Sunday, May 11, 2008

Channa (Indian chickpea curry)

Last month when we went to Boston, my friend D and I cooked together a couple of times, something we don't get to do nearly often enough, you know, because she lives in Boston and I live here. It's something we do well together - despite the smallness of her kitchen we coexisted harmoniously and drank cocktails while we worked, me chopping onions or peppers and her stirring, or putting spice mixes together; me with my hands in a bowlful of apple crisp topping (I swear it's the very best way to mix it) or toasting pecans (and forgetting them, oops) and concocting vinaigrette in a coffee mug. It was relaxing and easy and pretty much blissful.

This chickpea curry is something she made for me a million years ago, the first summer she stayed in Ottawa instead of going off home or working in Toronto. During the school year, she lived in residence halls with no kitchen, so we always cooked at my house. This time, it was her kitchen and her rules, and she whipped up this curry for Chris and I and our friends K and N one night like it was something she'd been doing since childhood. I'd rarely seen D cook, so it was new to me, and delicious to boot! So when we needed a protein dish to accompany the tamarind rice she made for us last month, I requested this, and she was happy to oblige me.

Hers was better than mine, honestly - I followed the recipe closely, though I did have to fake the garam masala a little since I was out (I just threw in a pinch each of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) - but hers had that feel of something she really knew well and adjusted without even thinking, to suit her tastes. I'll get there, eventually, but it was still quite edible and yummy. I think, mostly, what was missing was D and her husband. Food eaten with good friends simply tastes better. So if you try this recipe, eat it with people you love. That might help.

Bonus recipe: cucumber raita, to tame the heat of the curry if you go full-force on the chili powder and put in the extra green chili. It's the easiest thing ever and so fresh and yummy.


Vegetable oil - 1 tbsp
3 cans of chickpeas (rinsed and drained
1 -2 cups water
1 medium onion, diced
Cumin seeds, large pinch
garlic (2 cloves minced)
ginger (1 teaspoon minced)
Green chili (1 -2, deseeded and chopped finely)
Ground Turmeric - 1/2 tsp
Ground coriander - 1 tablespoon
Chili powder - 1/2 tsp (or more to make spicier)
Ground cumin - 1 tsp
Garam Masala - 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Bay leaves (2-3)
lemon juice - 2 tbsp
fresh coriander chopped (1/2 cup)

1. Heat oil in pot. Add cumin seeds and wait till they sputter - 1 min. Add onions and cook until brown (15-20 mins) on med-hi heat
2. Add green chilis, garlic, ginger when onions are almost brown.
3. Combine all ground spices including bay leaves in a separate bowl and add to the pot. Stir on med heat for 1-2 mins.
4. Add chick peas and 1 cup of water and lemon juice. (water should slighlty cover chick peas - add more water if necessary)
5. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer uncovered for 20 mins until most of the water is evaporated.
6. Take half of the contents of pot and transfer to blender. Blend into paste and add back to pot. The curry should be thick with some whole chick peas. Simmer on low heat for 7-10 mins.
7. Check for salt and spice. Add more lemon juice if too spicy.
8. Serve with fresh coriander on top with some raita and rice or naan.

Cucumber raita

1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup seeded, finely chopped English cucumber
pinch cumin

Stir all ingredients together and refrigerate 1/2 hour to let flavours meld. Serve with spicy curries.

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