5.15.10 Condimental: Let's Chaat

Masala 790 xxx
photos by george billard
Chaats are Indian snacks and appetizers, a sort of street food that is widely welcomed indoors as well. In India, there are restaurants that specialize entirely in chaat. When I told our driver in Jaipur that I wanted to eat chaat from a street stall, he raised his brows in horror and whisked G and me to an air-conditioned restaurant where we sat amongst Indian families and had delicious sweet-tart-spicy-crunchy treats accompanied by cooling lassi. Chaat is Hindi for “to taste,” and mostly consists of small dishes, often easy to eat by hand or off banana leaves on the street. As with Indian cuisine in general, chaats are quite diverse, with many regional specialties, but quite a few are fried, like pakoras and samosas, and some are stuffed breads. Dipping sauces and raita are key to the whole experience.Many of these dishes are flavored with chaat masala, a combination of spices that varies from person to person and place to place. I buy mine pre-made (Kalustyan’s yet again) and it contains salt, amchur (mango powder), musk melon, cumin, black pepper, pomegranate seed, coriander, mint, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, chile, caraway, ajowain (a relative of coriander), cloves, hing and bay leaf. Hing? you ask.
Blacksalt 790 xxx
black salt
Hing is asafoetida, alternately known as devil’s dung and food of the gods. It's made from the resin of an herbaceous plant (Ferula assafoetida) and has a strong, unpleasant smell when raw. In cooked dishes, however, it delivers a smooth flavor, reminiscent of leeks. A digestive aid, it also helps fight asthma and the flu. Elsewhere, it is used as a scent bait for catfish and pike, and rubbed on a baby’s fontanel to ward off evil spirits. This stuff is potent and compelling, highly umami.Black salt, known in Hindi as kala namak, is another highly pungent condiment widely used in India. It’s not really black, more of a pale purple color from its high iron sulphide content. It has the sulfurous smell associated with hard-boiled eggs (some say rotten eggs) and the particular taste that is essential to chaat masala.
Puffedrice 790 xxx
puffed rice
Bhel puri is a popular chaat, often sold in little paper cups on the street in India. It is an addictive mix of sweet-&-sour, spicy and salty, featuring puffed rice and little crunchy noodles called sev, made from lentil flour. You can find these both at any Indian market. This needs to be eaten immediately upon mixing it together, much like you eat cereal right after pouring on the milk. Below the recipe for bhel puri is one for a simpler chickpea chaat that can be made ahead. And I've also included a recipe for another lassi, this one with saffron and cardamom. Try one with some chaat on a hot day, and plan your next vacation in India.
 

Bhel Puri

serves 4
  • — 1/2 cup boiled, diced potatoes
  • — 1/2 cup tomatoes, diced
  • — 1/4 cup red onion, minced
  • — 1 serrano chile, minced (more if you want it spicier)
  • — 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • — 1/4 cup tamarind chutney
  • — 1/4 cup green chutney
  • — 2 cups puffed rice
  • — 1 cup sev (thin crispy lentil noodle, available at Indian markets)
  • sea salt, to taste
  • fresh cilantro, optional

Toss the potatoes, tomatoes, red onion, chile, turmeric and chutneys together.

Add the puffed rice and sev, tossing again to coat. Taste for salt. Garnish with cilantro if desired. Serve immediately.

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Tamarind Chutney

  • — 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • — 1 tablespoon jaggery, or light brown muscovado sugar
  • — 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • — 1 cup tamarind extract
  • — 2 teaspoons red chile powder
  • sea salt, to taste

In a small saucepan, bring all the ingredients to a boil and cook until reduced by half. Cool, then process to a smooth consistency.

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Green Chutney

  • — 1/2 bunch cilantro, cleaned
  • — 1/2 cup fresh mint
  • — 3-6 green chiles
  • lemon or lime juice
  • sea salt, to taste

Process all the above to a fine paste in a blender or cuisinart.

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Chana (Chickpea) Chaat

serves 4
  • — 2 cups soaked and boiled chickpeas
  • — 2 large potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
  • — 1-3 green chiles, minced
  • — 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
  • — 2 small onions, minced
  • — 3 tablesp fresh lemon or lime juice
  • — 1 tablespoon grated jaggery, or rapadura sugar
  • — 2 tablespoons cliantro leaves, chopped
  • — 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • black salt, to taste (or substitute sea salt)
  • — 1/2 cup yogurt, optional
  • chaat masala, to taste (start with 1 heaping teaspoon)

Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate until cold, about 2-3 hours.

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Saffron-Cardamom Lassi

serves 2
  • — 2 cups whole milk yogurt
  • — 1/2 cup ice water
  • — pinch saffron
  • — generous pinch sea salt
  • — 3-4 tablespoons sugar
  • — 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

In a small cup, stir saffron into 1 tablespoon boiling water; let stand for 5 minutes.

Puree yogurt, sugar, cardamom, salt and saffron mixture in blender until thoroughly mixed. Chill until ice cold.

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4 Comments

yiiiiiiii chaat! love it. and love your write-up, as always. this is what i miss the *most* when i go to Pakistan- street-side chaat, my stomach cant take it anymore, sadly. but my friend's mum has opened a place in Lahore and Karachi where they use Nestle water to prepare the chaat, and my life has changed :) xxx shayma
shayma on May 15, 2010 at 7:32 pm — Reply
My dream is to eat chaat on the streets of Lahore!
laura on May 17, 2010 at 9:34 am — Reply
My mother would make bhel puri and your post makes me wonder why I'm not doing it too! Thanks for the recipe, I especially love the descriptions of hing and black salt. I imagine myself enjoying this snack this summer with friends!
Shalini on May 16, 2012 at 5:18 am — Reply
Shalini, thanks for stopping by! It's been a while since I've made chaat but you've reminded me to remedy that soon!
laura on May 16, 2012 at 5:28 am — Reply