Armed with about a kilo of wings and a small can of cola, we proceeded to look at the details of the recipe. We already had some nice juicy limes from the weekend market, and figured that mild green chillies from the turkish market, and some fair trade rietsuiker or demerara sugar at home could substitute for the jalapenos and brown sugar.
Then we read it again - a CUP AND A HALF, not a teaspoon, not a tablespoon, a CUP and a half of sugar to make the syrupy glaze. This piece of information got us to have serious second thoughts on the recipe - there was no way we were going to use a cup and a half of sugar in addition to the already sugary cola. No offense to the creators and lovers to the recipe- just a matter of personal choice. So we proceeded with two tablespoons of sugar instead and kept the rest of the recipe the same. After simmering the glaze for a bit, we tasted and found it to be slightly on the sourer side - so in went a tablespoon of honey. We quickly realized that the purpose of all that sugar was to create a syrup that could stick on and really glaze the chicken wings - so we decided to add a tiny bit of cornstarch to thicken the very thin liquid glaze to solve that problem. Another dip-of-the-finger-and-lick later we figured that the glaze lacked a certain depth of flavour, that it was a bit on the simpler side for what we felt like eating. So in went a quarter teaspoon of Kashmiri red chilli powder, and about a half teaspoon of garam masala. once the spices had simmered for a couple of minutes in the liquid, just a wee bit of cornstarch thickened it to the required texture, and we poured it over the wings (which already had been marinated with some salt and ginger for as long as it took to make the cola sauce)
About 20 minutes later we put the glazed wings in the oven and while waiting for the first side to get done, we licked at the remaining glaze - at almost the same moment we looked at each other and said "what does this remind you of?" ..."Imli ki chutney - the kind you put on chaat!" Yes that was it...the sweet and sour cola glaze with the garam masala definitely definitely tasted like the awesome tamarind chutney that is the life of much of the indian street food that goes by the collective name of Chaat. (Its interesting to note that the verb chaat in hindi means 'to lick' which is something we could not stop doing with this damn glaze!!)
And so, when the wings were done they were tasty enough, but the bigger discovery from the experience is learning to make tamarind chutney without tamarind!! Les face it - in a lot of places in the west tamarind is a specialty ingredient, and not easily accessible if you're not near an 'ethnic foods market' (I hate the term but cannot think of a substitute!!)
So when the craving for chaat strikes - heres to boiling a combination of cola and sugar and lime, and adding the spices that make your taste buds sing. Because chaat chutneys are such a personal thing, I do not prescribe any recipes here. This is just some encouragement to wing it.
I've always been amazed to learn of the common substitutions Indians use for hard-to-get traditional ingredients while living in the west (like granny smith apples for raw mangoes, or using pancake mix to make gulab jamuns) and am really thrilled to have discovered our own supermarket substitute for something. Mind you, this is not the real thing - but then substitutions are about stuff you can use in a pinch, when you cannot have the real thing after all.