Here’s a good start to 2012…I think I have run the gamut of greed with seasonal indulgence.
Somehow, the sticky shine is off high-sugar content food when it is abundant and within such easy reach. Not to mention, when I partake of it in such an unreserved fashion (you know, the “It’s Christmas” line). Like the Christmas cake, voraciously reduced to a meagre sliver over the last week. That skinny slice though, has been calling out in vain for days, from its solitary confinement. No doubt, my mother will sneak a bite or three by the time the day is out. My point is that, I am done with the sweet stuff. For now, at least.
I am looking for a savoury hit, full flavoured, vegetarian and yes, healthy as well. Looking for inspiration I opened an over burdened cupboard and a tin of chickpeas came rolling out. Lifting it to put it back on the shelf, my eye was arrested by the sight of a bright red packet of Chaat masala. DING!
Chaat (a word used for foods that are considered nibbles or snacks) masala is a miracle worker. Sweet and sour at the same time, it lends such an unusual but delicious savoury, tongue clicking element to whatever it is sprinkled on. At its core, it’s a combination of certain spices but the star ingredients are Amchoor powder (mango powder) and black salt (kala namak). Which is a misleading. It’s kind of pink. These ingredients are primarily used in the street foods of Northern India and Pakistan and is essential in some of those delectable savoury snacks.
I have found Chaat or Chat Masala in most of the supermarkets in the U.K. I have found the Shan brand to be the best and least (black) peppery. If not, then online shops should be able to provide you with the same. If all fails, I have included the recipe for making your own. I never have, but these are the quantities my mother gave me for her homemade masala and well, that should be good enough!
Other uses for this pungent, aromatic ‘garnish'; sprinkle over yoghurt to serve with a curry. Add a touch to lemonade (oh yes!). Barbecued meats, fresh from the fire, with a smattering of lemon and chaat masala, is irresistible. I love it over dhals too. A particular treat, was a just-ripened mango, judiciously dipped into a a bowl of the powder. Don’t knock it till you try it!
Word of warning – Black salt contains small amounts of sulphites which contribute to a mild, well, err, bad egg smell. Don’t let that put you off, it’s not something you can taste. If you smell the packet of Chaat Masala you won’t get a whiff of it. The charming aroma seems to waft upwards, only on mixing with the slightly wetter salad ingredients and disappears soon after, entirely. Get over it…it tastes grand.
This recipe couldn’t be simpler. No, really, it couldn’t. Rinse your chickpeas, chop up a small onion (or spring onions), roughly chop coriander, tomatoes and if you like, a deseeded green chilli too. Mint wouldn’t hurt. Add chat masala to taste and mix. Eat. Feel good and virtuous. It’s the New Year.
My mother and I didn’t even wait to decant the salad into individuals bowls. We stood at the kitchen table, eating in a most uncivilised manner with two spoons, scooping the beige speckled peas from one, large bowl. Looks like she’s craving lighter food too!
And yet, there she goes, passing by me with a cup of tea in one hand and the last sliver of Christmas cake in the other…