Although Nashville is a far cry from Punjab, India, where Maneet Chauhan grew up, that doesn’t mean that the acclaimed chef and Chopped judge doesn’t carry her traditions with her, including a jubilant celebration of Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors that rings in springtime each year. The ancient holiday falls on the day after the last full moon of the Hindu month of Phalguna (this year, it’s on Friday, March 18), and the end of winter symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. “It is one of the most boisterous festivals of all time,” Chauhan says. “We visit friends, throw powdered colors on each other, and, of course, there is so much delicious food embedded in how we celebrate.”
Growing up, Chauhan recalls that her mother would start frying and baking days in advance, and the night before Holi was always marked with a bonfire. The morning of, friends would show up at the house to share sweets and throw colored powder at one another. “It’s the whole community coming together,” she says. Nowadays, she plays hostess herself at her family’s home in Nashville, inviting a small group of friends and family over for a night-before bonfire at their backyard firepit and mixing up dish after dish to share the following day, including colorful rasgullas, a sweet Indian dessert involving cheese in sugar syrup. And of course, there will be powdered colors to throw. “It won’t be quite as boisterous as what we would do in India, but we try to recreate it here.”
One of her favorite dishes served during the festival is a popular chaat, or Indian street food: aloo chaat, made of fried potatoes, chickpea noodles called sev, and spiced yogurt. “This was always my favorite chaat to eat during Holi growing up,” Chauhan remembers. “It is crunchy with a smooth interior, and it’s sweet, spicy, and creamy.” She recommends serving it immediately after it’s prepared, before the sev has a chance to get soggy.
At Chauhan’s home celebration of Holi this weekend (she’s traveling on Friday) aloo chaat will feature in a colorful line-up of chaats that guests can mix up themselves. “Aloo chaat is simple to make, and you’ll never go back to eating fries after you’ve had it,” she promises. “It’s like a party in your mouth.”