Chana Masala

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I think it would be best for all of us if I started this post with a big fat disclaimer: my knowledge of and experience with Indian food is virtually nonexistent. I’ve been to the Indian buffet restaurant in my college town a couple times, a 100% non-sketchy place, unlike a lot of buffets. It pleasantly surprised me both times, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that this kind of food, with so many distinct flavors in one pot, gets better as it sits under the warming lamps. I have a curried couscous recipe that I make quite a bit, but I’m not sure it really qualifies as Indian. Other than that, my exposure to Indian food has been limited to those times when you’re in a group or at work or school and one person looks a little uncomfortable, and finally someone asks them what’s wrong, and with a slight grimace and a firm hand on their gut, they say, “I had Indian for lunch.” And everyone nods and exchanges sympathetic, understanding looks, and remembers why they still haven’t gotten around to trying the new place that opened up down the street.

But Indian food has always been intriguing, mysterious in the good way, with its long list of exotic-sounding spices and names of dishes. Curry, turmeric, garam masala (which is actually a mix of spices). Just the ingredient lists are appetizing. So last weekend I decided that the best way to use the two cans of chickpeas in my cupboard would be to try making Indian food. So I poked around for a while and found this recipe on the ever-wonderful Smitten Kitchen. And let me tell you, this dish makes me wish I’d ventured into this vast realm of Indian food a loooong time ago. It’s delicious, people. And really easy, as long as the onions don’t make you cry for too long.

*A note about buying spices. Yes. There are six different spices in this dish. I can hear you thinking it from here, “Spices are so expensive!” They are, if you buy whole jars of them for $4 a pop. BUT, if you buy them the right way, you’ll spend less than $2 on all of them combined. And the rest of the ingredients in this recipe are dirt cheap. Go to the bulk section of your grocery store. Even if you have to go to the fancy grocery store where you’re normally only allowed on special occasions and payday. Because in the bulk section, you can buy just a tiny bit of all these spices, and you’ll pay by weight, and each one will probably cost you 30 cents or so. You’ll never buy a $7 jar of turmeric again. And you won’t have a zillion spice jars that you bought for one recipe and never used again crowding your pantry. Bulk section. Ready set go.

Here are all the lovely spices in this recipe: cumin, cayenne pepper, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and garam masala.

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Then, there’s a whole bunch of chopping and grating and eye-watering.

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In goes the deliciousness. This is when your house starts to warm up just from the smell.

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Chickpeas!

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Tomatoes.

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Simmer a while, and done.

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Chana Masala

Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe

Serves 4-6, or a single lady like me all week

This recipe is a little spicy, a little tangy, and will warm you to the core.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (I used a serrano)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, or 1 15-oz can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lemon

Heat oil over medium head in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic, ginger and chili pepper and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and toss in the coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, paprika and garam masala. Cook the onion mixture with the spices for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes and any juices that came with them. Scrape up any onion bits that have stuck to the pann. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in salt and lemon juice. Serve over rice. This keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week, and is great reheated.

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