Crispy chickpea, pistachio and mint chaat bowl with tamarind chutney
Before I met my husband, I didn't know that much about Indian food. Growing up, there wasn't a single Indian restaurant in my small southern town. And in Boston, where I attended college, Indian food was mostly found on the outskirts of the city, where (on my starving student budget) I rarely visited. It wasn't until I met K shortly after moving to D.C. for my first job that I was really exposed to the wonderful world of Indian food.
He didn't waste any time. Our first date was actually more of test of my ability "hang" and handle spice. He took me to a hole-in-the-wall Pakistani place, where there was no other option than to eat meat kebabs and curry with your hands. I dug in and licked the plate clean. He accepted. Sparks flew.
It wasn't until months later during my first visit to his parent's house that I was finally exposed to the most craveable category of Indian food ever: chaat.
What is chaat, you ask? O.M.G. Simply put, chaat is Indian snack food. But it's much more than that. Chaat is a way of life in India. It's a category of food that can be found in every corner of the country, where it has this magical ability to hit every single flavor note — salty, spicy, sweet, sour, tangy, crunchy. You name it — it has it.
On this first meet-the-parents-at-our-house visit, my mother-in-law made us bhel puri, a puff riced salad of sorts with fresh tomato, onion, cilantro and sweet-and-spicy tamarind chutney. It was served as an appetizer while we waited for dinner. But if it were up to me, that would've been my dinner (and breakfast and lunch the next day). It was so damn good. So, naturally, I have to share it with you.
This recipe here is my take on bhel puri. In an effort to make it a little less carby, and more protein-rich, I substituted puffed rice with shallow fried chickpeas and added pistachios for an additional nutty crunch. I also added a little cauliflower and microgreens to bring in some veggies and make it substantial enough to be an entire meal on its own. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Salty, sweet, sour, spicy, tangy, crunchy — this chickpea chaat bowl hits all the right flavor and texture notes. My take on the classic Indian snack food, bhel puri, this version has chickpeas instead of puffed rice and extra greens and veggies to make it a healthy, satisfying snack or full meal all on its own.
You can buy already-made tamarind-date chutney in Indian stores, specialty stores or online, but making your own is pretty straightforward and it keeps for weeks. Add more peppers if you like spice or less if you don't. When making the fried chickpeas, having the right oil temperature is key to ensuring that they're crispy and don't get soggy. Test the oil with one chickpea. If it starts bubbling as soon as it hits the pan, the oil is ready to go.
SERVES 2 (OR 6 AS A SNACK)
For the tamarind chutney
8 Medjool dates
3 to 5 piquillo peppers
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground fennel
½ teaspoon garam masala
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons lime juice
For the chaat
¼ cup peanut oil
2, 15-ounce cans chickpeas
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 half head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
¼ cup packed mint, chopped
¼ cup packed cilantro, chopped
¼ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1 Fresno chili, thinly sliced
1 lime, juiced
¼ cup roasted pistachios, chopped
Make the chutney
1. Soak the dates and piquillo peppers in warm water for 15 minutes until soft. Remove the pits from dates.
2. Place the dates and peppers in a food processor or blender with the remaining chutney ingredients. Add ¼ cup water and blend until smooth.
3. Transfer the chutney to a small sauce pot. Add ½ cup of water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and let cool.
Make the chaat
4. In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm the peanut oil. Working in 2 batches, add chickpeas and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chickpeas to plates lined with paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and let cool.
6. In a large bowl, toss all the remaining ingredients together, minus the pistachios.
7. Drizzle with as much of the tamarind chutney as you’d like and give it a toss. Add salt, to taste. Garnish with pistachios. Serve immediately.