The other day I made a batch of kumquat and mango chutney to go with these chile pea puffs. Both recipes are from Monica Bhide's new cookbook, Modern Indian. Monica’s recipe intrigued me because the filling is a simplified version of matar paneer – peas and cheese, one of my favorite Indian preparations. Remember to season the filling a little stronger than usual because it needs to stand up to the sweet-tart-pungent chutney. Go for a salty, spicy and sweet finish.
Wonton skins are not traditionally used for Indian dumplings, but neither is puff pastry, which I’ve seen people use. If you want to be hard-core, make a simple flaky pastry (the same kind as you’d use for samosas) and fry them as little half moons. But these are a modern take on traditional Indian foodways so go ahead, use wonton skins. Select thin ones (often labeled Hong Kong Style) for the best, most delicate flavor and texture.
You can bake these puffs as Monica prescribed in her recipe, but she also suggested deep frying them. For me, wonton skins shine when poached, steamed or deep-fried. Since neither of the first two cooking options would work here, I pulled out the oil. The result was heavenly.
Modern Indian Chile Pea Puffs
For a vegan filling, substitute firm or extra firm tofu. Put about 1/2 cup into a non-terry towel and squeeze out excess water.
Makes 32 puffs to serve 6 to 8 as a snack or appetizer
1 cup thawed, frozen petite peas
1/4 cup crumbled paneer
2 green Thai or serrano chiles, stemmed and finely chopped
About 1/4 teaspoon salt
Generous 1/4 teaspoon Indian or Korean red chili powder, dried red chile flakes, or cayenne
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
32 wonton skins, homemade or store bought
Oil for deep-frying
1. If your peas look wet, blot them with paper towel to remove some of the moisture. Put the peas in a bowl and use a potato masher to lightly mash them up. Aim to crush the skin so that the peas cohere a bit.
2. Add the paneer, chiles, salt, chili powder, and garlic. Combine well, then taste. Adjust the flavor with extra salt or fresh or dried chile for a robust flavor. You need it so that the puff stands up to the chutney. The filling can be made 1 day in advance, covered, refrigerated and return to room temperature for puff assembly. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
3. To assemble a puff, position a skin on one hand with one of the corners near the tip of your middle finger. Center a brimming 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling on a wonton skin. If using fresh skins, brush 2 edges with water. If using store bought skins, brush all 4 edges with water. Pick up a corner of the skin and fold it over, enclosing the filling and forming a triangle. Press the edges of the triangle firmly with your finger to seal. Make sure that there are no air bubbles or the wonton will uncontrollably bob around in the hot oil, and that the edges are well sealed, or the wonton will split open. Set aside and repeat with the remaining wonton skins. Cover with a dry kitchen towel to prevent drying.
4. Put a wire rack on a baking sheet and place the sheet next to the stove. Pour oil to a depth of 1 1/2 inches into a wok, deep skillet, or 5-quart Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat to about 325ºF on a deep-fry thermometer.
5. Working in batches of 4 to 6, slide the puffs into the hot oil and fry for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Use a skimmer to transfer to the rack to drain. If the puffs lose their crispness by the time you’re done frying, increase the oil temperature to about 350F and refry them for 30 to 60 seconds.
6. Arrange the puffs on a platter and serve hot as finger food along with the chutney for dipping.
Advance cooking: The puffs can be fried several hours in advance, covered with parchment and then reheated in a 350F oven for about 5 minutes, until crisp and hot again. Flip them over midway through reheating.
To bake the puffs, preheat the oven to 400F. Then spray or grease a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or oil. Place the assembled puffs on the baking sheet, then spray with nonstick cooking spray or brush with oil. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes until crisp and golden brown, turning each over midway through baking. I've not tried baking the puffs so if you give it a whirl, let me know of the results!
Adapted from: Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2009) by Monica Bhide