August 10, 2017
I've obsessed over Indian street food since I was a young girl visiting my family in India with my parents and younger brother.
Merely talking about the tartness, the crunchiness, the complexity of the spices makes my mouth start to water. These 'salads', as I like to explain to those less familiar with Indian cuisine, are small plates often referred to as 'chaat'.
Imagine a cat leaning into a bowl of milk and licking it up with her pink slip of a tongue. We would call that motion in Hindi, chaatna. In essence, licking the milk up, or when it refers to food, so delicious it makes you want to lick your fingers clean.
While roadside snack foods are layers upon layers of flavor and texture, with fried components, vegetables, legumes, and sometimes fruit, you can make variations of these side plates at home as well.
That's what the cover of my latest book, Indian For Everyone, is all about - side plates. This picture came together as a random idea. We were shooting the pictures for the book, and I had a bunch of small containers of chutney, some rice, a pot of tea, and salads sitting on the dining table. One of us then decided they would look beautiful photographed against a wooden backdrop and the muslin cloth that my stylist had purchased. It worked!
What folks don't always realize, though, is that not only do we pair our vegetables with spices, but we also love our fruit with lemon, salt, and various masalas. I still remember visiting my in-laws on many a weekend afternoon, when they would be sitting at their little round glass dining table in Downers Grove, Illinois, slicing up pieces of papaya, banana, apple, and melon. My MIL would add lemon, some chaat masala, and they were set for their daily post-lunch dessert. These memories are that much sweeter since my father-in-law passed away just over a year ago. As an added bonus - our salads don't traditionally use oil.
For my book, I wanted to include a fruit salad recipe that was just a little different. This grape salad did the trick. So much so that we barely had a chance to shoot the photograph. As soon as we clicked - my team had eaten all the evidence! I'm glad we got a lasting shot out of it - and a beautiful one at that.
As we head into the last few weeks of summer, feel free to sub out any favorite veggie, fruit, or combination for the grapes. Cucumbers-Red Onion and Fresh Kohlrabi rock. And, of course, try this with the grapes.
Angoor Chaat Tangy Grape Salad
1 pound green or red grapes, sliced in half
juice of 1 medium lemon
1/2 teaspoon Kala Namak (black salt)
1/2 teaspoon Chaat Masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chile power or cayenne pepper
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir well to combine. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill and allow all the flavors to come together.
If you live in Chicago and want to try my favorite Chaat House, head to Devon Ave. and Kamdar Plaza. I talk about it and my other favorites in this piece in Newcity.