Chaats are flavorful snacks often sold as street food in India; they also make great appetizers. When Vishwesh Bhatt, a James Beard Award-winning chef at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi, decided to create an appetizer chaat for his restaurant, he turned to sweet watermelon and crunchy peanuts. “It’s a very Southern combination that I thought should work,“ Chef Bhatt told Food & Wine magazine. “And it did.”
The resulting chaat is a colorful, sweet-savory mélange of tastes and textures. Adding chaat masala, a tangy Indian blend of spices that includes amchoor/amchur (dried green mango powder), pulls all the tastes together, deliciously melding India and the American South on the same plate.
Good news for cooks: Chaats are very “forgiving,” informal recipes; you can use more or less of the ingredients depending on your likes and dislikes. Like watermelon? Add more – I did. Dislike cilantro? Leave it out.
Makes 2-4 appetizer servings
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup lightly salted roasted peanuts
6-8 fresh curry leaves (not essential, but nice to add if you can source them)
2 teaspoons chaat masala,* divided
1 ½ – 2 cups chopped seedless watermelon (about 7 – 11 ounces depending on how much watermelon you want in the chaat)
½ cup thinly sliced cucumber (preferably small Persian cucumbers)
¼ cup finely chopped red onion (from 1 small onion)
¼ cup thinly sliced radishes (about 3 medium radishes)
1 medium-size serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped (about 1 ½ tablespoons) [If you’re heat adverse, use a small-to-medium-size jalapeno pepper instead, as it’s milder.]
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 1 medium lime)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons cane syrup or sorghum (honey or agave could be used)
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is shimmering. Add the peanuts, curry leaves, and 1 teaspoon of chaat masala. Stirring constantly, cook until well coated and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Set aside and let cool.
In a large bowl (this can be the bowl you serve in), combine the watermelon, cucumber, red onion, radishes, chile/pepper, salt, and cayenne. Toss well.
Shortly before serving, add the peanut mixture, lime juice, mint, basil, cilantro, cane syrup, and remaining 1 teaspoon of chaat masala. Gently toss and serve.
* Chef Bhatt uses the chaat-masala blend made by Spicewalla. It is available online at spicewalla.com; his own spice combinations and cookbook are also sold through Spicewalla.
–Adapted from Vishwesh Bhatt’s recipe in the June 2022 issue of Food & Wine
Recipe tested by Ellen Ficklen; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org