I came to the Chinese bhel 'party' a bit late in life. In fact, the first time I ate a plate of it, I was well into my mid-twenties. You see, this fusion-style 'Chindian' street food favourite of my home city of Mumbai wasn't something I had grown up indulging in. Sure, I'd had tonnes of Indian Chinese food, always with copious amounts of garlic, coriander...and yes, MSG thrown in for good measure. But the street food of my childhood was more of the baida roti, vada pav and dabeli variety. The kind where a few rupees from my carefully stashed pocket money allowance stretched quite far in order to treat myself every now and then.
Introduced somewhere in the late 2000s-a time when I had left home to complete my studies abroad-I came back to Mumbai to a blitzkrieg of Chinese bhel. Almost every street side vada pav hawker now also had a little side business dishing out this ubiquitous culinary chimera of sorts that was being lapped up with gusto by the masses. The kind that saw vast quantities of shredded cabbage, carrot and capsicum doused in thin, luridly red-coloured sauces of dubious origin. All this served atop crispy, deep-fried noodles and garnished with the de facto chopped coriander.
I remember being instantaneously hooked onto this delicious-if a tad unhealthy-snack from my very first forkful of it. There was something so comfortingly familiar about its tangy, garlicky taste and layered textures brought on by the crunchy julienned vegetables and crisp, fried noodles.
Over the years, I tried my hand at replicating the tastes and textures of Chinese bhel at home. Often to great success, tweaking the recipe here and there, adjusting a bit of the seasonings and condiments to suit my family's and my palate. But it was only recently-in a sudden newfound fervour for healthy eating-that I came up with this version of a healthy Chinese bhel. One where I've eschewed the fried noodles in favour of crisp, blanched mung bean sprouts and vegetable oil for the more forgiving olive oil. The former addition is an ode to my family's obsession with sprouts of all kinds. A move that has seen us replace even the good old fried boondi globules and white pea ragda in another Mumbai street food classic aka. paani puri with an assortment of sprouts.
(Also Read: 7 Must Visit Street Food Places in Mumbai)
So, here's presenting my healthy iteration of Mumbai-style Chinese bhel. One that's imbued with all the original flavours and textures, but with a fraction of the calories and guilt!
Healthy Chinese Bhel (vegan)
Recipe by Raul Dias
2 cups mung bean sprouts (blanched)*
1 tbsp olive oil
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
4 tbsp + 2 tbsp chopped spring onions (green and white parts)
Half cup finely sliced green capsicum
Half cup carrot juliennes
Half cup finely shredded cabbage
1/4th cup schezwan sauce#
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp tamarind sauce
2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
Salt to taste
1. After cleaning mung bean sprouts well under running water, blanch them in a litre of boiling water for one minute. Drain and set aside.
2. In a wok, heat olive oil on high flame and fry the garlic for a few seconds.
3. With the flame still on high, quickly toss in 4 tbsp spring onions, capsicum, carrot and cabbage. Sauté for half a minute.
4. Add schezwan sauce, tomato ketchup, tamarind sauce and salt to the vegetables and mix well for a minute on high flame, making sure the vegetables are still slightly crunchy.
5. Transfer to a bowl and add in the blanched sprouts, mixing gently.
6. Garnish with the remaining 2 tbsp spring onions and crushed roasted peanuts and serve immediately.
* You can always replace the blanched sprouts with the same amount of fried noodles for the regular, street-style version of Chinese bhel.
# See our easy schezwan sauce recipe here on NDTV Food.
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About Raul DiasA Mumbai-based writer, Raul is an ardent devotee of the peripatetic way of life. When not churning out his food and travel stories at a manic pace, he can be found either hitting the road for that elusive story or in the company of his three dogs!