The monotonous way to begin this article would be with, “Sooji bara or sooji vada is a fairly popular fried snack all over India…” then continue to talk about vague, popularity statistics in this Indian state and that. While all of that stands true, its identity isn’t limited to figures and keywords thrown around to customize the article SEO. On its own, Sooji Bara deserves the hype it receives especially around monsoon and winter. When temperatures take a dip, social media blows up with pictures of a cup of chai with some fried snack. Images smartly captured by a window and obscure or relevant hashtags peppered around the caption. For some of us that snack is sooji bara.

Here’s why: Sooji bara is the younger sibling, but it’s the middle child out of three fritters. The eldest being Biri Bara (Medu Vada) who is the over-achiever of the family, the humble Pakudi (pakora/bhajia) is the youngest and is bit of a rebel. Then there’s Sooji Bara with the middle child complex and the incessant performance pressure due to the star performers it’s related to. But where does this complex and identity crisis come from?

Let’s see. Biri Bara (made with Black gram) went to college – it dealt with long study hours and examinations in the form of overnight fermentation. This lent the edge to its signature flavour. Then the grueling work interviews of being ground into batter seasoned it for the outside world. It requires planning, decisiveness. Sooji bara underwent none of these. Pakudi is the spontaneous, rebellious child; spotted hints of rain on the horizon? Slice up those vegetables, sprinkle the gram flour, mix it up, and heat up the oil for frying.

Spontaneity – check. Sooji bara’s existence is one of worry and crisis. The batter is mixed; it’s sticky and wet with worry like a child on their first ever day of school. Then it waits. You set it aside for 30 minutes and as the semolina absorbs the moisture, it relaxes and understands. The semolina softens up; with a little bit of patience, the batter is firm and confident before you fry. Then it’s fried and it blooms through the self-doubt and uncertainty. It doesn’t feel bad about not being the perfectly planned Biri Bara or the impulsive Pakudi. Sooji bara realizes being the option that requires neither too much planning nor a sudden burst of energy to fry up an instant snack isn’t so bad. In fact, it strikes the perfect balance.

Sooji bara even has two personalities. The extrovert is the one where once mixed it is fried almost immediately because it’s instantly ready to take on the big, wide world of frying. But it requires a longer fry time; mainly because the semolina needs time to cook through.

The introvert is the one where you mix the batter and let it rest. Giving the batter its space and time to prepare for the big, wide world of frying; this act of letting the semolina sit and absorb some of the moisture softens it up. So it requires a shorter frying time.

As millennials put it – TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) : Sooji bara is the story of convenience, assurance, baby steps towards decisiveness, and a massive step towards a great snack that’s crispy outside with comforting softness within. Adding yogurt, as a touch of acidity and an instrument to activate the edible soda, you add the hint of sourness one would find in its elder, fermented sibling. And much like its younger sibling, Sooji Bara beautifully adapts the aromatics you throw at it.

Sooji Bara Recipe

Makes: 10-12 medium sized baras
Prep time: 5 minutes
Rest time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup sooji (semolina)
1 teaspoon green chillies, chopped
1 teaspoon curry leaves, chopped
1-2 teaspoons ginger, finely chopped
1/2 cup yogurt (dahi/curd)
1/2 teaspoon salt or as per taste
1/4 teaspoon edible soda (baking soda)
Water – If and as required
Oil for frying

Method

In a bowl, mix the sooji, green chillies, curry leaves, ginger, dahi, and salt.

If using a runny variety of dahi your batter might come together without the usage of water. But if the dahi is thick and the mixture is dry, add small amounts of water and keep mixing. The consistency needs to be somewhere between a thick dry batter and a sticky wet dough.

Once you have the desired consistency, cover the bowl and set it aside for 30 minutes. Doing this helps the baras cook faster because the semolina has softened by letting the batter rest.

30 minutes later, the batter would be firmer. Add in the edible soda (baking soda). Edible soda reacts instantly to acid so here it reacts to dahi. Mix it for 5-10 seconds. Avoid over-mixing.

Heat oil for frying, at least 2” deep. Scoop out a tablespoon of batter; add it carefully to the oil. Repeat for 4-5 more in one batch. Let the bara brown evenly on both side then take them out.

Done! Enjoy with a hot drink or some sliced onion and green chillies with a touch some black salt on the side.

Words and Recipe by @Prattyandfood