blackened and become sticky, then take off the heat. When the wedges have cooled, squeeze the juice into the yogurt, add the salt and honey or sugar, and stir to mix. Garnish with the nigella seeds, and a squeezed slice of lime if you feel like it, then refrigerate until needed.
Wash and peel the potatoes, then place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and boil until completely tender, then drain and mash well. While the potatoes are boiling, bash the cumin seeds coarsely with a mortar and pestle, then transfer to a small bowl. Grind together the green chiles and ginger in the mortar and pestle until they both disintegrate, and mix with the cumin. Wash the spinach and bring some fresh water to a boil. Gently dunk the spinach in for a minute, then drain and refresh under the cold tap for 30 seconds. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible (don’t be afraid to be brutish), then chop finely and add to the mashed potatoes.
Next, add the peas, the cumin, ginger, and green chile paste, the chickpea flour, lemon juice, salt, garam masala, and cilantro to the potato mixture. Knead with your hands until all the ingredients are well mixed, then cook a test kebab. Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large frying pan over medium heat. Take a golf-ball-sized bit of mixture, shape into a ball between your palms, and flatten it to roughly 2½ inches in diameter and ¾ inch thick. Fry for 2½ minutes on one side, or until golden and crisp, then flip and cook for a further 2½ minutes. Once crisp and golden on both sides, remove with a slotted spoon.
Cool, and taste for salt and lemon, adjusting if need be. Then fry the rest in batches, adding a little oil where you need it to stop the kebabs from sticking to the pan. Keep the cooked kebabs warm in a foil nest, then serve them together with the raita.