Flavors from Around the World: Chaat Masala
Posted by Elizabeth Lindemer on 5/29/18
For anyone who has been paying attention to food trends over the past several years, there’s no doubt that you’ve noticed the mention of and, dare I say, the growing attention that Indian cuisine has been receiving year after year. And why not? It’s brimming with life, it’s fun and colorful, and it definitely delivers on big flavors.
As a chef, I am constantly looking for something new and exciting, whether it’s preparing a meal for my family, researching concepts for one of my customers or making lunch in the presentation kitchen for some special guest. It was just one of these occasion, several years ago, that I ran across a recipe for Chaat Masala salad that consisted of chickpeas, corn, tomatoes and cucumbers with an appropriately named seasoning....Chaat Masala. The word “chaat” means lick in Hindi and “masala” is the general term used for any spice blend.
Chaat masala is a dry spice mix that is complex and transcendent to say the least. Similar to many spice blends around the world, there are as many varieties as houses that make it...with each family and street vendor having their own unique blend. Most often it contains chili peppers for a pleasant touch of heat together with cumin, coriander and ginger and alongside kala namak, a distinctive black salt that gives it a really exceptional salty note, and amchoor powder which is a dried unripe mango powder that lends a great sour flavor. It can often be found with asafoetida, a fine yellow powder that comes from the sap of a species of giant fennel known as ferula. Asafoetida gives the blend a “funky” aroma...but don’t let that cause you to shy away as you’d be missing out on an amazing culinary experience. In addition to the aroma (which by the way, does fade if heated) it also lends a savory oniony-garlic note with mild bitterness. As you can see this spice blend hits all of the senses...creating an alluring and addictive seasoning that will have you licking your fingers after you’ve devoured every last bite of ______. (I’ll let you have fun filling in the blank with all of the magnificent foods you’ll be trying it on!)
If you happen to be in a market that sells one of the retail blends you may even encounter a separate variety specially designed for fruit. This variety tends to focus less on the cumin, coriander and ginger and a bit more attention is given to the chili pepper, black salt, amchoor and asafoetida. Whether you purchase it or make it yourself, you’ll want to keep it at the ready. I’m lucky enough to work for Fuchs North America where we make remarkable customized spice and seasoning blends every day, so whipping up a batch of my own is quite simple. Let me know if you need some to play around with!
Traditionally it’s used as a finishing touch to... well, just about anything, in addition to the namesake chickpea salad or over fresh cut fruit. I often find myself incorporating my seasonings on a variety of items that may not necessarily be their usual format. I’ve found some rather exciting combination doing just this and my jar of Chaat Masala is no stranger to this experimental side. You too will come to find that it goes quite well with dairy...it makes a great snack when sprinkled over a piece of toast with some butter or dashed onto a bagel with cream cheese. And Hello Potatoes!... It’s a wonderful compliment to some toasty roasted baby reds and it can do wonders to a basket of crispy sweet potato fries! I have yet to encounter a fruit or vegetable that I don’t find elevated with a sprinkle of Chaat Masala. When writing about food I find it helpful to first invest in a little kitchen time, so to get myself in the mood for the occasion of writing this blog I decided to whip up a fresh fruit salad with my go-to chaat masala! What will you energize with your chaat masala?
- Chef Elizabeth Lindemer, CEC