Chana Masala is a healthy, vegetarian main course that is satisfying and full of spices.
Now that my oldest son is off to college, dinners have been a lot different around our house. You see, my other boys have a more diverse palate. They like trying different ethnic cuisines, like Indian, Jamaican, and Thai, and don’t mind vegetarian meals. In fact, they love rice and beans and have requested that I make it for dinner at least once a week. Chana Masala or Chick Pea Masala is a vegetarian bean dish I had never made before, but I had a feeling my boys would like it – they like Indian food a lot.
I used to be intimidated by the thought of cooking Indian food, and would only eat it when I went out to a restaurant. The spice combinations seemed so exotic, and I was sure it would be too complicated to make at home. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to take a few Indian cooking classes from a local Indian woman several years ago, who introduced the spices most common in Indian recipes – cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ground coriander, cardamon pods, cloves, garam masala, cinnamon sticks, turmeric, cayenne, and curry leaves in addition to onions, garlic, ginger and cilantro. She had a little round tin with individual containers holding all her dried Indian spices.
After recreating the dishes from these cooking classes at home, I went on to expand my Indian cooking repertoire, buying a few Indian cookbooks and shopping at local Indian supermarkets. I used to wander up and down the aisles looking at all the strange ingredients in the Indian market, not knowing what was what. Now, I can peruse the aisles at the new mega Indian supermarket nearby without looking completely clueless.
Indian cuisine provides a whole host of possibilities for vegetarians, using all different types of lentils, and in this case, chickpeas. I never knew there were so many different kinds of lentils. The trick to this Chana Masala dish is the deep rich flavor you get from sauteing the onions slowly until they are a deep brown color and have some crispy brown bits around their edges.
Then garlic and ginger puree are added, along with Indian curry spices – cumin, coriander, garam masala, cardamon, cayenne, and cilantro.
I happened to have a bag of dried chickpeas in my pantry so I cooked my own chickpeas instead of using canned. It’s super easy – simply soak the chickpeas in water overnight; then, cook in a pot with water to cover for about 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender. To go along with this Chana Masala, I made Cumin Scented Brown Rice, and Broccoli with Toasted Garlic, a satisfying meatless meal.
This week, a group of bloggers is celebrating Molly Wizenberg, one of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. Molly is the voice behind Orangette, a blog circa 2004. She writes conversationally, in a natural and casual fashion, as if she’s sitting across the table from you having a cup of coffee. Molly says the foods she writes about and photographs help her understand who she is and where she came from. “It’s a way of making sense of the world.” The senior editor of Simon & Shuster says, “She is artful. She looks at everyday life and she sees something that other people don’t see, and she is able to translate that into words — which is not easy. It’s a gift.”
This recipe is one that Molly’s husband, Brandon, makes. I can just picture Molly standing over Brandon’s shoulder with pen and paper in hand, scribbling down the recipe. A fun tidbit about Molly and Brandon…Molly actually met Brandon through her blog when he emailed her, inspired by her French Lemon Yogurt Cake post…you never know what a blog will land you…a cookbook, a TV show, or in Molly’s case, a husband.
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 3 cardamom pods lightly crushed
- 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
- 1 tablespoon cilantro leaves roughly torn, plus more for garnish
- A pinch of cayenne or to taste
- 30 ounces cooked chickpeas drained, rinsed, and drained again
- 6-8 tablespoons plain whole-milk yogurt optional
- A few lemon wedges optional
Film the bottom of a large saucepan or Dutch oven and place the pan over medium heat.
- Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until it is deeply caramelized and even charred in some spots. Be patient. The more color, the more full-flavored the final dish will be.
- Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic, stirring, and add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry.
- Add the cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, garam masala, and cardamom pods, and fry them, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasty, about 30 seconds. Add ¼ cup water, and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water has evaporated away completely.
- Pour in the juice from can of tomatoes, followed by the tomatoes themselves, using your hands to break them apart as you add them; alternatively, add them whole and crush them in the pot with a potato masher. Add the salt.
- Raise the heat to medium, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the cilantro and cayenne, and simmer the sauce gently, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and begins to thicken. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
- Add the chickpeas, stirring well, and cook over low heat for about five minutes. Add 2 Tbs water, and cook for another five minutes. Add another 2 Tbs water, and cook until the water is absorbed, a few minutes more. This process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce’s flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
- Stir in the yogurt, if you like, or garnish with lemon wedges and cilantro. Serve.