As far as crunchy, savory snacks go, American culture is woefully lacking. Everything’s breaded, deep-fried and too heavy for hot weather. Thankfully, there are people in this world like Aliya LeeKong, culinary director and chef of NYC’s haute Indian palace Junoon, who wields her razor-sharp knives against snack fatigue. Enter chaat, the only recipe I can think of that fully addresses every major flavor: salty, sweet, sour, savory and umami. Found in abundance everywhere Indian people are found, chaat is easy to throw together with a little prep.
“Chaat covers every flavor profile and texture you could want,” confirms LeeKong. “Usually with the chaat you have that base ingredients here we have channas [chickpeas], and potatoes which have a softer bite, red onions for a little crunch, tomatoes for acidity. You have the different chutneys — the tamarind adds that really tart quality, then the cilantro is herbaceous and fresh and the yogurt cools it all down. The spices that are added are usually chili powder and chaat masala, which I make at home.”
Chaat masala, easily found at any Indian grocery, is a blend of whole ground spices and pungent, sulfuric black salt which (upon second taste, perhaps) is instantly addictive. To further persuade you to try your hand at this very easy dish, it helps to know that LeeKong started making it while still living in her dorm room at college.
“My mom would send me care packages with bottled chutneys. I would use canned chickpeas and throw it all together and make chaat.” And friends, presumably. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 large potatoes, peeled, boiled and cubed
- 1 16-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup sprouted mung beans
- 1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped (plus more to garnish)
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- chaat masala, chili powder, tamarind chutney and coriander chutney to taste
- Pomegranate seeds to garnish (optional)