We Need to Chaat

Chaat is more than just a dish or singular culinary concept; chaat is a whole lifestyle. In much the same way that almost anything could be defined as a salad, with minimal rationalization, everything and anything is chaat. In fact, salad could qualify as chaat and vice versa. You could eat chaat for every meal, even though it’s commonly thought of as a snack. It’s a solo savory treat and also a party starter. Everywhere you go in India, chaat is found everywhere tucked away in back alleys, hawked on the street, packed into kids’ lunchboxes, and spread lavishly across top restaurant tables.

So… What Is Chaat?

Known for its aromatic spices and tangy sauces, chaat is an entire genre of Indian street food that offers a symphony of exotic tastes and textures. The range of possibilities spans beyond conventional limits; there are no wrong answers. Every region has certain affinities or specialties, but that’s only the beginning of the story. Chaat is a living recipe that continues to evolve with every subsequent cook that puts their own spin on it.

How Can You Build Your Own Chaat?

Formulas can be simple or complex, ranging from a half dozen ingredients to a list that’s longer than your average CVS receipt. The key is to balance contrasting flavors and textures by including elements that are crunchy, creamy, spicy, sour, fresh, sweet, and savory. When crafting your own chaat, here are the basics to start with and some suggestions for making it your own.

All About That Base

Carbs are the foundation to build upon, which usually means potatoes for me. That’s why I call mine aloo chaat anyhow, but that doesn’t mean we can’t invite more players to the party. Cut carbs and swap half or all for roasted zucchini or cauliflower. Switch it up with sweet potatoes, or dig other root vegetables like parsnips, rutabaga, or turnips. Other traditional selections include smashed samosas and crushed papad.

Veg Out

Consider this the salad portion of the program. Raw vegetables are chopped finely for a refreshing foil to the often heavy base. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions are common. If you want a shortcut, you can always pick up some prepared pico de gallo, or any chunky fresh salsa, and no one would be the wiser.

Awesome Sauce

Chutney will never go out of style. It’s like an accessory that goes with everything and pulls the whole outfit together. You don’t have to choose just one, either; stack them to make a bigger statement. Top choices include cilantro chutney, tamarind chutney, and mango chutney, which are respectively herbaceous, tangy, and sweet to make a well-rounded trio. Don’t forget a drizzle of unsweetened yogurt for a bit of creamy richness.

Crunch Time

This is what I consider the fun stuff that really sets chaat apart from the average pile of foodstuffs. Sev, which are fine strands of deep fried chickpea noodles, are most popular. They can be a bit tricky to find in the US, so I like to use wheat-based crispy chow mien noodles instead. Crunchy chickpeas, either store bought or homemade, are another excellent addition especially for adding more plant-based protein. Don’t forget toasted nuts or seeds, pomegranate arils, and even crispy rice cereal.

The Spice Is Right

Arguably the single most important component of any chaat is the chaat masala, AKA chaat spice blend. This one is distinctive for its heavy use of kala namak, also known as “black salt” even though it’s a light pink color in real life, which contributes an unmistakable sulfur aroma. This is the primary culprit for eggy flavor in vegan scrambles, but it takes on all new life alongside a pungent blend of toasted spices. Already boldly umami, that savory taste is further heightened with the addition of Sugimoto shiitake powder. It comes alive when the powder touches moisture, becoming even more potent than a regular fresh shiitake mushroom. For best results, I like to toss the base with the chaat masala, infusing those flavors right into the core. You cal always finish it with a second sprinkle once fully assembled for extra oomph.

Want to simplify your chaat?

  • Start with a ready-made chaat masala spice blend and simply add shiitake powder to amplify those spices.
  • Use prepared chutney, and if tamarind eludes you entirely, try a drizzle of pomegranate molasses instead.
  • Cook the potatoes in advance and store them for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat them for 1 – 2 minutes in the microwave when ready to serve.

Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients. Everything is optional, adaptable, and open to interpretation. I haven’t even scratched the surface on all that chaat can be. Worry less about authenticity and focus on flavor first. There are endless ways to make chaat, and if you focus on creating a delicate balance between seemingly disparate, contrasting tastes, you will never go wrong.

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Just Trolling

Horror is not my first genre of choice nor area of expertise. For that, you should really be following Video Creep, videographer, comedian, and horror professional. With his guidance, I’ve picked out the perfect entertainment for your Halloween evening: Troll 2.

