The older I get, the more I see that life is about journeys and not destinations. While walking our paths up and down through many seasonal changes, we say “good bye” to a lot of the people who we love. Luckily, we often see them again at a new one of life’s cross-roads. Last week I had the surprising pleasure to reconnect with some of my childhood friends from 30 years ago. Getting back in touch with them felt like opening a gift box filled with favorite childhood collections that I had forgotten about. Several pictures of our elementary school days brought me flashbacks of times shared: innocent laughter; funny jokes; tasty street foods; fun-filled picnic; etc.. It made me wonder, “Had I stayed in Korea, what kind of adult would I have become? Rebel? Singer? Mrs. So-and-so?” I probably would have become a typical Korean tiger mom who devotes most of her life to her kids’ education. It would have been a very different path from the one I’ve walked all over the world in the last three decades.
Coming to the US completely changed my life. In Korea, I was miserably failing at school. Rote-memorization driven education and multiple-choice test score based student ranking simply bored my mind. Upon coming to the US, I was fortunate to meet two very inspiring teachers: Mrs. Karen Ransom and Mr. Don Woodsmall. They facilitated my independent thinking and engaged my inquisitive mind. Through them, I learned that learning could be fun and started cultivating my dreams. They eventually helped me become a straight ‘A’ student, which, in turn, got me into good schools and provided many amazing opportunities to pursue my dreams. The best part of this journey was that since my 18th birthday, I have been able to do most everything I wanted to do without relying on financial support from my parents. In Korea, I saw several kids who couldn’t go to the universities that they had been accepted to, simply because their parents couldn’t afford to pay the tuition. Luckily in the US of that time, working class kids, even a homeless person, could go to a world-class school like Harvard with financial aid if they were academically qualified. To me, America is a true land of opportunity where all social, economic classes can climb up the ladder by working hard. And, I am very thankful to have lived here and have grown into an adult who never stops dreaming no matter what obstacles come up in the journey of life.
The recent talk with my childhood friends also got me to think about the “timeless” Korean snacks I used to eat with them. As a kid, I loved sitting on bench next to street carts and eat popular street foods. Although my “hygiene-conscious” mom never approved of street foods, I still have a soft spot for trying different street foods from all over the world. For me, the most notable place for delicious street foods is Mumbai, India. In Mumbai, despite their rigid cast system, people from all economic classes eat street foods on the roadside. Today, to celebrate America’s “land of opportunity” for all, I’ve decided to make a “class-less” Mumbain street food, chickpea battered fried potato balls (Batata Vada), in my California kitchen.
To start, boil 1 lb russet potato (washed and unpeeled) in salted water until soft. Drain water and mash them. Then, mix with 1/2 inch ginger (peeled & chopped), 2 green onions (chopped), 2 Indian green chilies (chopped), 2 garlic cloves (crushed), juice from one lime, a 1/4 cup cilantro leaves (chopped) and some sea salt and sugar to taste. Separately, preheat 1 Tablespoon 7th Taste Curry Olive oil and roast 1 teaspoon mustard seeds until they start popping. Remove them from the heat and add to the potato mixture. Then, make small potato balls by rolling them between two palms. Separately, in a bowl, make the batter by mixing 4 cups gram flour (i.e. chickpea flour), 2 teaspoons 7th taste curry olive oil, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/2 cup water and salt to taste. Preheat grapeseed or canola oil in a pot. Then dip each ball in the batter and deep fry until golden brown. Before serving, drain oil with paper towels and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves (This recipe serves about 8-12).
These Mumbain fried potato balls are really yummy! A bite of crunchy chickpea battered skin and soft mashed potato filling covers your taste buds with multi-dimensional flavors and citrusy, earthy, nutty tones. You can serve them as a delicious appetizer with your favorite chutneys or make vegetarian potato sliders with hamburger buns. It’s a tasty finger food your family and guests will enjoy very much! Enjoy the recipe and happy cooking!