In AMERICA, EUROPE, and elsewhere in the West, grocery shelves are loaded with varieties of potato chips, popcorn, pretzels, and tortilla chips, available plain, flavored, salt-free, reduced-fat, and fat-free. Foot traffic is lured with the aromas of freshly roasted chestnuts or in-shell peanuts from corner vendors. India's most popular family of hand-nibbled munchies marvelously diverse and irresistible is loosely called chidwaor chewra.
Types of Chidwa
A savory snack, chidwa can be as simple as salted and seasoned dried fruits, fried julienned potato straws, or whole or split fried nuts plain or in any combination. Other simple chidwas are little more than hot and spicy fried green chickpeas, split mung dal, or double-fried smashed white chick-peas. Quickly assembled nut and dried fruit chidwa blends might pair pistachios and golden raisins, peanuts and raisins, or cashews and dates.
One of the chidwas most popular and easy to make at home is a light blend of seasoned nuts, raisins, and puffed rice. Complex chidwa blends might include up to thirty ingredients, including ten or more seasonings.Chidwa connoisseurs insist that it must be fresh and homemade, but scores of ready-made varieties are available in chidwa shops and good grocers for those too busy to cook.
Srila Prabhupada and Chidwa
Reliable stories abound from Srila Prabhupada's servants and cooks about his love for chidwa. In Calcutta in his childhood his mother had made chidwa in mustard oil for his celebrations of the Jagannatha Rathayatra. In later years, in Vrndavana and Bombay he often asked for nut chidwa. In Surat he said potato chidwa was his spiritual master's favorite afternoon snack. In London, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco he taught disciples to make chidwa of puffed rice. He said he enjoyed almost any type of chidwa, provided it was well prepared.
In my experience, the variety he asked for most often was simple puffed-rice chidwa or one I coined Bombay Chidwa, after a variety he taught me to make in Bombay. If you are following the cooking class series, be sure to make both of these, and several more from the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine.
My godsister Dinatarini Devi recalls a pastime with Srila Prabhupada in Bombay in the spring of 1974. At the time Prabhupada was on a special diet. Pallika Devi was his cook, and Dinatarini shopped and sometimes assisted. Each morning, Pallika included chidwa on his breakfast plate. One morning, they overheard Prabhupada comment to Satsvarupa Maharaja that the chidwa was causing indigestion. So chidwa didn't appear on the next day's plate. But even before the plate was before him, Prabhupada asked "Where is the chidwa?" Pallika explained about overhearing his remark, and Prabhupada immediately replied "Bring me mychidwa."
After it was placed before him, Prabhupada laughed and said, "Yes, this chidwa is killing me, but I like it so much I cannot stop." And then he laughed and nibbled.
A Centennial Thank-You
Last year many readers got in touch with me through BTG or in person to express appreciation for these Centennial cooking classes. I'm grateful for your correspondence and delighted that you want to learn about Srila Prabhupada in the kitchen and honor, glorify, and relish his kitchen legacy. Hare Krsna.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post andVegetarian Times. Write to her in care of BTG.
(Makes one large bowl)
If you love popcorn plain, cheddar, or nacho you'll love this chidwa variation made with Indian flavors. In the last twenty years I've make a gazillion batches of it, adjusting the added spices for variety. This variation hits middle ground a little hot, spicy, and buttery, but not overly so. Feel free to adjust the seasonings as desired.
3 tablespoons minced candied ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup ghee, or half corn oil and half melted butter
½ cup popping corn
Combine the first nine ingredients on a small plate near the stove. Heat half the ghee or all of the oil in a large thick-bottomed pot over moderate heat. Add the popping corn, then cover and shake the pot. When you hear steady popping (after about two or three minutes), remove the lid for only a second to slide in the first nine ingredients. Then at once re-cover the pot. Continue shaking the pot for about 2 or 3 minutes more, until the sound abates and the corn is popped. Discard any unpopped corn. Drizzle with the rest of the ghee or butter, toss well, and offer to Krsna.