Chetna Makan aims to spice up your life with Indian street food
As she brings Indian street food to life in a new cookbook, The Great British Bake Off star Chetna Makan tells Ella Walker about transferring these colourful and tasty dishes to a European setting
DON'T expect to find your standard chicken tikka masala and bhaji recipes in Chetna Makan's new cookbook, because Chetna doesn't do the expected.
In her first cookbook, The Cardamom Trail, the 2014 Great British Bake Off contestant explored how to use Indian spices in baking, and now her second recipe collection, Chai, Chaat & Chutney, takes an even more interesting tack.
Packed with fresh, fast street food, it's crowded with dishes best eaten with your hands, straight from the fryer and in twisted paper cones; dishes that Chetna couldn't get enough of while munching her way around India for research.
"After The Cardamom Trail, I wanted to do something which is more my passion and my growing up; that showed a bit of where I come from,'' she explains. "People think Indian street food is limited to the three or four dishes that we all hear about, like panipuri [hollow, deep fried crispy dough filled with sour, spicy water], and I wanted to show there's so much more.''
But with a country the size of India, which has a population of more than 1.3 billion, and all of those people eating, cooking, trawling markets, frying fish and snacking on street corners – how do you go about distilling such an incredible cacophony of foodie goodness?
"I actually didn't know where to start because there's so much,'' admits Chetna, who lives in Broadstairs, Kent with her husband and two children. "It's a massive country – different cuisine everywhere – so I thought, 'OK, I'm just going to pick the four big cities and focus on that'.''
The big four – Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata – she explains, each have their own signature foods and flavours. Mumbai "is a very metropolitan city, so takes food from everywhere in the country, but it's got its own really distinctive dishes, like vada pav [deep fried potato balls] and dabeli [spiced potato and chutney wedged in a bread roll]''.
Chennai is "very big on South Indian food; there's lots of coconut, lentils, rice, and the typical dosas [savoury pancakes]''. In Delhi, people "eat very heavy, they really specialise in flatbreads'', while in Kolkata you can expect "lots of fish''.
Chetna studied fashion design in Mumbai before moving to the UK in 2003, so aside from noticing a surge in Chinese-influenced dishes, the food she encountered on her return wasn't "such a surprise''.
"I was like, 'That tastes delicious, yeah, yeah, yeah, I've eaten that hundreds of times', but in Kolkata it was like, 'Oh my God, this is amazing'.''
She'd only been to Kolkata, which sits on the Bay of Bengal in East India, when she was tiny, and couldn't remember anything she'd eaten on that childhood trip, but this time around, she went big on rice and lentils topped with crispy slivers of fried fish.
"It's my favourite chapter in the book – I absolutely loved the food.''
:: Chai, Chaat & Chutney by Chetna Makan is published in hardback by Mitchell Beazley, priced £25. Photography Nahima Rothacker & Keith James. Below are two recipes from the book for you to try yourself.
3 large eggs
300g skinless cod fillets
1 onion, finely chopped
Handful of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 small green chillies, finely chopped
Sunflower oil, for deep-frying
Sea salt flakes
For the coating:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100g golden breadcrumbs
Put the large eggs into a small saucepan; cover with water and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and leave to cool, then shell the eggs and mash them in a bowl. In a food processor, blitz the cod to a coarse paste. Add the fish to the mashed eggs, along with the onion, coriander, garlic, chillies and salt. Mix thoroughly so the flavours are well combined.
Shape the mixture into 15 balls about the size of a lemon, then press to flatten them slightly. Dip each one in the beaten egg, then roll them in the breadcrumbs until fully coated.
Heat enough oil for deepfrying in a deep-fat fryer or heavy saucepan (ensuring the pan is no more than one-third full) to 170-180C. Line a plate with some kitchen paper. Fry the chops a few at a time for about two minutes, until they are cooked through and golden. Transfer to the paper-lined plate and leave to drain excess oil while you fry the remaining chops.
Season with sea salt flakes and serve warm with your choice of sauce or chutney.
RICE AND DAL PAPDI
60g split chickpeas (chana dal – available from Sainsbury's)
125g rice flour
125g plain flour
1/2 tsp chilli powder
10 curry leaves, finely chopped
About 120ml water
Sunflower oil, for deep-frying
Sea salt flakes
Chutney of your choice, to serve (optional)
Put the split chickpeas into a bowl; cover with water and leave to soak for one hour. Drain the split chickpeas, then grind them to a rough paste using a food processor, adding one tablespoon of water if necessary to achieve a rough, thick paste that isn't too runny.
Put the ground chickpeas, the rice four, plain flour, salt, chilli powder and curry leaves into a large bowl and mix well. Very gradually mix in just enough of the measured water (or a little more, if necessary), a few drops at a time, to bring the mixture together into a soft dough. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Fill a deep-fat fryer or large saucepan with enough sunflower oil to deep-fry the papdi (ensuring the pan is no more than one-third full) and heat it to 190C. Line a plate with some kitchen paper.
Take small portions of the dough, roughly the size of a grape, and roll them into thin discs with a diameter of 5cm. Working in batches, fry the papdi for two to three minutes, until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer the papdi to the paper-lined plate to drain excess oil while you fry the remaining dough.
Leave to cool, then season with sea salt flakes and serve with the chutney of your choice.