Wednesday, 15 July 2015

choti eid + a recipe for channa chaat (chickpea chaat)

ilona's channa chaat
ramazan (the month of fasting) concludes this weekend. around the world, muslims will celebrate the festival of eid. in pakistan, the country of my birth and early adulthood, a committee of old men with compromised eyesight will be tasked with sighting the crescent moon that heralds the celebration. the politics of the sighting of the moon are such that celebrations will vary, with some parts of the country celebrating a few days later. 

choti eid always makes me miss my family palpably. i find that its festive nature and tradition of giving is much like christmas in the christian calendar. in pakistan, the nation stirs into jubilation after of a month of austerity and fasting. celebrations begin on chaand raat (literally moon night). even the buildings wear garlands of lights. families rush to the bazaars which remain open late into the night. there are bangles to be bought and clothes to be collected from the tailor along with the last minute rush to stock up on ingredients such as milk, bread, cream and yoghurt since most of the shops will be shut over the holiday.

the last time i celebrated eid with my immediate family was in the early two thousands. each year, the memories of those times bring back the simple pleasures of childhood. the magic of late night shopping. new clothes with matching bangles and khusa (intricately embroidered leather shoes that are much like moulds for the feet). henna stamps spiked with ink dried quickly and took colour readily, quite unlike the real version that would stain my palms orange like the colour of gelabi. some memories are vivid like the time baba took us to faisal mosque for prayers. on the way home the rain fell in torrents and our car froze in a puddle. we had to give the car a push to get it going again. my bright yellow kurta ran rivulets of mustard, staining my white shalwar pale mango. there was the eid when mama designed a khaddar kurta and ghaghra for me. it was purple with a pattern of gold and silver and a burnished silver shirt. in later years, mama and i favoured readymade clothes from generation to avoid having to deal with the tailor. now i wear khaadi’s colourful kurtas.

mama's channa chaat

i have also come to realise that the excitement of eid may not have been equally matched by the elders. my parents would have been concerned with multiple arrangements such as cooking and stocking the pantry, as well as negotiating holiday leave with the house help. dado would task baba with getting new banknotes for our eidi. i distinctly remember our eidi being composed of brand new notes. they would fall from the envelope with ease and lacked the musky, salty smell that comes from being handled by human hands. mama would make endless trips to the tailor, sometimes staying up late on chand raat to alter hasty and imperfect stitching. entertaining (although fun) promised endless dishwashing. and then there was the matter of constant eating. baba’s novel ways to avoid foods he did not like involved his family members carrying the candle. mama usually got the worse of it. on one such occasion she had to eat chaat on an upset stomach, worsening her condition. i should count my blessings as my husband will gladly oblige to eating for both of us. 

eid in london lacks the charm and magic that it did in pakistan. i think this is partly because adulthood diminishes the excitement. but mostly because close family is missing; a casualty of distance and urban nomadism. i miss the custom of eid lunch with my parents and sibling followed by hours of tv series box sets and re-runs of the godfather trilogy. i miss bowl after bowl of kheer and dhood seviyan and mama’s spiced kofte and channa chaat. the latter was a refreshing mixture of chickpeas, fresh herbs, tomatoes and chilli united by a tangy tamarind chutney. mama served it in a glazed paraat (shallow earthenware dish). the tamarind chutney was a tamer, sweeter version of the mouth puckering packets of ‘rita imli’ that i loved. folklore has it that tamarind would hasten the physical impressions of puberty. young girls were told that it would make their breasts mature. the boys were afraid to eat it for fear of ‘growing breasts’. rita imli was most readily available on short breaks to muree and nathiagali especially when auntie s was with us. she would carry a large box of these and one of her children could be prevailed upon to pilfer some. 

note: mama’s recipe uses mitchell’s imili ki chutney (a readymade pakistani condiment). i have yet to find one in london that i like. hence, i made my own dressing using natco’s tamarind concentrate. you are welcome to skip this step if you have a good readymade ‘imli chutney’. i find it helpful to prepare the ‘killer masala’ and dressing before setting out to make the chaat. you could put the potatoes to boil simultaneously. whichever route you take, i recommend reading the entire recipe at least once before you start making it. 

