When I was growing up, if you’d asked me if I liked Indian food, I would have probably replied with an emphatic “NO”. After being fed Indian food by my mum every night, I’d drool with anticipation the few times we’d have Western food (i.e the stuff that all of the other kids got to eat all the time) – spaghetti bolognese, chicken schnitzel, or even (I’m ashamed to say) McDonald’s.
… That was until a trip to India. I was old enough to be allowed out with my cousins without adult supervision and I was taken to a diner that specialised in street food snacks. Now, my mum would probably have been freaked out by this – “outside food” was almost always synonymous with ‘Delhi belly’ and up to that point we had rarely eaten out. However, the delicious smells intrigued me enough to throw caution to the wind. My cousin ordered for us, and within minutes we were brought shiny, metal plates of chaat. We all dug into the communal dishes, metal cutlery clinking on the plates, and from the first mouthful I was hooked. And so began my love of Indian food (and in hindsight, also my obsession with street food in general).
Chaat literally means ‘lick’, and can refer to almost an endless array of Indian snacks. For the most part, they are savoury and bursting with flavour and different textures. My favourite was papri chaat (or papdi chaat. I’ve never been able to get my tongue around the difference – the actual sound is somewhere between an R and a D). It was certainly something I wanted to lick my plate after eating!
My partner calls papri chaat ‘Indian nachos’ (though I reckon nachos are Mexican papri chaat!). You start with crispy, cracker-like discs (papri) and add toppings like yoghurt, chutneys, onion, potato, chickpeas, herbs and sometimes even pomegranate. Soft, yet crunchy; sweet, yet sour; spicy, yet cooling, papri chaat is a paradox of a dish, but somehow all of the elements work together in harmony.
Making this delicious treat for yourself can be as complex or easy as you like. Most of the components can be easily found ready-made in your local Indian spice store. You can mix and match the bits you want to make and the bits you want to buy. The individual elements can all be made in advance and assembled quickly right before serving.
Tweak this recipe to your individual taste. Sweeten up the dish with extra chutney, or spice it up with a sprinkling of chopped chillis. Feeding a crowd? Make a big platter of the chaat for people to help themselves. Hosting a cocktail party? Transform the dish by daintily topping individual papris to make the perfect finger food. Feel free to play with the flavours and presentation until it’s just the way you like it.
You’ll need 4-5 papri discs per person – make your own using my papri recipe below or cheat with a store-bought version. The recipe below will serve 6-8 people.
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 1 can chickpeas, drained
- 2 large potatoes, boiled and diced
- 2 tsp salt
- Papris (store bought, or recipe below)
- ½ cup plain Greek yoghurt
- ½ cup Tamarind chutney (store bought or recipe below)
- ½ cup Mint chutney (store bought or recipe below)
- ½ cup chopped mint and coriander
- 2 tsp black salt combined with 1 tbs ground cumin (or store-bought chaat masala)*
- Mix the onion, chickpeas, boiled potatoes and salt together in a bowl.
- Spread the papris out on a plate (all of them on a big platter, or in individual serves of 4 or 5).
- Dollop the potato mixture over the papris – for individual serves, use about 2 spoonfuls per serve.
- Drizzle with yoghurt, tamarind chutney and mint chutney.
- Garnish with the chopped herbs, black salt and cumin or chaat masala.
- Serve as soon as possible after assembling.
Papri: (aka crispy fried discs of goodness). Begin this recipe at least an hour in advance to allow the dough to rest. Makes approx. 30 papris (enough for 6-8 serves).
- 2 ½ cups plain flour (either all white or half white, half wholemeal)
- 2 tbs ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp nigella seeds (optional)*
- ⅓ cup water
- 3-4 cups of oil, for frying (you want the oil to be about 3cm deep)
- Place the flour, ghee or oil, salt and nigella seeds in a large bowl and use your fingers to rub the ingredients together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add half of the water and mix thoroughly. Keep adding water, a tablespoon at a time, and mix until the mixture starts clumping together. You want your dough to be dry and not sticky, though if it seems crumbly, add a little more water. If the dough gets too sticky, sprinkle in a little more flour.
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. By the end, it should feel sort of like Play-doh – slightly elastic, a little firm and not sticky. Make the dough into a ball, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for at least an hour or overnight.
- Heat the oil in a deep pan so it’s ready for frying – it should get to about 350°C on a thermometer, but if you don’t have one, take a bit of dough and put it in the oil. It should sink to the bottom but then rise up in a few seconds. If it rises too quickly, the oil is too hot.
- Take a chunk of dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface as thinly as possible. Use a cookie cutter or glass to cut circles out of the dough (or use a knife to cut out squares).
- Prick each disc a few times with a fork (this prevents them from puffing up when you fry them). Gather the scraps, add some more dough and repeat the process of rolling and cutting until you’ve used up all the dough.
- Fry the discs a few at a time, until they are golden brown on both sides (around a minute per side). Drain on paper towel. You can store these in an airtight container for up to a week.
Tamarind chutney: Makes about 2 cups. You can use the leftovers as a dip for grilled chicken or prawns or even drizzled over plan yoghurt.
- 125g tamarind, deseeded*
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp black salt*
- 1 tbs ground cumin
- 1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
- Place the tamarind in a bowl and break up the pulp with a fork. Pour over the boiling water and let the mixture sit for about an hour until the tamarind is soft and squishy.
- Pour the mixture through a sieve, into a pot. Press the mixture with a spoon so you squeeze as much pulp out as possible.
- Add the sugar, lemon juice, black salt, cumin and chilli powder and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Turn down the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes until the chutney is syrupy. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to serve. This chutney will keep in the fridge for up to 3 months.
Mint chutney: Makes about half a cup.
- 1 bunch of coriander, leaves and stems chopped
- ½ bunch of mint, leaves picked and chopped
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbs lemon juice
- 2 tbs water
- 3 green chillis (optional)
- Set aside about ½ cup of loosely packed chopped herbs to use as a garnish.
- Place all remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend together. Alternatively, chop the herbs as finely as possible by hand and mix everything together, but omit the water.
- Set aside until ready to serve. This chutney will keep for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
*These ingredients (or if you choose to buy some of the components) can be found at any Indian spice store or some Asian supermarkets. My favourites are:
Fiji Market, 591 King St, Newtown NSW
Monika Enterprises, 478 Cleveland St, Surry Hills NSW
And if you want to try this dish without any of the hard work, my recommendation is to order it at:
Maya Vegetarian, 470 Cleveland St, Surry Hills NSW
So, this is the dish that triggered my love for Indian food – what are some of the dishes that have changed the way you think about food?