What is Troll 2 about?

Described by some as the “best worst movie” and “most disrespected horror films in recent history,” Troll 2 is not going to keep you awake at night. It’s not even going to make you remotely uneasy. The basic premise is laughable right from the start, seeing as there are no trolls to be found during the entire 95-minute runtime, only goblins. It’s also worth noting that it has nothing to do with the preceding movie, Troll, which has only marginally better reviews.

Without spoiling anything, one of the key features is green goop being offered at every meal, which no one seems to find suspicious. Unfortunately, just one bite will turn people into their own sort of human sludge, which is then fed to the hungry goblins.

Naturally, it’s the food element that I find most captivating. Between the implausible story line and iconic acting, the goblin goop is a standout success in terms of execution. I didn’t pity the people that were dumb enough to miss all the warning signs and thoughtlessly indulge in their own demise. Quite the contrary, I envied the goblins; I’ll have what they’re having.

Join me in feeding your inner goblin with the finest human goo that plant-based ingredients have to offer. It’s every bit as nutritious as dissolved people, but without all the fat and gristle! Besides, no one has time for that kind of messy cleanup. Save yourself the hassle of ensnaring and poisoning your own middle class nuclear family, and let’s pull out the blender instead, shall we?

A base of frozen mango and banana creates a naturally sweet, creamy, and subtly tropical foundation for some bright spices. Turmeric adds a bold sunny yellow hue that harmonizes brilliantly with ginger and cinnamon. The real crowning jewel is the swirl of green goo, of course. This comes in the form of fluid gel made from green juice and agar.

What is a fluid gel?

Despite the fancy molecular gastronomy term, it’s really a very simple concept: Set any fluid with a thickener, then blend it to break down the structure into a substance that straddles the line between liquid and solid, AKA, goo.

What’s the best green juice?

You can make your own green juice from scratch, or buy bottled green juice at the grocery store. I’d suggest going with the latter for the sake of simplicity. A subtly sweet blend with a mix of fruits and vegetables is my preference here to pair with the smoothie itself, particularly if pineapple is involved. Top mainstream brands include:

At the heart of it, Troll 2 is a movie made for the plant-based crowd. The goblins were vegetarian, after all, so the only way they could enjoy their human feasts was by turning them into inert substance. Let’s raise a glass to these visionaries that were ahead of their time. Cheers, and Happy Halloween!

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GuacTober

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, though my appreciation for it has changed substantially over the years. Long gone are the nights spent trick-or-treating, seeking the thrill of the hunt as much as the sugar high to follow. Off-the-shelf costumes are permanently off the shopping list, since I refuse to dress as the “sexy” version of literally anything. Now, I’m content to enjoy the spooky season in a similar way to other special events: By playing with my food.

Whether you’re throwing a Halloween party for one or one hundred, solid snacks are an absolute must. Balancing out the abundance of candy and booze alike, reasonably healthy and savory options are essential for a killer bash. For that, I turn to classic guacamole, but with a ghoulish twist.

Pick your favorite recipe and get crafty! Here are four different ways to dress up the same old green goop as a fun, festive party starter.

Sick Dip

I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the classic barfing jack-o-lantern motif by now, but what if we could make that into an edible centerpiece? Allow me to present sick dip, replacing the pumpkin with a carved bell pepper.

  1. Cut around the top in a jagged pattern just like you would for a traditional jack-o-lantern. Pull off the top and remove the seeds and membrane inside.
  2. Use a paring knife to carefully carve out eyes and a large opening for the mouth.
  3. Place the pepper on a serving plate and fill it with your guacamole, pushing some out the mouth hole.
  4. Fill the rest of the plate with more guacamole and place the top back onto the pepper.
  5. Serve with the paring knife sticking out of the pepper for guests to slice off their own crudites.

Guacamole Graveyard

Parting is such savory sorrow when the final resting place is this delicious. You could pipe “RIP” onto the tombstones with smooth guaca-mole, but I prefer to keep it simple and classy.

  1. Spread your guacamole into a rectangular dish an in even layer.
  2. Stick crackers in, spaced at regular intervals, in two or three rows.
  3. Spoon a mound of minced black olives or tapenade in front of each cracker tombstone to make the burial plots.
  4. Serve with more crackers on the side.

