Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Chaats: that hallmark of the ultimate street food category have been around for longer than we can imagine. Coveted & reviled at the same time, I really cannot think of how life would have been without them. (search and replace 'internet' with 'chaat' & run it through your neural thought processor and you'll get an idea of what I mean).
While chaats are a lifeline in cities such as New Delhi (gol guppa, alu tikki chaat, coal roasted sweet potato chaat to name a few signature dishes), Mumbai (Bhel poori, Ragda Patty, Paani Poori)& Kolkata (Jhaal Muri, Puchka), Madras never really had a chaat culture. Vadai, idlies & dosas were after all stuff that you technically made at home regularly, then "why would you want to eat something made by that &^%^%^ fellow?' GOD knows what oil that fellow uses, you'll get sick", was an oft heard reprimand the minute you raised the issue of eating out. Maybe it was because of the innate conservativeness of the culture down south, I can't really tell. but to this day, I've yet to find a decent chaat place in Chennai.
Its a mandatory outing for me to take off with my husband's nephews for a round of chaat ( & being typical teenagers, they're as well versed with the local food scene as the best), The last time we tried a place , the guy had slapped a tadka of mustard seeds into Bhel poori!! (EEW!!, Street food may not be high falutin' standards, but there are rules governing their creation!!), The cook was originally from Bihar & when I asked him in Hindi as to why he'd included the tadka, pat came the reply because apparently he got complaints that the dish had not been finished & somehow he was shortchanging the patrons by skipping on the tadka!!... I gave up at this point! The cardinal rules for Rasam were not meant to be applied to bhelpoori!!, needless to say, I'm soo not revisiting that restaurant!
Since the nineties, the western notion of fast foods has caught on in a big way & Pizza is now considered part and parcel of the Indian food scene. Pizza hut in India even has traditional Tandoori variations on their menu.
and why not? Pizza is traditionally a peasant food, a simple bread adorned with a splash of fresh tomatoes & some cheese for a quick satisfying meal.
While there are tow camps about how a Pizza should be topped ( everything but the kitchen sink, vs. minimalist, thick vs thin crust..) potatoes topping a pizza is not really well known. (carb on carb, a sinful combo), of late there have been some lovely recipes. an episode of 'The best thing I ever ate' featured Alex Guarnaschelli, raving about the Yukon gold potato pizza at Five points restaurant and since then, the urge to create a 'Panfusine' version of this has been nagging me. When someone sugeested I do a pizza, it really gave me a push to actually put my thoughts & notes into action. and the result: a delicious lunch both healthy & fun to gorge on!
For this pizza you need:
Store bought pizza dough
Ricotta cheese (Part skim works fine!)
one medium red potato
one peruvian blue potato ( This was purely for the color contrast)
1/4 cup sev or boondi
mint coriander chutney
thinly sliced long hot peppers (the kind used to make mirchi pakoda!)
mint & cilantro for garnish.
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Roll out the pizza dough into a thin circle (thick crust is really not a good idea, all you end up tasting is the bread!). place on a greased baking sheet. I use the net part of the traditional Indian sieve (Chalni), works great!. Brush liberally with olive oil.
Add a dollop of ricotta cheese onto the dough & spread evenly . You could mix the ricotta with chaat masala & then apply to the dough, or else, simply sprinkle chaat masala liberally. (The pizza can really take on the spice, so don't be afraid!)
sprinkle the boondi evenly over the ricotta.
Using a vegetable peeler, slice the potatoes and arrange it on the dough. (I made a mistake in pre-slicing the potatoes & dropping them in water. well the slices were crisp but really not what is needed for something that is going to be baked. plus, the slices curl up, not what you need on a flat pizza!). Brush over the potatoes liberally with another coat of olive oil.
drizzle some sweet chutney over the potatoes and add thin slices of the hot pepper. (don't add any green chutney, you want it to taste fresh, not cooked!)
Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes till the edges are golden brown.
Remove from the oven, drizzle the green mint chutney and the finely chopped cilantro & mint. , cut into wedges & serve!