{ilona’s channay ki chaat}

killer masala
one tablespoon cumin seeds
one tablespoon dhara mirch (red chilli flakes)
one tablespoon salt plus more as required

imli dressing*
you can substitute this with a small bottle of mitchell’s imli ki chutney.
two tablespoons tamarind concentrate
two tablespoons runny honey
two tablespoons lemon juice

four cans chickpeas
three medium sized potatoes
one large onion
four tablespoons sunflower oil
two plum tomatoes
two green chillies
a small bunch of mint
a small bunch of coriander

killer masala was named due to it ‘catching at the back of throat’ character. it involves dry roasting the cumin seeds and chilli flakes. put the spices in a heavy bottomed pan and place on medium heat. give the spices your undivided attention to avoid burning them. the masala is ready when the cumin is toasted and fragrant and the chili flakes are smoky. avoid breathing in as the chilli flakes will make you cough and sputter. crush the roasted spices and salt with a mortar and pestle. set aside. 

make the imli dressing by mixing together all three ingredients.

peel and cut the potatoes into six equal pieces. boil them in salted water until just done. they should not be soft. drain and set aside.

rinse and drain the chickpeas. set them aside in a colander.

finely slice the onion into half-moons. you will need a karahi (or wok) that is large enough to accommodate all the ingredients. fry the onion over medium to low heat. keep the karahi covered for the first five minutes as this helps the onions to soften and become translucent. then uncover and allow to caramelise. when the onions are a deep golden brown add the potatoes and fry them briefly. the edges should crisp a little. add the channas, turn gently and allow the chaat to warm through. if there is any moisture continue to heat until it evaporates. season with the killer masala and salt as required. remove from the heat and add the imli dressing. carefully mix the chaat. 

set it aside to cool. meanwhile, finely chop the tomato, chillies and fresh herbs, adding these to the chaat once it is cool. this is best served at room temperature.

this post is part of eid eats, a virtual eid party hosted by flour & spicemy ninja naan and chocolate and chillies


  1. The chaat looks truly amazing... I do agree that Eid never remains the same once we grow up but now, I am trying to create some excitement for the kids, though it will never be the way we have celebrated it... :)

    1. thank you! i would love to hear from you if you make it. and yes, one has create their own customs. my hubby and i have done so. but nostalgia always wears heavy. eid mubarik to you and yours.

  2. Mitchell’s imili ki chutney! My mother-in-law has a MASSIVE bottle in her kitchen. This is a lovely post, Mehrunisa. The way you've written about your eid memories is so evocative. Hope you have a lovely one this weekend xxx

    1. eid mubarik to you and yours! have a wonderful one with baby k. i am glad you enjoyed reading it as much as i loved writing it. x

  3. Eid Mubarak Mehrunnisa! Your Channa Chaat looks amazing!!! Channa is one of my favourite things to eat :)

    Thank you for participating in Eid Eats! Could you please include the Eid Eats badge and link to the hosts in your post. All participants are required to do this. You can find the Eid Eats badge and the guidelines for participating here:

    1. asiya, a belated eid mubarik to you too! i have fixed the badge etc... i hope you had a lovely one!

  4. Eid Mubarak to you and your family Mehrunnisa! I loved reading about your memories of Eid in Pakistan :) And omg, I've never heard that Imli can make your breasts grow! That is hilarious!
    My mother makes a similar Channay ki Chaat, although with a different set of spices. Looks absolutely lovely :)
    And thank you for participating in Eid Eats!

    1. thanks henna! a belated eid mubarik to you and yours. i hope you had a lovely one. the imli embargo always makes me laugh. perhaps you have also heard that one should not eat watermelon and drink water afterwards. it has been delightful participating in eid eats. warm wishes, mehrunnisa

  5. M! I tried making this the other day- was delicious :)

    1. oh, i am glad! it is an all time favourite. i wish i could get a bottle of mitchell's tamarind sauce. it has its own special tang.... x

  6. This looks absolutely delicious! Will definitely try it!