“Chaat” is the collective Indian term for a variety of savory fast food snacks. What initially started out as street food in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad, has now found its way into upscale Indian restaurants and is often served at engagement parties and even weddings. It is hard to describe chaat adequately other than to say it is a delicious combination of various textures, tastes and flavors expertly combined in culinary balance and harmony. There are many different types of chaats, ranging from vegetarian to non-vegetarian and even fruit chaats. I have chosen a fairly simple chaat as an introduction into this tasty little world of delicious street food. Of course, the addition of avocado is my own twist --- it lends a wonderful buttery taste and creamy texture to the dish.
A key requisite to any good chaat is of course, chaat masala. Black salt (kala namak) is one of the main ingredients in this particular spice blend. High in trace minerals, black salt has a very distinctive taste and flavor that is quite difficult to duplicate. It’s also not really black, but rather a dull pink in color. I have included a recipe for home made chaat masala but feel free to buy the store bought variety, most Indian stores should carry it. Black salt is not an easy ingredient to find. By the way, the correct pronunciation of chaat is “ch ah t”.
1 tbsp cumin seeds
˝ tbsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
˝ tsp chili powder
˝ tsp paprika
˝ tsp ginger powder
˝ tsp garam masala
˝ tsp dried mint leaves
2 tbsp amchur powder (dried mango)
pinch of asafetida (hing)
2 tsp kala namak or black salt (preferred but you can use regular table salt)
In a large frying pan over medium heat, lightly toast the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cloves and peppercorns. Stir the spices so as not to burn. Remove completely from the heat and allow to cool.
In a spice grinder, add the toasted spices along with the dried mint leaves, chili powder, paprika, ginger powder, garam masala, asafetida, amchur powder and salt. Grind into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container.
POTATO, CORN & AVOCADO CHAAT
2 medium potatoes, boiled until fork tender, peeled and cubed (Yukon Gold variety works well)
2 cups fresh corn kernels (frozen is fine, thawed and drained well)
1 large firm ripe avocado, cubed (Haas variety works well)
2-3 small green Thai chilies, finely minced (to taste)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 heaping tsp chaat masala
˝ cup fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)
˝ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
salt & pepper, to taste
juice of ˝ lime
2-3 tbsp oil, vegetable or canola
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
freshly chopped chives for garnish (optional)
I recommend using fresh corn kernels when in season, but frozen corn will work just as well in a pinch. Just make sure to drain the kernels well and remove any excess water.
In a medium deep skillet or wok on medium high heat, add 2 tbsp of the oil. When hot, add the cumin seeds. After 30 seconds, add the potatoes and green chilies. Stir well to coat the potatoes in the fragrant oil. Let the potatoes get slightly brown and crispy on both sides. Remove and allow to drain well on paper towels.
To the same skillet, add a little oil if needed. When hot, add the corn kernels and let cook for about 3-4 minutes. Frozen corn kernels need maybe only 2-3 minutes. Next, add the peanuts and the spices (salt, pepper and chaat masala). Stir well and let cook for a few more minutes until the corn is tender. Now add the potatoes back to skillet and carefully fold them into the mix. Add the lime juice and let cook for just a minute or so. Transfer the entire mixture to a large serving platter and let cool. Chaats are usually meant to be eaten at room temperature. When cool, carefully add the avocado pieces and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds. Garnish with the chives and cilantro leaves. Serve with your favorite chutneys (tamarind, mint or cilantro chutneys work well), sauces or condiments. I have included the recipe link for Cilantro/Mint Chutney and tamarind chutney (imli) can be found easily in any Indian grocery store.
I love to add sev or sev based chewdas (mixes) to this dish for both flavor and crunch. Sev are crispy chickpea flour (besan or gram flour based) noodles. They can be found in a variety of flavors and mixes ranging from mild to spicy hot, I am sure your local Indian store will carry a large selection. This dish can also be eaten with a dollop of yogurt which adds a lovely refreshing flavor and cooling taste.
You could also add some cooked chickpeas to the dish, the canned ones are fine. Just rinse & drain well before use.