… with Potatoes
I’ve tried about 20 different recipes for chana masala – from friends, bloggers. relatives, cookbooks. I taste this fantastic dish, ask for the recipe, come home, try to duplicate it, and it just will not turn out right.
I’ve tried it with and without tomatoes, with and without onions, garlic, pomegranate seed powder, dried mango powder, readymade chana masala powder, garam masala. Then I gave up and started winging it, adding anything I pleased at the last moment – like J does. He makes good chana masala, but can’t recount the exact proportions of ingredients if you ask him.
It started turning out the way I liked it – spicy but not overly so, tangy but not overly so – the way they serve it at Lovely Sweets in Fremont, California. (They also serve the most silken oil-free parathas.)
Therefore, if you’re planning to follow this recipe, DON’T. Just play around and come up with what you like. The key is the tweaking. Keep tasting it at every stage and adding this or that until you strike the right balance.
I didn’t post this
recipe formula and wasn’t planning to ‘cos there’s no particular version I try to replicate every single time. I simply follow some broad guidelines and experiment. However a friend requested the recipe the last time she visited. This is for you, dear R.
If, like her, you don’t have a ton of strange Indian spices in your pantry, I’ve listed a couple of readymade mixes that would make your life easier. I don’t stock or use store-bought “chana masala powder”, but if this is a dish you would like to make often, go ahead and use it. This recipe can be adapted for a variety of whole beans/lentils.
Our friend Bhavani, who’s a top-notch chef, suggested two things that definitely improved my chana masala.
*** Cook it long and slow. She uses a crock pot and gifted us one. Put the cooked chickpeas with the onion-tomato paste, uncooked chopped potatoes and spices in the crock pot in the morning. Set it on low for 6-8 hours (or high for 3-4 hours). In the evening you’ll return to the aroma of cooked chana masala. You can add the cooked potatoes at this stage or uncooked chopped potatoes in the beginning if you wish. You’ll need to experiment a bit to see what time, setting and amount of liquid you need in the crock pot. The first time you make it, though, try the stove-top method.
*** Instead of the customary souring agents used for chana masala like pomegranate seed (anardana) powder or dry mango (amchur) powder, she uses tamarind. Anardana has a bitter edge and amchur lacks the more balanced sweetish tartness that tamarind imparts. I simply add a dollop of homemade tamarind-date chutney in the end. Store-bought tamarind-date chutney works too, or just grind up some tamarind and dates. In a pinch, use lemon/lime juice and a teeny bit of maple syrup/brown sugar.
CHANA MASALA / CHOLE with Potatoes
1 cup dried white chickpeas (kabuli chana) or 3 cups canned
Soak the chickpeas for 4 to 8 hours in plenty of water, then cook in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop with a pinch of salt until cooked but not mushy. Drain and set aside about a cup of liquid. You’ll get about 3 cups cooked.
If using canned, rinse well and discard all the liquid.
Heat 1 tbsp oil or clarified butter (ghee) in a big pan. Add
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
When the seeds sizzle, add
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1.5 tsp finely chopped ginger
a pinch of salt
Cook on medium heat until the onion softens and starts turning brown at the edges.
Indians add a pinch of asafoetida while cooking beans/lentils to make them more digestible. It’s optional.
1/4 tsp turmeric
between half and 1 tsp cayenne powder
**sold as “chilli powder” in Indian stores. This is for heat – reduce or drop it if you don’t like it hot.
half tsp Kashmiri mild chilli powder (deghi mirch) or mild paprika
**This is for colour.
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsps coriander powder
1/2 tsp kasoori methi (or dried oregano)
a dash of black pepper
cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods powdered in a spice/coffee grinder to total about 1/2 tsp
**or 1/2 tsp garam masala powder
Stir for a minute. In lieu of the last five ingredients, you can add a tablespoon or two of readymade chana masala powder (available in Indian stores in various brands).
3/4 cup chopped tomatoes (or crush 2 whole canned tomatoes plus 2-3 tablespoons juice from the can)
and cook until the spice mix is beginning to dry and get pasty.
Organic Baby Yukon Golds
Meanwhile, wash and cut about 3/4 pound baby potatoes into quarters. I use organic and leave the skins on.
You can either add them uncooked to the onion-tomato mixture with an extra dash of salt and cook until done, or to save some time, half-cook them when the onions are frying.
If you want to add them half-cooked, chop them into quarters and put them in a microwave-safe bowl with 2 tbsp water and steam them covered for 2 minutes on HIGH.
If you want to use mushrooms, saute them with a dash of salt until they dry out a bit and add at this stage. If you want to use spinach or other delicate greens, blanche and add a couple of minutes from the end.
Take about 3 tbsps of the chickpeas and mash them with the back of a spoon. Add the potatoes or mushrooms and chickpeas to the onion-tomato mixture along with the mashed chickpeas and one cup of saved chickpea liquid (or plain water if you used canned chickpeas). Check for salt and seasonings. Cook covered on medium until the potatoes are done.
If using a crock pot
… Add the cooked chickpeas, mashed chickpeas, 1 cup liquid, the raw chopped potatoes, salt, the tomato-onion paste, cover and cook on low (6 to 8 hours) or high for 3 to 4 hours. You may need more water halfway through. Then proceed to the next step.
Something Sour, Something Sweet
Add a tablespoon (or two) of tamarind-date chutney.
You can use store-bought if you wish, or simply blend 1/3 tsp tamarind concentrate (available in a jar at Indian or Thai stores) with a couple of dates and a tablespoon of water.
Else, add a dash of lemon/lime juice and just a hint of maple syrup/brown sugar. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
In the end, garnish with
a chopped hot green chilli (optional)
chopped spring onions
a couple of sprigs of chopped cilantro.
Tastes better after a few hours or the next day.
What if it’s too darn spicy?
It will mellow down as it sits and the chickpeas and potatoes absorb the spices. However, if you’re a wimp (like I am), add more tamarind-date chutney or any of these:
Coconut milk powder
Light coconut milk
CARBFEST: Chana Masala with Potatoes and (coming up next) 100% Whole Wheat Bread.