Chaat Potato Salad
it's potato salad, but chaat-ified!
One of the first big recipes I was asked to develop was for a totally from scratch papri chaat, including chutneys, papri, sev, and all. Chaat is the name for a wide range of snacks that all have one thing in common: punch-you-in-the-face flavor. They are aggressively hot, tart, salty, and sweet (a flavor combo called chaatpatti) and often feature loads of crunch and texture. Papri chaat is made by layering fried semolina crisps with potato, raitha, and a couple chutneys. It’s got several components and is therefore something I usually make Sandra Lee-style, by that I mean semi-homemade, using jarred chutneys and bagged sev. In fact, the last time I made it totally from scratch was when we photographed that recipe way back in 2017.
Instead I do what my abu does every day after work—mix random stuff together and shower it with chaat masala. Chaat masala is the magical spice blend that makes anything taste like chaat. It’s slightly funky from sulfurous black salt, tart from green mango powder, hot from chili and ginger, and aromatic with spices like cumin and fennel. I have a very complicated recipe to make it yourself, but to be honest, I just buy it. My favorite is by Floyd Cardoz in collaboration with Burlap and Barrel.
Chaat masala is the key to this chaat potato salad. It’s a potato salad, but chaat-ified with loads of lime juice, fresh red onion and ginger, and crunchy stuff on top. It’s great alongside grilled chicken or barbecue, but I’ve been enjoying as an afternoon pick me up (the flavors get punchier as it sits). If you’ve never made chaat before, it’s a perfect lesson in learning how to season. Because of all that acid and heat, it’s especially important to use enough salt so the flavors taste balanced. After the potatoes have chilled in the dressing, take your time to adjust the seasoning with salt, lime, chili, and chaat masala. Add a big pinch at a time, toss, taste, and adjust.
Chaat Potato Salad
serves 4 to 6 as a side or snack
1 ½ pounds baby potatoes
⅓ cup kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
¼ cup buttermilk or yogurt
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon chaat masala, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder, plus more to taste
1 medium red onion, chopped
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
¾ cup toasted cashews or peanuts, coarsely chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 to 3 Thai green chilies, thinly sliced
sev or something crunchy, like crushed potato chips or crackers
Rinse and scrub potatoes, then place in a medium pot. Add enough cool water to cover by 1-inch, ⅓ cup salt, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender enough to easily pierce with a cake tester or skewer. (Taste one to be totally sure it’s creamy in the middle.) Drain.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together lime juice, buttermilk (or yogurt), mayonnaise, sugar, chaat masala, and chili powder.
Once the potatoes are cooked and while they are piping hot, use the tip of a paring knife to roughly break each potato in half and add to the dressing. Vigorously stir to evenly coat potatoes in the dressing and break some of them up so the mixture gets starchy. Cover and chill for at least 2 and up to 24 hours. (The mixture will look very runny at first, but the potatoes will soak up the dressing as it sits.)
Once chilled, toss the potatoes again to make sure they’re well coated in the dressing, then taste. Add more lime, salt, chaat masala, and chili powder to taste. It should be very aggressively seasoned: tart from the lime, funky from the chaat masala, and with enough heat and salt to balance. If it tastes too tart or hot, try adding salt to balance. (Note: Every brand of chaat masala has a varying concentration of salt, so depending on the brand you’re using you may not need to add kosher salt.)
Add the red onion, cilantro, nuts, ginger, and chilies and toss to combine. Top each portion with sev or crunchy stuff just before serving. (Store leftovers tightly covered in the fridge for up to 3 days.)