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Chaat Masala

Chaat Masala is the perfect example of the stunning diversity of Indian cuisine, so it’s appropriate that I discovered it only while doing some research—aka Google mining—on the incredible diversity of Indian cuisine. It caught my eye because of its popularity in street foods. I actually felt a little adrenaline surge as I read about it, because is there really anything better than street food?

Digging deeper, I saw that one of the core ingredients of chaat masala is dried green mango, or amchur. This sour flavor bomb is a personal favorite, having set me on an early path to understanding how to spoof pepper flavors in these refried beans. But I also haven’t yet figured out how to use amchur to it’s full extent, and chaat masala really moves the horizon. It’s powerfully oppositional to many of the spices I use most, and figuring out where it fits is still feels somewhat counterintuitive.

Examining the ingredient lists for 5 commercial blends, the basic architecture of chaat masala is simple: Each contains amchur, salt, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and the inevitable chilli pepper (in Indian it’s spelled it with the double el). Four of the five contained ginger, long pepper, and asafetida. Then things get crazy, with as many as 18 total ingredients ranging from fruit based acids (citric and tartaric) and mint to mace and pomegranate seeds.

In other words, this is clearly an improvisational space.

Still, I almost didn’t try because of all of the chilli peppers. But when I started searching for recipes, the first template I found came from one of my favorite sites, and it was nightshade free. Inevitably, I have made some modifications.

While some recipes call for chaat—I made my first batch so I could make this Indian slaw—it’s often used as a garnish on salads, fruit, other Indian dishes, and even in lemonade. Some people even put it on toast.

INGREDIENTS

3 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons ajwain seeds
4 tablespoons raw mango/amchur powder
2 tablespoons powdered black salt 
2 teaspoons Indian long pepper (freshly ground)
1/2 teaspoon asafetida powder (hing)
2 teaspoons ginger powder
2 teaspoon pomegranate seeds
1/2 teaspoon black garlic powder

INSTRUCTIONS

1Put a frying pan on medium heat. Thicker is better, cast iron is best.When hot, add the coriander and fennel first, roast for a minute, then add the smaller cumin and ajwain seeds.

2Dry roast these seeds until they begin to darken and give off a roasting aroma, which you can both smell and see as a faint hint of smoke. You’ll need to stir often while roasting, to prevent the seeds from burning—if the smoke rises above a whisper you are very close to trouble.

3Make sure you have a hot pad at the ready and a plate prepared to spread the spices on. This is one of those few moments in the kitchen that require your full attention. Seriously—I’ve lost a batch simply because I couldn’t find the hot pad fast enough. Be prepared. I’ve never burned money, but I imagine that burning spices probably feels worse.

4Once cool, grind the seeds. If you’re old school with a stone pestle, that’s awesome, but you might prefer the fine texture afforded by a spice or coffee grinder. (Make sure your grinder is clean and dry; coffee grinders are great, but coffee tends to linger. Chaat masala also leaves a powerful impression on coffee. Semi stale chunks of bread are good for cleaning out a spice grinder.) Once you’ve ground your seed mix to a powder, add the remaining powdered ingredients and grind again to mix.

5That’s it. If properly stored, and you don’t decide to sprinkle it on everything, this supply should last several months. A glass container is necessary, unless you want everything in its vicinity to take on aura of chaat.

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