Chaat comes from the Hindi word chaatna, which means "to lick." Culinarily, it's an umbrella term for a group of snacks that are predominantly sold as street food throughout India.
Two features bind chaat dishes: 1) a host of ingredients like sweet and hot chutneys, cooked potatoes, and sev (deep-fried chickpea flour noodles) and 2) a gamut of flavors and textures; chaat is sweet, spicy, hot, tangy, soft, runny, and noise-makingly crunchy all at the same time.
I make chaat regularly at home now, but the original joy (that feeling of irreverent abundance and rule-breaking glee associated with eating it on the street) is hard to capture in a recipe on the page—or on the screen, for that matter.
Recently, while watching Street Food on Netflix (the Delhi episode), I came across a chaat dish I had never tasted before: aloo chaat (aloo means "potato" in Hindi). Oh, the travesty! The first thing I did was recreate it in my own kitchen—to wondrous results.
It was a quintessential chaat in its host of ingredients and, of course, its effect on my taste buds: satiating, while also invigorating with all those flavors and textures. The perfect potato dish.
When cooking aloo chaat at home, it's important that the potato pieces gain a deep, golden-brown color and crunchy exterior (but soft interior), so that the creaminess of the yogurt and the sauciness of the chutneys against them feel pronounced. I wanted to avoid deep-frying and so went for a pan-fry with less oil, following an initial three-minute zap in the microwave to get the potatoes started.
(Oven-roasting is definitely a faster option, but I wanted every surface of each potato golden-browned. Yes, you can be upright here and use boiled potatoes; it would still be called aloo chaat. But boiled potatoes do not rock my boat and certainly don't give me that feeling of throwing caution, routine, and discipline to the wind that is, for me, deeply associated with chaat.)
The next step of spicing is equally important, as it makes sure that each potato is luxuriously lathered with ground cumin, salt, red chile powder, and chaat masala, an Indian street snack spice blend with a flavor blast that makes any vegetable or fruit pop.
Now, the chutneys: They provide much of the dish's flavor contrasts. Spoon my quick cilantro chutney and sweet tamarind chutney onto the fried potato mixture for a dance between spicy (from Thai chile peppers), zingy (from ginger), and sweet (from sugar), and tangy (from tamarind).
Sweet and tangy (left) and fresh and spicy (right), chutneys add beauty, brightness, and life to aloo chaat.Photo by Bobbi Lin. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.
The quick cilantro chutney contains only a small handful of ingredients, yet its pure herbal, hot-tart blast makes it the perfect accompaniment to fried potatoes. (This is unlike the cilantro chutney I use for Mumbai sandwich, by the way, which contains peanuts and garlic, and is thick and spreadable. If you happen to have the latter ready, just thin it out with some water so it's loose and pourable.) The tamarind chutney is sweet, tangy, and sticky—and you'll want to pour it over everything.
Dollops of plain yogurt introduce richness and creaminess, while a generous blanket of fried chickpea flour noodles adds crunch. (Sev, a must for any chaat dish, is a savory snack by itself too, a perfect fit for quiet evenings watching Netflix with a hot cup of chai. A variety of sev exists, all with varying thicknesses; the one used for chaat is superfine.)
I’m sure you’ve realized by now, but aloo chaat is essentially a potato bowl. Akin to grains like quinoa, farro, and barley, a base of potatoes offers stunning possibilities for mixing and matching. You could layer the roasted potatoes with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese, sprinkle basil and a swirl of olive oil on top. Or try black beans, sour cream, and pico de gallo with sliced avocado. For a hearty breakfast potato bowl, add scrambled eggs and douse with fresh chile sauce or even bhurrka.
When it comes to aloo chaat, the possibilities are endless.
Have you ever had aloo chaat? Let us know in the comments below.
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