5.15.10 Condimental: Let's Chaat
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.
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.
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.
- — 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.
- — 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.
- — 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.
Chana (Chickpea) Chaat
- — 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.
- — 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.