Monster Mash

Kids will especially love this silly Frankenstein face! You may even be able to convince them to eat their veggies this way. You can even blend fresh spinach into the guacamole to make it more green and add an extra superfood boost.

  1. Spread your guacamole in a circle on a round plate, leaving a larger border at the top.
  2. Stick crackers or cut vegetable crudites into the top part for the hair.
  3. Cut a black olive in half and add them to the middle as eyes.
  4. Cut a jagged smile out of a bell pepper or carrot slice for the mouth.

Wicked Web

When all else fails, weave a simple spiderweb that’s guaranteed to catch guests’ attention.

  1. Spread your guacamole into a round dish in an even layer.
  2. Drizzle plain, unsweetened vegan yogurt, ranch dressing, or sour cream in a spiral pattern, starting in the center and radiating out.
  3. Use a toothpick to drag the loops alternating inward and outward from the center.
  4. For the spider, place one whole olive near the middle of the web. Cut another olive in half lengthwise, and then slice four little legs from each piece. Arrange them next to the side body.
  5. Enjoy with any of your favorite dippers.

Get into the Halloween spirit and whip up a ghastly appetizer that will haunt your friends and family all season! What’s your favorite diabolical dish?

Best Vegan Pumpkin Recipes to Fall in Love with Autumn

Pumpkins have sustained and inspired us for centuries, rising to great acclaim as a social media darling after centuries in the root cellar. They were one of the first domesticated crops, dating back over 9000 years in Mexico. Those earliest ancestors were comparatively tiny, bitter, and tough, with little in common with any of the 45 different varieties that currently exist. It’s a good thing that all parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the leaves, flowers, and stems, securing the pumpkin’s place on homestead farms as it continued to evolve.

Of course, the pumpkin’s greatest claim to fame today has more to do with the associated spices than any of its natural charms. My feelings for the trend have come full circle. I’m no longer dismayed by the disconnect, but encouraged by the possibilities. Now we’re primed to fully embrace all the squash has to offer.

Get ready to fall harder for pumpkin this year. I’ve got the very best vegan recipes right here for you to explore both the sweet and savory sides of pumpkin, ranging from wholesome to indulgent, simple to complex. Canned puree is always available, but pumpkin cravings only peak this season. Don’t waste another autumn without knowing just how incredible pumpkin can taste.

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Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Modern meat processing does a marvelous job of making flesh, fat, and gristle look like anything other than that. From ground sinew and muscle we get exquisitely smooth deli slices or hot dog links, completely divorced from their corporeal beings. As plant-based meats evolve to compete with conventional options, I think the next big step is to outpace them entirely. It’s time to embrace whole body butchery.

“Meathead” might be an insult, but “meat foot” is about to become a compliment of the highest order. The concept of feetloaf isn’t new, just not well understood. While it may have begun as a play on words, the flavors here are no joke. Let’s take a swing at this beast and break it all down.

What exactly is feetloaf?

First, you need to start with pasture-raised, hormone-free, organic, free-range humans. Next, you need to make sure they’re slaughtered humanely at a USDA-approved facility…

In truth though, feetloaf can be made from any meatloaf recipe you like. Standard yields will only make enough material for a single foot, or baby feet, so either double the quantities or plan the sculpting accordingly.

You’ll want to remove the natural toenails, which are pretty tough and sharp. Sliced cipollini onions make excellent replacements, adding flavor and covering any unsightly toe stumps at once.

Alternate vegetables to use for a “bone” instead of daikon:

Did you know that the tibia is is the most commonly fractured long bone in the body? If your human doesn’t have a suitable bone for the loaf, there are plenty of easy replacements. I prefer daikon for it’s mildly peppery bite and tender texture. Other great options include:

  • Parsnip
  • Whole hearts of palm
  • White carrots
  • Leeks (white parts only)
  • Peeled potatoes

What sides are best to serve with feetloaf?

Expect any side dish to be largely overlooked when you have such a grand show-stopper on the table. That said, it’s good to keep the supporting players simple and unfussy. My go-tos are:

  • Mashed potatoes
  • Steamed broccoli or peas
  • Leafy green salad

Those who have been raised eating only innocuous nuggets might have a hard time coming around to feetloaf. Some may even find it shocking or unsettling if not prepared for the meal. Rest assured that this is the only way towards a truly sustainable food system. No matter any initial backlash, this meal is absolutely the best way to get your foot in the door.

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