During a cross-country train ride that took James Beard Award-winning chef and “Chopped” judge Maneet Chauhan from bustling local markets to the homes of family and friends in India, she relished in chowing down on chaat, snacks or small meals endemic to the country’s culinary culture. Here, a chaat is as diverse as the country itself, arriving in different shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. A chaat might be spicy yet crunchy, savory yet sweet, tangy yet sour.
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Now, she and co-writer Jody Eddy together have fused the many stories and chaat Maneet heard about and ate into one book, aptly titled “Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India.” Here, you’ll take a railway journey yourself, traveling from the east of India to the west, from the north to the south, buoyed by bite-sized snacks and full-blown meals along the way. You’ll learn how to make Goan fried shrimp turnovers, a sweet semolina pudding from Amritsar, and a soft omelette floating in a spiced tomato gravy, among many others.
Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India: A Cookbook, $29.25 on Amazon
Woven into the cookbook, along with these traditional chaat, are Maneet’s stories from abroad, sharing historical and cultural anecdotes for the reader. The photographs are transportive, a mix of street vendors plying the camera with fermented, spongy pancakes wrapped in paper and a look at the extensive railway system that shepherds travelers across the country. Maneet also launches into other types of snacks, meals, and desserts, ones that are often train station delicacies or regional specialities, like roasted sweet potatoes crowned with starfruit, and flaky flatbreads plump with onions and eggs.
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Ahead, Maneet offers up a recipe for aloo pitika, mashed potatoes stuffed with green chiles and onions. Maneet describes it as comfort food—a dish she often reaches for when she craves something comforting but doesn’t necessarily have the energy to whip up a complicated meal. She first tasted this chaat at a train station in Guwahati, in the northeast Indian state of Assam, where it was being supplied as breakfast for hungry passengers. All that’s required is the boiling of a few potatoes, which are peeled and mashed with a mix of onions, serrano chiles, cilantro, and mustard oil.
Aloo Pitika Recipe
Several times a month I fly to New York City to tape Food Network’s Chopped. I usually return to Nashville on a late flight, and by the time I get home, I find myself with massive hunger pangs for comfort food, but little energy to cook something complicated. This is my go-to dish for just that occasion. It takes no time at all and I usually double the batch because my kids and husband love it for breakfast, served with a side of Indian pickles and a bowl of whipped yogurt. I had this dish for the first time at the train station in Guwahati, where it was being served for breakfast. I was on a night train and awoke in my sleeper bunk with a chill. The sun had not yet risen and the windows in our third-class compartment were wide open. My teeth were chattering when I stepped off the train, and I followed the comforting aroma of potatoes, which led me to this soothing, fortifying dish. That taste memory must be why I crave mashed potatoes with chiles and onions late in the night when I need to be warmed from the inside out.
- 3 russet potatoes
- 1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 serrano chiles, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons mustard oil
- Kosher salt
- In a medium saucepan, combine the potatoes with enough water to cover by 3 inches. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and add them to a large bowl.
- Mash the potatoes until fairly smooth but still a little chunky, then mash in the onion, serranos, cilantro, and mustard oil. Do not overmash or the potatoes will become gummy. Season with salt and serve while still warm.
Header image courtesy of "Chaat."