‘Doubles’ are a vegetarian street food from Trinidad that consists of two pieces of fried, usually golden, flat, palm-sized pieces of quick bread, served with chickpea curry, called channa. Doubles’ likely originated as a Punjabi dish called chole bhatura, brought to Trinidad between 1845 and 1917 by Indian contract laborers imported to work on plantations after slaves were emancipated in 1834. Today, Doubles are food for the everyman, both vendor and customer. They’re quick and cheap to buy (averaging $3.50 in Port-of-Spain and $1-2 in New York) and relatively inexpensive to make. Anyone can be a Doubles vendor; one of the reasons recipes, and serving-style can be contentious—depending on the vendor, they can resemble a soft-taco, a sandwich, or a mini-burrito.
There are four condiments which usually accompany Doubles: a hot pepper sauce made from Scotch Bonnet peppers, shado beni chutney (shado beni being a leafy herb which grows in Trinidad also known as culentro, Japanese saw leaf or Mexican coriander), tamarind sauce, and kuchela (a green mango chutney). All four can be found in most East Indian grocers or delis. You can make your own passable substitutes if you have trouble finding the prepackaged versions. For instance, for the hot sauce: blend Scotch Bonnet peppers with vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. For shado beni chutney, blend: 10 shado beni leaves, one garlic clove, ¼ Scotch Bonnet pepper, ¼ cup water and salt to taste (use cilantro if shado beni is unavailable).
Some argue for the use of cumin and curry in the bara dough, others argue against it. Similarly some cooks contend that split pea flour is essential to an authentic “skin.” To make your own Doubles at home, follow the instructions below, adapted from several recipes under the guidance of veteran doubles-maker, Ms. Uclan Fermin, of the famous Fermin Doubles from Holy Cross College, Arima in Trinidad.
For the Bara dough:
¼ cup dried yellow split peas (ground)
2/3 cup warm water
¼ tsp sugar
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ tsp ground turmeric or saffron powder
½ tsp ground cumin (optional)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1-2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
For the Channa:
2 15.5 oz cans of chickpeas or 2 cups dried chickpeas (soaked overnight in 6 cups of water)
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tablespoons curry powder
½ tsp ground cumin Pinch saffron
2 cups water Salt and ground black pepper (to taste)
Hot pepper sauce, kuchela, shado beni and tamarind sauce
Use a food processor to grind ¼ cup dried yellow split peas then add in a bowl with water, sugar, yeast, and baking powder. Let stand about six minutes until foamy.
Add together in a separate bowl: flour, turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper. Whisk.
When foamy, stir yeast mixture into dried mixture to form dough (if dough seems dry, add a little warm water). Knead dough two minutes, form ball, cover with damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour or until it doubles in size.
If using dried chickpeas for channa, drain water then simmer chickpeas in six new cups of water for one hour to soften. Drain. If using canned chickpeas, rinse.
In a pan, heat the oil. Then add diced onion and sauté until golden-yellow. Add minced garlic and sauté one minute. Add curry powder, ground cumin and pinch saffron then stir. Add ¼ cup water.
Mix in chickpeas and cover. Simmer for five minutes then add remaining water and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer, uncovered until chickpeas become soft (about 20 minutes). Note, you may want to add more water as moisture is absorbed and evaporates.
Punch down the risen bara dough, then rest it, 10 minutes. Tear off golf ball sized pieces of dough, roll, and then flatten into discs, 3 ½ inch diameter each. Set aside and continue until no dough remains.
In a deep frying pan or wok, heat oil until moderately high. Slide bara discs into oil and fry about 10 seconds or until slightly brown and puffy, then flip, wait another 8 seconds and remove to paper towels or drying rack. Repeat until dough is finished.
There are three conventional ways to serve your Doubles, the last being the most advanced:
- Lay two bara ‘skins’ on wax paper side by side. Spoon two to three full tablespoons of channa in each bara then drizzle tamarind sauce and shado beni over channa. Add half-teaspoon kuchela and drizzle with hot pepper sauce. Serve.
- Lay one bara skin on wax paper. Spoon three to four full tablespoons of channa atop bara. Drizzle tamarind sauce and shado beni over channa. Add half-teaspoon kuchela and drizzle with hot pepper sauce. Cover with second bara skin. Serve.
- Don’t try this at home…or do, but be aware it’s an art form! Overlap two bara skins on wax paper. Spoon three to four full tablespoons of channa onto top bara. Drizzle tamarind sauce and shado beni over channa. Add half-teaspoon kuchela and drizzle with hot pepper sauce. Fold bara onto itself, closing wax paper edges together, twisting the paper edges. Flip twice and serve.