Culinary Class

How to Make Pani Puri with Mister Mao | Video

By: Amber Chase

Sophina Uong of Mister Mao in New Orleans is never short on flavor. Having recently been nominated as a semifinalist for James Beard’s Best Chef in the South 2024, Uong is known for infusing her personal zing into global dishes. Mister Mao identifies as a “tropical roadhouse,” or as Uong says, “Mexican disco,” meaning they incorporate inspiration from Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Indian cuisines but do not identify with any singular cuisine. You’ll find eclectic dishes like kashmiri fried chicken, lechon kawali, or pork chile verde on Mister Mao’s menu, though dishes are prone to change seasonally. Even Mister Mao’s menu exemplifies their spunky personality with untraditional sections like “Drinking Snacks,” “Happy Endings,” and “These Bring Us Joy & Hellfire Heartburn.” Here, Uong shares one of Mister Mao’s menu staples, pani puri with potato masala, tamarind chutney, and firewater. 


Uong’s take on a pani puri features a potato and chickpea masala finished with a bright and bold tamarind chutney, “firewater,” micro cilantro, and Louisiana strawberries. To begin, she fries the pani puri shells in a neutral oil. Uong uses pani puri shells made with semolina and wheat and notes that these can be found at local Indian groceries or ordered from Amazon. Once the golden pani puri shells have cooled, tap gently with a spoon to open up an indentation to fill with the potato masala and chutney.

To make the potato masala, Uong uses black mustard seeds and urad dal (a type of split lentil) for an unexpected, nutty, and toasty crunch. Next, she adds in the spices and the cooked potatoes and chickpeas. Uong uses Yukon gold potatoes, but explains that any type of potato can be used for this masala. To add depth, Uong sprinkles in dried lime powder for acidity, Indian black salt for sulfuric tang, and asafoetida (turmeric, rice powder, and tree resin) for additional umami notes. 

At Mister Mao, the pani puri are served with their signature fire water, a spicy, herbaceous dipping sauce. For the firewater, combine all ingredients in a blender with ample amounts of water, then strain. The result should be a light, watery sauce that merely coats the pani without overshadowing the flavor or causing shell sogginess.

To assemble, stuff the pani puri with fried chickpeas and the completed potato masala. The masala can either be piped or simply spooned in little by little, just be certain to press it into the pani puri to fill them. Drizzle in the tamarind chutney to add a sweetness to balance out the presence of the chiles. For additional sweetness, add a singular slice of strawberry to the shells or, alternatively, Uong recommends pickled blueberries. Top generously with micro cilantro for a pop of color and texture. 

pani puri from Mister Mao

Pani Puri heading-plus-icon


Makes 24 pani puri

    For the potato masala filling
  • Makes 1½ quarts
  • 4 cups cooked yukon gold potato
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seed
  • 1 tablespoon urad dal (lentil)
  • 1 teaspoon asafoetida
  • 1 teaspoon black salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried lime
  • 1 tablespoon kashmiri chile powder
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 cup grapeseed oil
  • For the fire water
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart ice
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin powder
  • 1 tablespoon Indian black salt
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind puree
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid (lime juice alternatively)
  • 5-15 serrano peppers
  • 1 bunch mint
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • For the pani puri
  • 24 pani puri shells
  • 1 teaspoon of tamarind chutney per shell
  • 4-6 strawberries, sliced for garnish
  • micro cilantro for garnish

Make the Potato Masala Filling and Pani

  1. Fry the pani puri shells in a neutral oil. Once they have cooled, open them by lightly tapping with the backside of a spoon.
  2. Sauté urad dal until toasty and nutty.
  3. Add black mustard and cook until it sputters, remove from heat.
  4. Add cumin, asafoetida, dried lime, black salt, and chili powder.
  5. Add cooked chickpeas and potatoes and salt. Mash together into a filling. Allow to cool and put into a piping bag.
  6. Pipe the filling into the toasted pani puri shells.

Make the Fire Water

  1. Blend ingredients together with the ice water. Strain through a mesh strainer. Add the remaining quart of water to the mix. The fire water should be refreshingly spicy, slightly sweet tart from tamarind + citric acid.

Assemble the Pani Puri

  1. Place a few fried chickpeas at the bottom of the shells to give them volume.
  2. Pipe (or spoon) the potato masala into the pani shells, filling about ¾ of the shell. Press the mixture in so it remains compact.
  3. Drizzle the tamarind chutney into the shells to fill in the gaps.
  4. Add one slice of strawberry per pani shell and top with micro cilantro.
  5. Serve with fire water for dipping and drizzling.
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