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Make your dals, curries, and, yes, fruit spicy, tangy, and more exciting with homemade chaat masala.
One of my favorite Indian spice mixes (masalas) is chaat. It's commonly used to season dishes that are served as snacks, including those you’ll find on the carts of many street food vendors in India.
To prepare chaat masala, you start by lightly toasting and grinding a lot of aromatic spices—I use cumin and carom seeds, dried chiles, cloves, dried mint, dried ginger, mango powder, and black pepper. Though there are several different combinations of spices that can be used to prepare chaat masala, I have shared a recipe for my preferred preparation. I leave out asafoetida most of the time, as it tends to have a smell that a few people find unpleasant. The tanginess of this spice mix comes from dried mango powder (amchur), which goes well with the mild heat of the chili.
When you're adding the masala to the dish, you mix in a little bit of black salt (kala namak), as well. Even though you should eat chaat masala with black salt, I was taught to never mix them before storing, as the black salt breaks down the spices with time. Instead, I always add the black salt when I'm mixing in the masala, as you'll see in the recipe below. Generally, chaat masala should be added to the dish just before serving.
Once you've made it, you can keep it stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to four weeks. That gives you plenty of time to incorporate it into your Indian—and non-Indian—cooking:
- Use it to add a whole new level of flavor to savory Indian dishes like dals, mixed vegetables, and curries.
- Add it as a garnish right before serving chana masala.
- Try sprinkling a little chaat masala over salads or savory yogurt dishes.
- You can also use chaat masala in non-Indian dishes, too; I love to adding it to grilled stone fruit.
- And don't rule out beverages: Chaat masala gives drinks like this ice-cold Bombay lemonade a spicy kick.
I make this fruit chaat salad at least a couple of times every summer. It’s perfect for a weekend barbecue and requires very little effort. As long as you have some fruit and the prepared spice mix, you’re good to go!
Prepare any seasonal fresh fruit you like (it’s particularly good if the fruit is very sweet to begin with), then gently mix it in with fresh lime juice and the spices. I let the fruit salad rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes—this allows the fruit juice to release and bind the spices and black salt, creating a spicy yet sweet and tangy sauce that coats the fruit.
I generally prefer not to add any type of sweetener to the fruit salad, but you can always taste and adjust the seasoning and sweetness as needed. The green Thai chili pepper is optional—you can leave it out if you’re serving this salad to guests who are sensitive to heat.
Serves 4 to 6
For the chaat masala:
Makes about 1/4 cup
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons carom seeds
4 dried red chiles (preferably Kashmiri or Thai chili peppers)
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
1 teaspoon dried mango powder (amchur)
1 pinch asafoetida (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the fruit salad:
4 cups whole red and green grapes
2 bananas, sliced
1 pear, diced
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
1 red apple, such as Gala, diced
2 large navel oranges
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 green Thai chili pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon chaat masala
1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
1/4 teaspoon black salt powder
Photos by Nik Sharma