Crispy fried spinach chaat is usually made with large palak leaves, which is a variety of spinach seen a lot in India but also available at Asian shops in the UK. I usually use baby spinach leaves, which are easier to come by, but it takes more time to prepare because of all the chopping. I tried my first fried spinach chaat at a great little restaurant in London called Thali. The delicious chaat was one of their signature dishes so, understandably, they weren’t quite ready to give me their exact recipe. I have experimented a lot with this one and think I’ve got it pretty close to that chaat I enjoyed so much.
Wash and dry your spinach leaves and remove the large stems. You will be shredding the majority of the leaves but hold about 8–10 large leaves back for dipping in batter. I find that it is quicker to stack the leaves to shred them. Shred the leaves finely. If you have ever tried fried seaweed at a Chinese takeaway, that is the look you are going for with this spinach.
Heat about 10cm (4 in) of rapeseed oil in a large pan or wok for deep-frying. When a piece of spinach instantly sizzles when added to the oil, you’re good to go. If you have an oil thermometer, aim for 200°C (400°F).
It is a good idea to cook the spinach in batches. Fry each batch until the leaves become darker and are beginning to turn crispy, about 1–2 minutes. Transfer to paper towel to soak up any excess oil. The shredded spinach will become crispier as it dries out. To make the batter, whisk all of the batter ingredients in a bowl with just enough water to make a thick, smooth batter. Dip the large, whole leaves in the batter. It should coat them. If you find the batter is too runny, whisk in a little more gram flour. Fry the battered leaves in the hot oil until crispy and brown, about 1–2 minutes, then transfer to paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Season the shredded and battered spinach with salt to taste.
To finish, place a big mound of shredded spinach on two plates. Top with the chopped onion and diced tomato followed by the battered spinach leaves, then garnish generously with the sauces. To serve, top with a couple handfuls of fine sev and a little more salt if you like.
Making your own sauces
Mint and coriander sauce
Makes 250ml (1 cup)
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 very large bunch fresh mint, about 100g (31⁄2oz)
- 1 very large bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), about 100g (31⁄2oz)
- 6 green chillies (more or less to taste)
- 4 garlic cloves
- 5cm (2in) piece of ginger
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 150g (scant 1⁄3 cup) plain yoghurt
In a dry frying pan, roast the cumin seeds over medium–high heat until warm to the touch and fragrant but not yet smoking.
Pour the roasted seeds into a blender or spice grinder with the mint, coriander (cilantro), green chillies, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the yoghurt, if using. Blend to a paste. If you are having trouble getting the ingredients to blend, add a little more lemon juice or a drop or two of water until you have a thick green paste.
You could now use the sauce to spread over sandwiches and wraps but if you are making chaats or like a smoother, thinner sauce, whisk the remaining yoghurt into the paste until very smooth. (You could even add more yoghurt if you prefer.) Season with salt to taste. I like to store this sauce for up to 3 days in restaurant-style squirt bottles for squeezing over lots of different dishes.
Make it vegan
You could either leave out the yoghurt for a stronger but very delicious flavour or try a soy or coconut yoghurt.
Makes 500ml (2 cups)
- 500g (2 cups) plain natural yoghurt
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1⁄2–1 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
- Chaat masala and/or salt to taste
Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until creamy smooth. Taste and add more salt or spices to your liking. Keep it in the fridge until required.
Make it vegan
Soy or coconut yoghurt can be used instead of dairy yoghurt.
Makes 250ml (1 cup)
- 200g (7oz) block of tamarind pulp
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp chaat masala (optional)
- 1⁄2 tsp ground ginger
- 1⁄2 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
- 1 tbsp sugar or jaggery (more or less to taste)
Break the block of tamarind into about 6 pieces, put in a small saucepan and cover with 375ml (11⁄2 cups) water. Bring to a rolling simmer over medium–high heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and let it cool for another 5 minutes.
Using a wooden spoon or potato masher, smash the tamarind in the water. The sauce will become thick, like ketchup. Run this through a sieve into a bowl, pushing against the solids with a spoon as you do. You should end up with a thick paste. If you have ever used shop-bought tamarind concentrate, this is what you have – though shopbought concentrate is much more concentrated.
Discard any solids that remain in the sieve. Return the tamarind paste to the saucepan and add the cumin, chaat masala (if using), ginger, chilli powder and sugar. Bring to a simmer for about 3 minutes, until the sugar is completely dissolved. You can add a drop more water if you prefer a runnier sauce or reduce it more if you prefer a thicker sauce. Taste the sauce and add more sugar, salt or other spices to taste. (You will need to dissolve any additional sugar over medium heat if added.)
Extracted from The Curry Guy Veggie by Dan Toombs, Quadrille, £15
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