Folks from Delhi will swear by a wintertime treat that defines finger licking good. Shakarkhand ki chaat. Coal grilled sweet potatoes enrobed in a mix of spicy mint/cilantro & sweet / tart tamarind date chutney. A sprinkle of chaat masala, a dash of whipped yogurt, a splash of lime and voila, the vendor hands you this leaf bowl piled with this divine root salad to be noshed on with a little toothpick. And suddenly, a happy ray of sunshine lightens up your life!
The term 'Chaat' is derived from the Hindi verb 'Chaatna' (to lick). These street side goodies are thought to have originated in the state of Uttar Pradesh in Central India and have radiated all over the Indian sub continent and neighboring Pakistan & Bangladesh. Every major city in India has its special dish. Calcutta is famous for its Jaal Muri & Puchka, Mumbai has its Bhel Puri & Ragda Patty, Chennai... oh well, they're in the process of defining their particular favorite, but I'd definitely add the famous 'Thenga Maanga Pattani Sundal' from Marina Beach in this category.
I deliberately stayed away from Sweet potatoes for my chaat, since it still brings to mind Hurricane Sandy which had me roasting the tubers in the fireplace. Given that Nor Easter Nemo is bearing down even as I compose this post, I do NOT want to go there.
My local veggie grocery has chestnuts on a 1.99/lb special and I want to make the most of it. I had first used these last year to make a 'Kootu' - a coconut/cumin based South Indian stew and it was such a perfect fit. Remember, chestnuts are not exactly well known in India (except in the northern reaches of the country , in the hill stations, where they were planted by the British), leave alone as an ingredient in Indian cuisine. Then closest in taste and texture is the seed of the Jack fruit which is used in South Indian cuisine.
I opted to boil the chestnuts rather than roast them. You still have to score the tough outer shell and peel them but its a tad neater than having bits of charred shell all over the counter and your fingertips.
Once you peel the chestnuts, they kind of divide themselves into three categories, The good (the nuts that peel nice & clean), the bad (the kind you find a creepy green fungus growing) & the Ugly (the ones which still cling on to the inner peel)
|Clockwise from top: Good, Bad & Ugly|
You can either scrape the reddish peel or leave it in some hot water to allow it to soften further to peel at a later time. As for those with the green fungi.. toss them straight into the garbage.
Chestnut and Potato Chaat:
~ 10 - 15 Chestnuts, scored across in a X
2 Idaho potaotes, parboiled and cubed
1/4 cup Mint/Cilantro chutney
1/4 cup Tamarind Date chutney ( A recipe for a quick hacked version is posted at the end)
1/4 cup finely chopped red onions
Store bought Chaat Masala to taste
1/2 cup fat free yogurt , whipped smooth (omit for a vegan version)
Fresh lime juice as per taste
Chopped cilantro and pomegranate arils for garnish
Oil for shallow frying
Add the chestnuts to sufficient quantity of water and bring them to a boil. Cover and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Keeping the chestnuts submerged in the hot water, remove them one at a time, rinse to cool under running water and peel off the tough outer shell and the reddish brown membrane. cut into quarters.
Heat oil in a skillet and panfry the pieces until the surface turns a golden brown. Remove on to absorbent kitchen paper. Repeat with the cubed par boiled potatoes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the chestnuts, potatoes and red onions along with the green and brown chutney. Add yogurt & chat masala as per your preference. Fold to combine. Garnish with cilantro and pomegranate and finish with a splash of lime juice as required. Serve immediately with a cup of hot Masala Chai.
Quick Tamarind Date chutney:
1 ping pong sized ball of Tamarind.
1/2 cup hot water
2-3 tablespoons Lion brand Date syrup(available in most Indian grocery stores)
Chaat masala / shikanjvi masala blend and cayenne pepper powder as required
Soak the tamarind in the hot water and 'massage to extract the pulp. Strain the pulp into a bowl and discard the fiber and seeeds from the tamarind. Whisk in the date syrup and season with the spice blends and cayenne pepper as per your preference.