This one is for a take on a classic Bengali dish called ghugni. Ghugni is one of those rare dishes that is both a popular street food and made at home. It can be found year round but is often made in homes on the last day of Durga Pujo—the week-long celebration that is the Bengali religious/cultural festival (imagine Christmas, Thanksgiving, the 4th of July, the Oscars and the Super Bowl all rolled into one but communal, public, louder and with more food). It’s most traditionally made with dried yellow or white peas but it’s not unusual to see it made with kala/desi/black chana/chickpeas as well. Here I make it with garbanzo beans. This has always been a popular dish with everyone I’ve made it for and it’s supremely adaptable.
As with almost all my bean cooking I don’t really bother with anything but Rancho Gordo’s garbanzo beans (disclosure: Rancho Gordo proprietor Steve Sando is a pal). They cook implausibly fast, are incredibly sweet and the pot liquor is great.
A quick note on pronunciation: the “u” sound in “ghugni” is somewhere between the long “oo” of “too” and the short “u” of “pull”; and say the “ni” as the knights who say “ni” did.
Let’s get to it.
- One packet Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans (1 lb), rinsed and soaked overnight.
- 4-5 small round potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
- Whole spices: 1 large cassia leaf, 1 large piece of cinnamon/cassia bark, 4-5 small green cardamom pods, 3-4 cloves, 1 tablespoon cumin seeds.
- 1 medium red onion and 1 large knob ginger (about 1 tblspn or so) ground into a paste.
- Spices ground to a coarse powder: 2-3 dried red chillies, 1/2 tspn coriander seeds, 1/2 tspn cumin seeds, a pinch of black/dark brown mustard seeds, a pinch of black peppercorns, 1 tspn turmeric.
- 1 large tomato, pureed.
- 1 large lump of tamarind pulp, soaked in enough warm water and squeezed by hand to make a thick paste.
- Sugar: 1 pinch.
- Salt to taste.
- Vegetable oil.
- For garnish: 1-2 green thai chillies, 2 tblpns red onion, 2 tblspns cilantro, all chopped fine.
Preparation (see illustrated guide below)
- Add enough water to cover the soaked garbanzos by 2-3 inches, bring to a boil for five minutes, then reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook till almost done. With this last bag of Rancho Gordo garbanzos, I reached this point in about 40 minutes, I kid you not. Let the garbanzos continue to simmer gently as you proceed with everything else.
- Heat some oil in a large pan and fry the potatoes till about halfway cooked. Drain and set aside.
- Heat up some more oil and splutter the whole spices over medium heat till the cumin seeds split. Don’t let the spices scorch.
- Add the onion-ginger paste and fry over medium heat till the raw onion smell is completely gone.
- Add the ground spices and fry over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring all the while.
- Add the tomatoes and salt and sugar and cook down till the tomato has completely decomposed (“there must shurely be a better word”, ed.).
- Add the thick tamarind paste and mix in.
- Add this thick sludge to the pot with the simmering garbanzo beans, raise the heat to medium and stir everything in.
- Add the fried potatoes to the pot and cook on a brisk simmer till the potatoes are fully done.
- Garnish and serve with rice or parathas or in a bowl as a standalone dish.
- As always you can adjust the proportions and quantities of spices up or down to your liking. Ditto for the tomatoes and tamarind.
- As always, when cooking with onion paste make sure to fry it well without scorching it.
- Resist the temptation to purchase a little jar of tamarind concentrate: that stuff is vile. If you can’t get fresh tamarind pods get a large block of tamarind pulp from an Asian store—the stuff will keep for months and months in your fridge. Don’t use too much water to soak the tamarind and make the paste. And when you pulp the soaked tamarind use your hands and be careful to remove the seeds and hulls. They’re not going to harm anyone but it’s not fun to bite into a thick tamarind seed or have a hull caught in your teeth.
- I like my ghugni fairly thick, but as long as it’s not watery feel free to vary the consistency.
- This makes enough for 8 servings; maybe more if you’re serving it with a lot of other dishes.