Chana Masala


This is a dish prepared in two ways that are unusual for me. First, it uses non-Rancho Gordo chickpeas. That is because this uses kala chana or black chickpeas (though in practice they’re usually a dark brown). These smaller, darker chickpeas have been eaten in India much longer than the relatively recently arrived garbanzo bean or Kabuli chana—which name likely refers to its direction of entry. Kala chana has an earthier flavour and denser texture than Kabuli chanaa and maintains its shape as it cooks. Rancho Gordo does not currently sell kala chana (though I have heard a rumour this may change in the near future). It is, however, easily found in South Asian groceries and also on Amazon. Non-Rancho Gordo beans means a longer stovetop cooking time but if you use a pressure cooker—as I do—this is not an issue.

The second difference is that I have made it with a readymade chana masala powder. In Delhi and Punjab—and doubtless other parts of India as well—it is quite common for spice shops to sell proprietary blends and I’ve been working through a large packet a friend got me from a store called Sardar Ji Di Hatti in Amritsar. You can use a good commercial chana masala powder (as most Indian cooks do); you can also grind your own mix as indicated below.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of kala chana, soaked overnight or at least 8 hours
  • The following whole garam masala: a large piece of cinnamon, 4-5 cloves, 5-6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tblspn grated ginger
  • 1/2 tblspn grated garlic
  • 1.5 tblspns chana masala powder of choice or grind the following together to a coarse powder: 2 tspn cumin seeds, 1 tspn coriander seeds, 1/2 tspn ginger powder, 1/4 tspn black peppercorns, 1/4 tspn mustard seeds, 1/4 tspn fenugreek, 1/4 tspn amchur,
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn red chilli powder
  • 1 tblspn or so of block tamarind, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water and then squeezed and strained to extract a thick solution.
  • 3-4 Thai chillies, slit lengthwise
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • 6 cups water
  • For garnish: two tblspns finely chopped red onion, two tblspns chopped cilantro, 1 seeded and minced Thai chilli.

Preparation

  1. Drain the soaked chana, place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover by a few inches, bring to a boil for 10 minutes and then lower to a simmer, cover and cook till almost done (add more water as you go if necessary). If using an old-school Indian pressure cooker, cook over medium heat with 6 cups of water for 4-5 whistles. Drain 1 cup of the cooked chana, puree coarsely and return to the pot.
  2. While the chana is cooking, prepare the masala as follows:
  3. Heat oil in a large karhai or wok over medium heat and add the whole garam masala.
  4. As soon as the whole masalas become fragrant add the onions and stir-fry for 5 minutes or so till beginning to brown around the edges.
  5. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or so.
  6. Add the chana masala powder, the turmeric and the chilli powder, mix thoroughly and saute for another minute or two.
  7. Add the tamarind and salt and cook down till the oil begins to separate.
  8. Add the slit green chillies and saute for another minute.
  9. Add the contents of the karhai to the saucepan with the cooked chickpeas. Mix in thoroughly, bring to a high simmer, cover and cook till the chickpeas are completely done. You can add more water if needed at this stage but the final consistency of the gravy should not be thin.
  10. Garnish with the chopped onions, cilantro and chilli and serve with steamed rice, rotis or puris; or just eat out of a bowl.

Notes

  1. You can reduce the amount of red chilli powder if you like but don’t reduce the amount of chana masala powder. This is intended to be a robustly spiced/masaledar dish; the earthy kala chana matches particularly well with this treatment.
  2. You could use tomatoes instead of tamarind as your souring agent but the taste of the final dish will be quite different.
  3. If you do use tamarind you’ll find the dish tastes a lot better on the second day as it “pickles” as it sits.
  4. You could also make the masala first, add the soaked chana and water and cook it all down together (or in the pressure cooker). Just make sure to do the pureeing step at the end to intensify the flavour and texture of the dish.
  5. If you substitute garbanzos for the kala chana I’d suggest scaling the chana masala powder down to 1 tblspn.

 

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