Ghugni: Chickpeas in a Bengali Style

Ghugni
Following my “Indian Home Cooking Week“, just a one-off recipe this week. [And see here for the second edition of “Indian Home Cooking Week”; and here for all my cooking posts so far.]

This one is for a take on a classic Bengali dish with chickpeas/garbanzo beans 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). 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.

Ingredients

  1. One packet Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans (1 lb), rinsed and soaked overnight.
  2. 4-5 small round potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
  3. 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.
  4. 1 medium red onion and 1 large knob ginger (about 1 tblspn or so) ground into a paste.
  5. 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.
  6. 1 large tomato, pureed.
  7. 1 large lump of tamarind pulp, soaked in enough warm water and squeezed by hand to make a thick paste.
  8. Sugar: 1 pinch.
  9. Salt to taste.
  10. Vegetable oil.
  11. For garnish: 1-2 green thai chillies, 2 tblpns red onion, 2 tblspns cilantro, all chopped fine.

Preparation (see illustrated guide below)

  1. 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.
  2. Heat some oil in a large pan and fry the potatoes till about halfway cooked. Drain and set aside.
  3. Heat up some more oil and splutter the whole spices over medium heat till the cumin seeds split. Don’t let the spices scorch.
  4. Add the onion-ginger paste and fry over medium heat till the raw onion smell is completely gone.
  5. Add the ground spices and fry over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring all the while.
  6. Add the tomatoes and salt and sugar and cook down till the tomato has completely decomposed (“there must shurely be a better word”, ed.).
  7. Add the thick tamarind paste and mix in.
  8. Add this thick sludge to the pot with the simmering garbanzo beans, raise the heat to medium and stir everything in.
  9. Add the fried potatoes to the pot and cook on a brisk simmer till the potatoes are fully done.
  10. Garnish and serve with rice or parathas or in a bowl as a standalone dish.

Illustrated Guide

Notes

  1. As always you can adjust the proportions and quantities of spices up or down to your liking. Ditto for the tomatoes and tamarind.
  2. As always, when cooking with onion paste make sure to fry it well without scorching it.
  3. 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.
  4. I like my ghugni fairly thick, but as long as it’s not watery feel free to vary the consistency.
  5. This makes enough for 8 servings; maybe more if you’re serving it with a lot of other dishes.

Enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Ghugni: Chickpeas in a Bengali Style

  1. I found out about your Ghugni recipe through the Rancho Gordo newsletter (HUGE bean and Gordo fan). I made it a few weeks ago, and have chickpeas soaking for a second batch. I loved the complexity of flavors (especially surprising given how bland it looks), if not the complexity of the recipe. But, it was a good brain exercise and I got to use my spice grinder. I was unable to find Cassia leaf. I went to 3 specialty food markets (one, a HUGE international market – Talin, another an Indian only market). I was unable to find the leaf, or even anyone who knew what it was. The Indian market looked at me perplexed – I even showed them the recipe. SO, the question is, does Cassia leaf come by any other name? Is it dried, or fresh? Where might I find it? and, if I can’t is there a suggested replacement – or shall I just leave it be?

    Thanks for the great recipe and any Cassia leaf wisdom you can impart.

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  2. I should add that you can simplify the recipe a bit by using finely chopped onions instead of the onion paste. The consistency will be a little different but it won’t be a huge problem for the final dish.

    And yes, Steve (Sando of Rancho Gordo) always tells me that my recipes are too complicated (he can’t fit the recipe itself into his newsletter). I guess because this is just normal cooking to me, and I have all the ingredients lying around the kitchen, it doesn’t seem particularly complex to me.

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  3. Checked out Surly Brewing last weekend, and they have a Chaat appetizer which appeared to basically be a chana dal recipe, deep red, fairly thick. They served a small dipping bowl of it along with tortilla chips! (which surprisingly, wasn’t bad).

    I am going to use your recipe as a starting off point – was glad to find you had one out there.
    Joe

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