Friday, July 23, 2010

Masala Channa

I love Indian food, but was always too scared to cook it. So complicated! So exotic! So far beyond the skills and ken of this humble white girl! Then for Christmas I received a big Indian cookbook, broadly titled, "The Best-Ever Curry Cookbook." Most of the recipes seemed uncomplicated, but filled with spices I knew were not available to me at my local American grocery concern.

I left the book alone for a few months, but my curiosity grew. I picked the book back up and read through the recipes in earnest, earmarking a few for trial runs. The huge library of spices I'd thought I needed to amass actually wasn't so big. I chose the 10 or so most common ingredients and went shopping ... at India Sweets and Spices, in Los Feliz.

That place was awesome! I have the most fun going to ethnic grocery stores: it's like a field trip, with so many sights, smells and sounds to take in. (Yes, sounds: my two year-old daughter danced to the Bollywood songs in the aisles, cracking up the girl at the cash register.) I purchased enough spices (whole cumin, coriander, mustard, star anise, and cardamom) and basics (canned coconut milk, garam masala curry paste, and tamarind paste) to last for a while, and got out for around $40. Not too shabby!

This recipe does have quite a few ingredients, but once you make that one trip to the spice market, you're set and can make all the rest of the recipes in the book. The recipe for Masala Channa required a lot of spices ... but the rest of the ingredients were not only readily available at the regular grocery store, they were cheap! This was my kind of food!

Masala Channa (tart and spicy chickpeas) are a street food, according to my book. They are served with flat breads like chapatis and parathas. I made them as a side dish, and they went very well with rice. They are nutty and bold, and are nicely offset by a cool raita. The leftovers? They landed on my plate next to fried eggs and toast and made a delicious, different (and distinctly colonial) breakfast!

I made some changes to the recipe for ease of use - I substituted canned chickpeas for dried, since I didn't want to soak overnight and then cook for another 2 hours before I could even start the recipe; and I replaced tamarind concentrate (in a convenient 4 oz. tub) for the tamarind pulp. The recipe below is from my cookbook, but reflects these changes.

Masala Channa
(Recipe courtesy The Best-Ever Curry Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar)

  • two 14 oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate, diluted with 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated or minced
  • 1 fresh green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (I used canned)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • chopped chilies and chopped onion, to garnish
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok, karahi (an Indian-style wok) or large pan and fry the cumin seeds for 2 minutes until they begin to splutter. Add the chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chili and fry for 5 minutes
2. Add the ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt and fry for another 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tamarind paste. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add the chickpeas and garam masala, cover, and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on how firm you want the chickpeas. Garnish with chilies and onions.

Note: I didn't have any chilies, so my chickpeas were tart and nicely spiced, but not hot. I'm not really a heat-spicy person anyway, but I'm sure you could crank the Scovilles up on this one if you choose.

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