Friday, 12 July 2013

Chana Masala

Being on vacation makes me hungry. I don't know why, but I feel like I can never wait for the next meal, and since I have plenty of time to cook on my hands, I hunt down new ideas and new recipes that I can play with at my leisure. That's my favorite way to cook: glass of wine in hand, with Gogol Bordello blasting in the background. THAT is the good life!

One of the recipes I couldn't wait to try was some chana masala. I love chickpeas: they are so cute, tasty and versatile! I also love Indian cuisine, so when I found some recipes for chickpea curry, I started to drool. My beloved beans in a spicy stew with ginger and tomatoes?! Heaven!

I combined elements from a couple of recipes I found. It's a bit of a lazy version: I used canned beans and tomatoes, because I am not nearly patient enough to soak and cook dry chickpeas, and because I was fresh out of local tomatoes. Damn. If you have the time and the tomatoes, by all means, use them! Also, some traditionalists call for the tomatoes, onions, ginger and garlic to be pureed together before being cooked. I personally like my curries to be chunky and rustic, so I simply cut everything really small, so that it would still be saucy, but I would get the lovely tasty bits of onion and ginger...

With dishes like this one, that require the adding of a large variety of spices at the same time, I like to measure all my spices and mix them together in a small bowl so that I can literally add them all to the pot of a flick of the wrist. No time wasted scrambling about with measuring spoons while the onions burn and stick to the bottom of the pan!

One last note! If you can find amchoor powder (dry mango powder), you need to do 2 things:
1- tell me where you bought it: I couldn't find any at my usual bulk spices haunts...
2- use 1 tablespoon of it in your spice mix, and only use the juice of 1/2 lemon: amchoor powder adds a citrusy taste so will you need less lemon juice if you use it.

Without further ado, here is the recipe I came up with (with a little help from Madhur Jaffrey and Smitten Kitchen)!

1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 fresh chile, chopped small
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 (15-ounce) can of diced tomatoes, with their juice (or 2 cups of fresh tomatoes, cut small)
2/3 cup water
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 4 cups of soaked and cooked chickpeas)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon yoghurt, preferably Balkan-style (optional)
Lemon quarters, for garnish
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chili pepper and sauté over medium heat until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, paprika and garam masala.

Cook the onion mixture with the spices for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes.

Add the chickpeas and carefully pour the water in so it just covers the other ingredients.

Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in the salt, lemon juice and yoghurt (if using). Serve with basmati rice, lemon wedges and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

The smell of this curry is amazing! And it comes together in a snap; the hardest part if definitely the chopping. Though I admit that not sneaking spoonfuls of the stuff out of the pot while it was cooking was a challenge. It just smelled so damn good...

And it tasted as good as it smelled! Hot and spicy, but not too much, with the lovely sour kick of the lemon. A good balance between the heat and the sourness is often the make-or-break factor of a good curry, and the proportions in this recipe are really flawless.

I enjoyed a nice glass of C'est La Vie rose wine with my plate, and it was a perfect refreshing match for the sharp flavors of the curry.

There is a Pakistani version of chana masala called aloo chole, which is essentially the same recipe, with the addition of 2 medium potatoes, peeled, boiled and diced, and added to the curry along with the chickpeas (some people fry the potatoes instead of boiling them... how naughty!). Who doesn't love potatoes? You can certainly add them if you want to, but personally, I prefer chana masala in the summer, and aloo chole in the winter, when a nice starchy root veg adds a "comfort food" vibe to a simmered dish.

This curry reheats very well, so the leftovers are perfect for the next day's lunch. If anything, waiting a bit makes the taste of the spices more defined and delicious!

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