Spiced cucumbers bring out a taste of India

Michelle Peters-Jones

One of my favorite things about India is its fantastic range of street food. From pav bhaji and vada pav to vegetable chaats and bhel puri, every corner of India boasts its specialties — and no two street food vendors are alike. “Secret” ingredients abound, and no one gives away any recipes for their signature dishes.

These spiced cucumber sticks are probably the most ubiquitous of all street food. Every vendor, whatever his specialty, will also have these around as a quick, easy to-go snack.

Cucumber sticks are an easy, healthy snack to have on hand for when those spice cravings hit. The predominant flavor is chaat masala, a combination of savory, fragrant and salty spices. It is usually used as a finishing spice, to sprinkle over food, rather than one that needs to be cooked out. Chaat masala is one of those spice mixes that is easier to buy than make your own. Most Asian groceries will stock a version, and it lasts for a while.

When it comes to prepping the cucumbers, Indian vendors will leave the seeds in. However, I like to scoop them out since they can make the finished dish a little watery. I also like to mellow the bite of my red onions by soaking them in cold water before sprinkling them on the cucumber sticks. This is just my preference, though, so if you like a sharper, more raw flavor, you can always sprinkle the onions straight on. They are pretty tasty like that too, though I can’t vouch for your breath after.

Spiced Cucumber Sticks with Chaat Masala

3 large cucumbers

1 small red onion, finely diced

1 teaspoon chaat masala

1/2 teaspoon hot red chili powder

Flaked sea salt (like Maldon), to taste

Small handful finely chopped cilantro

1 lime, quartered, to serve

Peel and halve the cucumbers. Scoop out the seeds using a melon baller or a grapefruit spoon. Slice the cucumber into sticks and dry them thoroughly with paper towel.

Meanwhile, place the finely diced onions in a bowl, and cover with cold water. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then drain and pat dry. This helps draw out the raw spiciness of the onions and mellows out their flavor.

Place the cucumber on a serving plate and sprinkle with onions, chaat masala, chili powder and a crumble of flaked salt. Garnish with the chopped cilantro and squeeze with a little lime juice before eating.

Recipe Notes: You can prepare the cucumber and onions ahead of time and chill. Sprinkle with the spices just before serving, and go easy on the salt. Chaat masala already has salt in it.

For a portable snack, mix together the chaat masala, chili powder and salt in a small container. Squeeze lime juice into another container. Skip the onions and cilantro. Dip fresh cucumber sticks into the lime juice, then into the spice mix. Serves 4 as a snack.

Per serving: 43 calories; 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 21 percent calories from fat); 10 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 201 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 3 g fiber.