Beyond Curry: Pepper Poppadoms

Assorted Indian poppadoms Prasanna Sankhe

Poppadoms are an Indian staple made from little more than flour (rice, lentils, potato, and chickpea are among the most popular), water, and spices. In most of India, we call them papads, and I have yet to meet a person who doesn't like them. The staggering variety might have something to do with the fact that one can never really run out of ways to enjoy these delicious crisps.

In parts of the country, they take center stage as a dish of their own, called papad ki sabzi, made in a tangy yogurt sauce. Sometimes poppadoms are a starter, draped with raw onion, tomato, fresh coriander leaves, and Serrano chilies and topped off with chaat masala (a salty-sour spice blend used to garnish many snacks). They can also be simply roasted for a quick, healthy snack.

But for me, the real story of the papad lies in its legacy as a tool for women's empowerment in India. This easy dish is, in a sense, responsible for changing the lives of thousands of women, particularly from financially crippled sections of society. Lijjat Papad was founded in the 1950s and has since become a household name throughout the country. The women's cooperative provides employment to tens of thousands of women, allowing them to raise their families, educate their children, and live better lives. Every member of the organization is a co-owner, sharing in its profits and losses alike.

If you try this recipe at home, make sure you read the weather forecast a day before. The secret to the perfect papad is the sun. Natural sun-dried papads are the best and keep well for the longest time. Feel free to experiment with crushed cumin seeds, red chili powder, or sesame if you don't like black pepper.