I am so excited to share this dish with you guys! It requires a little background though–plus it is a twofer and that requires an explanation too. First the easy part. Do you remember the wonderful cookbook, The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles I reviewed from fellow blogger Rinku of Cooking in Westchester? She has a new book: Spices & Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors! This is super exciting–and as part of a giveaway/event combo to generate excitement for her book (something I am totally on board with doing since *I* am totally excited for her book!), I am featuring her recipe for Classic Green Mint Chutney in this post. But it was up to me what to pair it with, which leads me to the second part of this post: chaat.
Chaat is Indian snack food, usually street food. In my experience, it usually is a balance of sweet, salty, bitter and hot, and it is also a balance of textures. The chaat is usually assembled or mixed right before you eat it, to maintain a balance of soft or juicy with crisp and/or crunchy. All of these elements are very much to taste, and while I have never been to India, I have read that any given customer can request more or less of any of these elements.
I first had chaat about 7 years ago at a friend’s baby shower. The father of the baby was from India, and the refreshments reflected both parents’ heritages (she is American). My friend pointed the chaat out to me, telling me she thought of it as Indian nachos, and that I should try it. That particular chaat, if I remember correctly, had papdi (or poori–individual little fried puffs) with chickpeas, yogurt and tamarind chutney (and probably other stuff, but that is what I remember). I am sure it was seasoned with chaat masala.
I did not taste chaat again until my sister took me to Banana Leaf, a fantastic south Indian restaurant in Columbus that specializes in chaat. Everything they serve is heavenly. I also had north Indian chaat at a restaurant in San Francisco. The thing about both of these restaurants is that I suspect their chaat is very traditional, which meant that while I could identify some ingredients, I could not identify all, and I just assumed I could not make it at home.
Then we went to Asheville.
They broke my heart by the way by running out of mutton, which I have never gotten to try!
Chai Pani, like many Asheville restaurants, has a chef that is a big believer in the farm to table movement. So when I had their chaat, I was able to do a better of job of recognizing some of the ingredients in it. Corn for one thing. Green mango in another. Corn flakes. And so forth. And when I came home it got me thinking. I could do this. So last Saturday, when we happened to be hosting a get together for John’s department (we’ll miss you Janet! Why am I always hosting the going away parties?), I went with a chaat theme and made 4 different chaats. I stuck with the kind you ate with a spoon, because they are less work, affording me more opportunity to play with different flavors. I am so excited to say all 4 were a hit! And John has a colleague from India who even told me I got it right.
You have no idea how exciting that is to hear. I don’t cook in a vacuum, but I do cook for an audience that does not have any better of an idea than I do whether I am getting things right, staying true to their origins.
I am planning to eventually share all of the chaat I made with you. They were all very different in some ways, but stay true to all the basic elements of chaat and all used my homemade chaat masala. I took as both inspiration and permission, so to speak, from Chai Pani to use some unconventional, more Western ingredients in the various chaat. The first one I am sharing with you I chose because it is the one that I used the Green Mint Chutney on. Full disclosure: I have never liked the green chutney served n your typical Indian restaurants in America. When I saw this “assignment” my heart sank. Well you would think I would have learned by now, after all homemade is always different, and this stuff was amazing. Other than requiring a large amount of mint (not always easy to come by) it was dead simple. I definitely see myself making this more in the future.
The Corn and Cauliflower Chaat was the only warm chaat I made. In the winter, frozen organic corn would definitely work. This chaat also requires less of what you might call the unhealthy crispy element (fried puris, fried sev <vermicelli “noodles” made of different “flours” such as chickpea, potato, etc>, puffed rice and other grains, etc) because of the crispiness of the corn and cauliflower. Even the chickpeas add some texture. Please note that all of my amounts are guidelines–just like the customer on the street, you should add more or less of whatever suits you.
- 1 head cauliflower (if you want both colors, double the recipe and get one cauliflower and one broccoflower)
- 1 T vegetable oil
- 2 ears of corn
- ½ small red onion, finely diced
- juice of half lime (or lemon right now while limes are getting scarce)
- 1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 2-4 t chaat masala, divided
- ½ cup (approx) crispy fried onions*
- ½ cup (approx) potato sev (crispy fried skinny noodles made of potato)*
- tamarind chutney (plan on at least ½ cup)
- Greek yogurt (plan on at least ½ cup)
- Green Mint Chutney (recipe below) (plan on at least ½ cup)
- Preheat the oven at 425 F.
- Break the cauliflower into small florets (much smaller than usual, because you want to get a bite of cauliflower and other ingredients in the same bite). Toss it with the oil and 1 teaspoon of the chaat masala in a large bowl. Spread it onto a large, rimmed baking sheet.
- Roast until crisp-tender and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Taste when still hot and if it needs more salt, sprinkle with salt. Set aside.
- Cut the corn off of the ears. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add the corn and cook until crisp tender, about 6 minutes.
- Drain the corn and then sprinkle with lime juice and 1 teaspoon of the chaat masala. Toss with the red onion while still quite hot to wilt the onion a bit.
- Place the corn and cauliflower in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the chickpeas.
- When you are ready to serve, toss the cauliflower and corn mixture with the fried onions and sev. Taste for additional chaat masala and salt. Drizzle with the tamarind chutney, yogurt, and green mint chutney. Leave all 3 of these on the side for people to add more, especially as they dig into the bowl.
*Look in Indian markets or grocers for crispy fried onions; here is an example online: Gourmet Crispy Fried Onion – 14oz / 400g; similarly for the crispy fried potato sev or noodles, here is an example of that online: Haldiram Aloo Bhujia (Spicy Potato Noodles) 200 Gram.
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves (about 3 cups of leaves; tender stems can also be used in this recipe)
- 2 bunches mint leaves (about 11⁄2 cups)
- 2 green Serrano chilies
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 teaspoon black salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons oil (such as mustard or canola)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Place the cilantro, mint, green Serrano chilies, cumin powder, salt, black salt, sugar, oil, and lime juice in the bowl of a blender.
- Grind mixture until smooth. This chutney will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, but the color will darken due to the lime.
- Tips and Tricks
- It is important to ensure that the mint leaves used for this chutney are tender or they tend to add a bitter taste to this condiment.
- This chutney can be mellowed by adding 11⁄2 tablespoons of yogurt or coconut milk as a vegan option. If adding yogurt you can skip the lime juice.
- Another variation is to add some blanched peanuts or almonds.
Affiliate links were used in this post, but only to link to items I would be discussing and linking to anyway.