Maneet Chauhan's Secrets for Turning Strawberries into Street Food
When strawberries are in season, we use them in everything from buttermilk waffles and almond tarts to a mascarpone and berry-filled mousse (topped with a strawberry salad, of course). Chef and TV star Maneet Chauhan looks beyond sweet breakfasts and desserts when planning recipes when these late-spring treats are in season, using them to create a sweet-tart chaat.
"Chaat is a category of Indian cuisine that roughly means 'snacks,'" she explains of the tasty bites found at street stalls and rail stations throughout India. Chauhan loves chaat so much that she created a restaurant in Nashville called Chaatable around the concept. It also inspired her award-winning cookbook, Chaat. "The word 'chaat' is Hindi for 'to lick,'" she continues. "This is a literal translation: The flavor combinations of chaats are so amazing that you're licking your plate, your bowl, your hand! I love that there's so much variety within chaats."
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With so much variety, a good chaat demands contrasting flavors — sweet, salty, spicy and tangy — as well as multiple textures, especially something crunchy combined with a creamy sauce. Chauhan uses tart rhubarb and sweet strawberries for a fruit-filled, seasonal spring chaat of her own design.
"You do not get strawberry-rhubarb chaat in India—this is completely my take on it," she says. "This sweet and spicy salad adds several other flavors into the mix, like mint leaves, fresh ginger, and red chile powder."
The base of this chaat is a tangy rhubarb chutney. Chauhan starts the chutney by cooking rhubarb with panch phoran, a five-spice blend of whole fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black mustard seeds and nigella seeds. She adds brown sugar, ginger, vinegar, and chile powder to the pan, building the contrasting flavor notes from the start. This chutney is the base for each plate of chaat.
Chauhan then tosses strawberries with mint leaves, a little lime juice, and salt. After spooning the strawberry mixture on top of the rhubarb chutney, she tops it with fresh chopped rhubarb and masala boondi, spiced crunchy balls of chickpea flour.
"The rhubarb chutney gives sweetness. The masala boondi, a puffed chickpea cereal, lends this dish its essential crunch. When possible, I like to use half red strawberries and half white strawberries to provide another layer of sweetness (and an additional pop of color), but the key is to use the freshest ones available."
Sweet, tart, spicy, tangy, and crunchy, this is the kind of a snack that sends us back to the market for more spring berries.