Some of my fondest memories are tied to chaat. Specifically, I think of the evening walks I used to take with my little brother to our neighborhood chaat guy, where we would patiently hold our plates and wait for the next crispy orb of pani puri to drop. Of course, this experience is hardly unique to me-just about every South Asian has their favorite street food vendor (who, naturally, they proclaim to be "the best') and just about all of us cherish a fierce love of chaat. Sweet, sour, crunchy, tangy, fresh, and deeply savory in every bite, chaat is an intrinsic part of South Asian culture-always on the table at occasions big and small and never needing an excuse to be there.
Like jigsaw puzzles, NBA teams, and Captain Planet, chaat is greater than the sum of its many parts, all of which are uniquely powerful on their own but become even more magical in the aggregate. Chaat itself is more of a concept than a specific dish. It's a broad family of South Asian snacks that includes pani puri, samosa chaat, sev puri, masala papdi, dahi puri bhel, and countless others. Although chaats vary in ingredients, the DNA they share comes down to composition-the successive layers of flavor that combine into one highly snackable dish.
First, you have your base, typically a starch, which could be simple boiled potatoes or chopped-up samosas or savory fritters. Then you spoon on the sauces, which range from red and green spicy chutneys to cooling yogurt and sweet tamarind chutney. Next comes the crunch, for which there are endless options: fried sev noodles, fried and puffed puris, fried spiced chickpeas, to name a few. (Fried bits are pretty key here, as you may have guessed.) Then you add a layer of vegetables-raw onion and diced tomato are standard-and often a sprinkle of cooked lentils, depending on the recipe. Finally comes a judicious dusting of chaat masala, an essential Indian spice blend that's funky, spicy, tangy, and salty all at the same time.
My chickpea-potato chaat recipe follows this same blueprint, transforming humble potatoes and that can of chickpeas you don't know what to do with into something truly next-level. The creamy boiled potatoes and chickpeas are the perfect vehicle for soaking up salty-sweet yogurt and a double dose of chutneys. Chopped onions, tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro add another layer of texture and freshness. I top the whole thing with a shower of sev, those exquisitely crispy fried noodles made from chickpea flour-because you can never have too much crunch, especially when it comes to chaat.
Chaat is an all-season food, but this recipe is especially good for summer months because you can boil the potatoes and make the other components in advance, and then throw the whole thing together in fewer than 10 minutes when guests arrive (or when your snack urge strikes). But that convenience is only one reason why chaat is so beloved. The time-tested combination of chile heat, salt, sweet-and-sour chutney, crunchy crispy bits, and chaat masala hits every note in harmony-a simple composition of flavors and textures combining into a dish worthy of every table and every occasion.