I recently breezed through Padma Lakshmi’s recently published memoir, and while part of me wishes I’d waited for a beach to plow through it (it would be SUCH a perfect beach read!), I must recommend it to all the Top Chef fans out there. Yes, much of it is salacious and juicy as you might expect, but I truly loved the food writing. Everyone knows Lakshmi is from India, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about their culinary habits and traditions.
I thought it would be a bit crass and tone deaf for a Caucasian American to wax purple prose about another culture’s food traditions, especially from a country I’ve never visited and to whose food I was only introduced about a decade ago (grew up in Dallas suburbs in the ‘80’s yo), so I’ll just leave it at recommending the book to Top Chef fans and saying that although I’m an outsider and a novice, I do quite enjoy Indian food.
So when I ordered Seven Spoons a couple weeks ago, this mostly Indian dish jumped out at me, and became the first thing I made from the book. It’s such a beautiful dish, it really is. Chaat is the all-purpose word for Indian street food, and it means that all the different tastes and textures are combined in one dish. You have crunchy, spicy, sweet, savory, sour/tangy, creamy, etc. all on one plate. There’s admittedly a lot going on here, but it all works together seamlessly and is so worth your time to put together. A wonderful meal. Enjoy!
¼ cup canola oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed lightly
½ tsp ground cumin
Generous pinch of sweet paprika
Generous pinch of cayenne
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 bunch of cilantro, stems and leaves, divided
2 tsp water
1 to 2 limes
2 tsp peeled grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 green chiles, seeds left in for a hotter chutney
¼ tsp raw sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 big handful of fresh mint leaves
8 corn tortillas, shallow fried in canola oil until browned and crispy, drained on paper towels
1 cup plain yogurt, Greek-style or regular
A sweet chutney, for drizzling (can be tamarind, mango, apricot, whatever you want – but puree it if it’s really chunky)
Chaat masala, a spice mix found at specialty grocery stores, OR combine ½ tsp each ground cumin, cayenne, and ground coriander
1 small red onion, minced
A couple handfuls sprouts, such as mung bean, alfalfa, or radish
Sev (crispy fried Indian noodles); or if you can’t find those, sub in crunchy chow mein noodles
A handful of cilantro leaves
To make the CHICKPEAS: Pour the oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika and cayenne. Stir until you can smell the spices, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the chickpeas and turn them through the hot oil to coat. Continue to cook until chickpeas are crisped, 7 to 10 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper, then set aside.
To make the GREEN CHUTNEY: add the cilantro stems, water, and juice of 1 lime to your blender. Process until pureed or mostly pureed. If nothing is happening, add a little more water or lime juice. Scrape down the sides, then add the ginger and garlic. Process again, scrape down the sides again, then add the chiles, sugar, and salt. Process again, then add the cilantro leaves and mint. Puree again, and this time it should get really smooth. Again, add a touch more water or lime juice if not. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
TO SERVE: place 2 tostadas on each of 4 dinner plates. Top with the spiced chickpeas, followed in order by the yogurt, sweet chutney, green chutney, a couple pinches of chaat masala or the spice mix you made in lieu of it, the onion, the sprouts, sev or chow mein noodles, and lastly cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and eat immediately.