Monday, February 1, 2010

chana masala

chana masala

My latest snap of cravings for Indian food hit a couple weeks ago, and because I haven’t learned anything over my two stints in the East Village, we ordered in from a restaurant on 6th Street and received puddles of oily, listless and weakly spiced curries that we dragged our way through only to be rewarded with bellyaches. Also, regret. I have an archive of Indian recipes I make several times a year, that I crave like clockwork as soon as we hit a cold snap and never disappoint, a cabinet full of robust rust and mustard-colored powders and seeds and yet I let someone else put lackluster chana masala in our bellies.

finely chopped onion
canned whole tomatoes

I’ve made a slew of chana masalas — a Northern Indian chickpea stew with tomatoes — but none have made their way to you because while they’ve all been edible, with bowls licked clean as there are exactly no intersections of chickpeas and tomatoes that I won’t gobble down, I had yet to find The One. Many were closer to a spiced tomato sauce with chickpeas in it; few had the spice assault I was looking for and none had that thing, a sour note, you find in great Indian food but is more elusive to American home cooks with a curry habit.

a mutt of spices

And then on Saturday night, we finally hit the ball out of the park. A Madhur Jaffrey recipe, with a little tweaking, was exactly what I kept hoping to find in the pot after cooking my way through onion, garlic, ginger, hot peppers and a very long list of spices but had yet to find: chickpeas in the center field, untimid flavor and a sour punch that both comforts you on a brittle 25 degree day but also wakes you from hibernation. We served it, as always, with my favorite Indian-Spiced Potatoes and Cauliflower, some long-grained rice, wedges of toasted store-bought onion flatbread and oh, this too: I was digging in the fridge and came across the remaining Toasted Cumin Crème Fraîche from last month’s Black Bean Soup and whisked it into some whole milk yogurt for a delicious raita-like compliment to the chickpeas.

chickpeas from the slow-cooker

We stayed in and hung out with Crazy Hairs. We had beer and two guests. If this is the new Saturday night routine, I could get used to it.

chana masala

About buying spices: If you’re anything like I was a few years ago, you love Indian food but are intimidated by the long list of spices in the recipes that you might not have and the expense of picking them up. Here’s my suggestion: do it. Buy them. Invest. If you like this food, you will be thrilled that you can cook quality Indian food at home as it strikes your fancy, often from items in your own pantry. Although the spices are an initial investment, the price of the remaining ingredients in Indian recipes (and especially the ones on this site) to be among the most affordable, largely dried beans and lentils, onions and rice — these recipes are a great way to stay on budget.

One year ago: Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes
Three years ago: Asparagus, Artichoke and Shiitake Risotto

Chana Masala
Adapted from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, which was adapted over here because much to my frustration, I own two Madhur Jaffrey books and this is in neither

This is an intensely spiced bright orange chana masala with a sourish bite that reminded of us the best restaurant versions we’ve tasted. I’m thrilled to finally have a good recipe for it at home.

The major changes I made were simplifying the addition of spices, adding more tomatoes and oh, the recipe calls for a tablespoon of amchoor powder, which I did not have. I looked it up and learned that it was dried unripe mango powder (which sounds so delicious to me, I’m buying it next time I go to Kalustyan’s, who also sells it online), which is clearly a sour flavor, so I upped the lemon juice i used instead. The dish had a nice sour snap at the end, so I will presume this is a good swap.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (I used a quarter of this because my cayenne is extremely hot)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon amchoor powder (see note)
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, chopped small or 1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon (juiced) (see note; I used a whole lemon to swap for the amchoor powder)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cumin seeds, amchoor (if using it), paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spiced for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice.

Eat up or put a lid on it and reheat it when needed. Curries such as this reheat very well, later or or in the days that follow, should it last that long.


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