Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chevra or Chevdo (Snack)

I was in an all girls' boarding school during my high school years. We had what was called "terms" (the Kenyan equivalent to Semesters). We had two visiting days each term. Visiting day was the only day your family came to visit you for the afternoon. Other than that, you saw your family only when schools closed at the end of the term. So knowing how lackluster school meals were, parents would try and bring their daughters non-perishable snacks and treats every visiting day. Cooked foods were not allowed (school rules) though we managed to sneak in quite a few chapatis and mandazis in our day =). Besides packs of cookies and the obvious gallons of juice, chevra was a much requested snack for parents to bring.

I'm sure by now you are wondering what this strange sounding dish is? It's actually just a snack. It has it's origins in India. It consists of a variable mixture of spicy, dried ingredients, which may include fried lentils, peanuts, vegetable oil, chickpeas, flaked rice or rice crispies, curry leaves and sometimes even crumbled cornflakes! This is all flavored with salt and a blend of spices. As a standalone snack, it is usually consumed with the hands. In the US, its known as "Punjabi mix" or "hot mix". In the United Kingdom and Ireland, it is known as "Bombay mix". In Eastern African countries with large populations of families of Indian descent, especially Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, it is known as "chevra" or "chevdo" and is prepared with some sugar sprinkled in. This snack is spicy, sweet and crunchy. Those who know me know that I have a low threshold for spicy foods. However, when it comes to this...I would be shoving handfuls down my mouth and tearing up all at the same time-happily! It is SO good y'all! So good that I braved the heat just to have some. And I survived!

When I look back, I do not remember any family celebration where this snack would not be served.Whenever there was any kind of celebration at my house in Kenya, there would always be some chevra. Since I'm a flavor ambassador, I'll share the recipe with you. It's OK, thank me later. Here's what you'll need...

-3 tablespoons vegetable oil (any kind with no smell).
-1/2 green chili, seeded and finely chopped ( I used a jalapeño pepper).
-1/8 teaspoon of hing (also called "asafoetida". Can be found at any Indian grocery store or online).
1/4 teaspoon turmeric.
-1/4 teaspoon dry mango powder ( also called "amchur" powder. Found at any Indian grocery store, or online).
-1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (adjust amount according to your taste).
-1/2 teaspoon salt (adjust amount according to your taste).
-1 tablespoon granulated sugar.
-10 fresh curry leaves. 
-3 tablespoons golden raisins.
-1 cup roasted peanuts, skins removed.
-1/2 cup split yellow lentils, roasted.
-4 cups rice crispy cereal (unfrosted).
-1/2 cup plain corn flakes.
-3/4 cup shoe-string potato sticks. 

-The night before you cook your chevra, place your split yellow lentils in a large bowl and run some tap water through it several times. Add enough water to come 3/4 of the way above the lentils in the bowl. Cover the bowl with foil and let it soak overnight. The next morning, drain out the water and rinse the lentils in clean tap water once more. You'll notice that the lentils have noticeably plumped up. Drain the lentils in a colander and dry roast them in a large frying pan over medium heat for about 25-30 minutes (stirring frequently) or until you smell the aroma of the roasted lentils and they appear to have a light golden brown color. Alternatively,you can roast the drained lentils in a 400 degree Fahrenheight oven for 25-30 minutes (keep turning the lentils every 10 minutes until they have a golden brown color). Set aside.
-In a large non-stick frying pan, heat oil on medium heat.

-Add the green chillies, curry leaves and hing powder. Stir.                                             
-Cook until the curry leaves appear dry and look dark green (about 1 minute).
-Add the roasted split peas, raisins and peanuts. Stir.
-Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
-Add the salt, sugar, turmeric, chili powder and stir. Allow to cook for about 1 minute.
-Add the potato strings, rice crispies and cornflakes and carefully stir. Take care not to break the shoestring potatoes.
-Turn the heat off and continue to gently stir.
-Add the dry mango powder. Stir.
-Allow it to cool.                                                       

Now, take a handful, tilt your head back 45 degrees, shove some chevra in and Consume with relish =) . Enjoy!                                                                                            
DISCLAIMER: Stella's Meza shall not be held responsible for the flavor explosion that's about to take place in your mouth. Beware and proceed with complete surrender.