Monday, September 19, 2011

Spicy Chickpeas: a Riff on Chana Masala

I dip in and out of Indian cooking and I can claim no expertise but I love the little I've learned about it. I absolutely love what happens when you combine spices and together they become a whole (taste and aroma) yet maintain an individual presence. While I've found good commercial blends, combining from scratch when you have the time - especially with whole spices - is so much better. The -several- recipes I referenced as a base for this dish were titled "Chana Masala". "Chana" (or chole) are chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and "masala" is a term used in Indian cooking -- there are many regions and types so I feel okay generalizing -- referring to a mixture of spices, often dry roasted, or a spice paste.
Draft 2 - with some cooking notes. More changes were made.
including leaving out the last addition of fried mustard seeds
at the end as I really didn't think it added enough
to go to the trouble.
I've seen references to Chana Masala in the regional cuisines of Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthani. Most refer to the dish being fairly dry (not goopy or soupy) and being served with a fried bread ("bhatoora"). The dish is easily eaten out of hand with bhatoora. In my take on this it isn't completely dry, but far short of soupy.

Also, poblano chiles. Yeah, I used poblanos and they're definitely not used in Indian cooking. I really liked the idea of the slightly smoky flavor of roasted poblano in this dish and I have several in my refrigerator right now. One of my favorite vendors at the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is Catalán Family Farm and they have some of the most beautiful chiles this time of year, as well as a bounty of heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables.

One thing I didn't have on hand that I saw in all my references was amchoor (or amchur) powder - a powder made from dried, green mangoes. I've had green mango salads in Thai restaurants and there's a slight sour-sweet taste that I'm guessing is enhanced in the dried version. Without amchoor powder, I substituted lime - adding the zest of 2 limes to the dish while it was cooking and the juice (about 3 tablespoons) at the very end of cooking, when the pan was off the heat. I don't know how comparable the flavor is, but I was happy with how the limes worked with the dish. A little sweet, a little sour and a slight hint of acid was a great contrast to the aromatic, smokey, spicy and medium heat of this dish.
When the mustard seeds start popping, be ready with the onions, otherwise the mustard seeds will jump out of the pan.
This dish is great as a side or as an entree. I ate it again tonight as a side with some left over roast chicken from Friday's dinner.


Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side
This is a great opportunity to practice mise en place by getting all of the ingredients either measured out or otherwise prepared. It's especially important to have the onions ready because when the mustard seeds start popping, within a few seconds they'll really start popping - right out of the pan and you don't want them to burn. Or end up all over the stove. Or on the floor. They're feisty.

  • Spice Paste
    • 2-4 dried hot red chiles, soaked in hot water to just cover, until soft ( I used 3 chiles d'Arbol, seeds removed)
    • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
    • 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
    • 1 tablespoon fresh grated turmeric or 2 teaspoons dry
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • Dry Spices
    • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
    • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds 
  • Aromatics
    • 1 medium onion, small dice
    • 4 tablespoons oil (canola is what I used), divided
    • 1 sweet red pepper (bell, gypsy, sweet Italian) , small dice
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 cup fresh tomato, medium dice (seeds and juice included)
  • 1 tablespoon amchoor powder or the zest of 2 limes
  • 1 large poblano chile, de-seeded and roasted (skin removed), medium dice
  • Water - 1 to 1 1/2 cups
  • Garnish
    • Juice of 2 limes
    • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely minced + a little extra to garnish the plate
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Prepare the spice paste first. Purée the soaked chiles, including the soaking water, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cloves in a small food processor until it is an homogenous paste. Set aside.
  • In a skillet or large saute pan (3 quarts, should not be non-stick) heated on medium high, toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and fennel seeds for about a minute, until they become fragrant and the cumin seeds turn a slightly darker color. Take the pan off the heat. Remove the spices to a plate or bowl and cool for a few minutes. Grind in a spice mill or in a mortar using a pestle. Reserve. Return the pan to the heat - medium high - and add the mustard seeds for about 10-20 seconds, until the seeds begin to pop. When that happens, immediately add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan, immediately followed by the diced onions.
  • Saute the onions until they are translucent, adjusting the heat as necessary and cook until completely soft and a little golden around the edges. Add the diced red pepper cook until it is tender but still has some structure
  • Clear a spot in the middle of the pan. Combine the spice paste with 1 tablespoon of the oil and add to the the pan. Gently fry the paste, adjusting the heat if necessary to keep it from burning, for a few minutes. Incorporate the spice paste into the onion and pepper mixture.
  • Fold in the chickpeas, tomatoes, amchoor powder (or zest of 2 limes) and the poblano chile
  • When nearly all of the liquid has reduced, take the pan off the heat and stir in the lime juice and the minced 1/4 of cilantro. Combine well and serve immediately.

1 comment:

dashcat said...

These garbanzo beans look so good. You should have brought me a sample. You know I love garbanzos :).