This palak chaat is the most popular dish at Rasika in Washington, DC. An ultra-thin chickpea flour batter coats the spinach leaves so they fry up with a wonderfully delicate crispiness akin to Japanese tempura. Dusted with deggi mirch (an Indian chili powder), black salt, and toasted cumin powder, then garnished with chopped red onion, tomato, and cilantro, and accompanied by both tangy tamarind and creamy yogurt sauces, this is a beautifully complex dish bursting with different textures, temperatures, and flavors.
Although the recipe isn’t difficult, it pays to be organized. You can make the sauces and ready the garnishes up to a full day ahead, then be sure to lay everything out before you start cooking, since each step happens quickly. You’ll fry the spinach in four separate batches, so weigh out four equal piles before you start. You should also use a kitchen thermometer and make sure you let the oil get hot enough before you fry each new batch of spinach, or you’ll get soggy leaves instead of a great crisp. If you leave off the yogurt, you have a wonderful vegan snack or appetizer. And you can fry the spinach up to one hour before serving, although you should wait to assemble it with the garnishes until the last minute.
Check out these other Rasika recipes: their Steamed Sea Bass in Banana Leaf with Coconut-Mint Chutney recipe and their Indian Spiced Sautéed Mushrooms and Green Onions recipe.
- Yield: 6 servings
- Difficulty: Easy
- Total: 15 min
- Active: 15 min
For the yogurt sauce:
- 1/2 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/4 teaspoon Toasted Cumin Powder (see page 23 of the cookbook)
- 4 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the tamarind sauce:
- 4 tablespoons Tamarind-Date Chutney (see page 258 of the cookbook)
- 2 tablespoons water
For the batter:
- 1 cup gram flour (besan)
- 1/4 teaspoon deggi mirch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup water
For the spinach chaat:
- 8 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
- 6 cups canola oil, for deep-frying
- 1/2 teaspoon Toasted Cumin Powder (see page 23 of the cookbook)
- 1/2 teaspoon black salt
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
- 2 medium tomatoes, center pulp and seeds removed, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Make the yogurt sauce:
- In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, water, cumin powder, sugar, and salt. Cover and refrigerate.
Make the tamarind sauce:
- In a small bowl, thin the tamarind chutney with water. Cover and refrigerate.
Make the batter:
- In a NutriBullet or small blender, blend the gram flour, deggi mirch, turmeric, salt, and water until smooth. It will have the consistency of crempe batter. Pour into a small bowl.
Make the spinach chaat:
- Have ready two large bowls, a colander set over a plate or bowl, and two baking sheets lined with paper towels. Divide the spinach into four 2-ounce piles.
- Pour the oil into a wok or kadai and heat to 400°F
- In a large bowl, coat all the leaves in one pile of spinach with ¼ cup (a 2-ounce ladle) of batter. You can use a rubber spatula to fold the batter over the leaves, but your hand is a more efficient tool. (Have a towel handy to wipe it on as you work).
- Drop the leaves in the oil, covering the entire surface area rather than just clumping everything in the center of the wok. (The leaves will spatter and emit steam as the water in them comes in contact with the oil and evaporates.) Working quickly, use a spider strainer or a skimmer to circulate the leaves and keep them from sticking to each other as best you can. Fry until the leaves look crisp and the batter lightly browned, 60 to 80 seconds. Using the spider strainer, transfer the spinach to the colander, tilting it to let excess frying oil drain. Then transfer the spinach to the paper towels.
- Repeat with the remaining three batches of spinach and batter, allowing the oil to return to 400°F each time and using the spider strainer or a skimmer to remove as many particles of fried batter from the oil as you can. Discard any leftover batter.
- Place all of the fried spinach in the second large bowl. Sprinkle the cumin powder, deggi mirch, and black salt over it and toss the leaves gently to distribute the spices evenly.
- To serve, pile the spinach on six serving plates an drizzle with yogurt sauce and tamarind sauce. Garnish with the red onion, tomatoes, and cilantro. Serve immediately so the leaves don’t get soggy.