What’s a-Masala with You?

30 Apr

Well, now that we’ve officially established that my pun-circuits aren’t working.

I apologize for my lonngggg absence.  There’s lots of stuff going on with me right now and I’m trying to keep up with it.  In order to maximize schedule ease, I’m planning to update with new recipes Mondays and Wednesdays, possibly Fridays.  I’ll try.  But homework, you see, and moving.  So, we’ll see how it goes.

In any event, I return to you from a request: chana masala!  This is an exciting day for me, because I love, love chana masala, and how relatively easy it is to make.  And it makes a TON.  I made double the recipe I’m about to post, and ate it with some basmati rice for lunch all week.

Chana masala. Not my most recent vintage, but an excellent approximation of what yours should look like.

You can even plate it easily!  I’m not a great food photographer (I’m improving slowly!) but just piling rice on a plate with beans on top and a spring of either parsley or cilantro, depending on which way your tastes swing, is a totally acceptable and actually rather attractive way to get your food on the plate, that last way-station on a garbanzo bean’s long but inevitable journey into my stomach.  (Yes, all garbanzo beans.  I love garbanzo beans!)

Total time is about an hour, but only about thirty minutes’ worth of actual work, and worth it, especially to not make lunch for the next day.

Recipe after the cut!

Since everyone pretty much has their chana masala, from Manjula’s Kitchen to the PPK, I am just going to go ahead and post without credit, though I pattern my chana-masala-journey after Isa-Chandra Moskowitz’s, since I think it is one of the more ingredients-you’ve-never-heard-of-free versions I’ve come across.

This is one of the great things about chana masala–for the most part, it is very pantry-friendly, especially if you’re the type who likes to keep an armada of chickpeas in the pantry.  However, there are two moderately unusual items that I really suggest you get–even if you’re not sure you’ll use them again–because they make a serious, material difference to the dish (in my opinion.)  I won’t lie, this isn’t the strictest, most-traditional version, but I maintain that while your chana masala will be good without this dynamic duo, it will be much, much better with.

Here is a subpar picture of those items:

The thought occurred to offer a picture, and a cell phone is way quicker, so here is your informative but aesthetically revolting picture of ingredients.

1. Coconut oil.  Once upon a time, coconut oil was partially hydrogenated and used to pop movie popcorn, and because hydrogenation produces trans fats, it became the bogey du jour of fats.  However, hydrogenation is not an essential part of the coconut oil production process!  Unrefined, virgin coconut oil is trans-fat free.  It is high in saturated fats, but, per the American Dietetic Association in a New York Times article about the subject, “Different types of saturated fats behave differently.”  The saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is a medium-chain fatty acid.  I won’t go into the organic chemistry stuff about fatty acids, but lauric acid, though it increases both high- and low-density-lipoprotein (HDL and LDL, your “good” and “bad” cholesterol, respectively) won’t upset the balance between the two.  Long story short, a little coconut oil (despite its saturated fat content) won’t kill you, even if you are particularly watching saturated fats.  However, it will make a difference between a pretty-good and restaurant-quality chana masala.  Some claims exist that coconut oil is a health food, but experts (and I) are skeptical, and you probably should be, too.  For more about coconut oil, and the source for my claims, check out this New York Times article on the subject, even though they haven’t especially endeared themselves to me as of late by having a food blogger write about the health merits of vegan pregnancy.

get out

no seriously, get out

(For an article about vegan pregnancy by a qualified person, check out this article on The Vegan RD, written by, um, well, a vegan registered dietitian.)

2. Tamarind paste. Tamarinds are a fruit pod used by a wide variety of cultures in both sweet and savory dishes.  Here, it’s like squeezing a lemon into your piccata–in fact, that’s exactly how it’s used.  Lime juice is sometimes substituted, but the sweet-and-sour tang of tamarind is not easily matched, in my opinion.

Tamarind paste is about $5 for a jar that will last you quite some time, and a store-brand coconut oil, virgin/unrefined, shouldn’t run you more than a standard bottle of not-canola-oil ($10-$15, depending on your location, I assume.)  You’ll like it.  You’ll find other uses for them.  Come to the dark side, and hoard ingredients with me!

Further ingredient notes: Some people prefer to cook with freshly-made dried chickpeas for this dish, and fresh tomato is pretty much supposed to be the way to go.  However, I don’t personally have the planning skills to know I’m making chana masala and buy 1.5 pounds of fresh tomatoes (ours aren’t ripe yet) or sit around all day reconstituting dried beans.  Canned diced/crushed tomatoes and canned chickpeas are fine, and (having had a few different chana masalas) will affect the final product much, much less than using coconut oil and tamarind paste substitutions.

Finally, the recipe!  I made the “Serves 10” size I found on the Post-Punk Kitchen, because I really wanted to have leftovers for the week, but you can halve this recipe if you like.

I’ve adjusted the spice blend to be less-spicy, but I’ll include some suggestions for heat augmentation.  I’ve also included the blend as ratios, so you can make as much or as little as you want.  If you let “part” represent “teaspoon,” you’ll have enough for this recipe.

Make the spice blend first!  Right now, before doing anything else for the recipe once you’re ready to cook.

Chana Masala Spice
4 parts ground cumin
4 parts ground coriander
1 parts turmeric (personally, I like to go light on the turmeric)
1/2 part chopped fennel seeds (Hint: Chopping fennel seeds can get messy.  Put them in a plastic bag and crush them up!  Empty the bag out when you’re done and chop them a little more finely.)
1/2 part ground cardamom
1/4 part ground cinnamon (I like to add a little more)
*Optional: 1/4 part ground fenugreek, if you have it and want to try it out
1/8 part ground cloves (realistically, just a dash or two)
1/8 part ground nutmeg
*Optional: 1/4 part cayenne powder (I like to add a few dashes of paprika here, and saute with chili flakes later, for a small amount of heat, but we’ll get to that)
*IF you don’t have any fresh ginger, for some reason, even though it’s good in almost everything, add a light 3 parts of ground ginger to this blend.

Note: You can toast this briefly if you wish (you don’t have to), but be sure to keep it short, since you’re toasting powders and not whole spices, because I–and you–probably don’t always want to precede making dinner by chopping, toasting, and grinding cardamom pods and whatnot.

Reserve and start the rest of the dish.

Actual Chana Masala
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 medium-large onion, diced finely (I use yellow, but red would probably be good here)
5-7 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1″ square of ginger root, peeled and minced
*Optional: 2 green chilis or de-seeded jalapenos (from Moskowitz’s take), sliced thinly (Replace with a sprinkling of chili flakes, probably about 2 teaspoons, if you cook for someone who doesn’t like a ton of heat–but let your knowledge of your audience’s palate be your guide to what you add.  You might only want a quarter of that.  That’s fine.)
A handful of fresh chopped cilantro or parsley, if you have it (if you don’t, don’t sweat, just add a little dried.  I was fresh-herb-less last time I made this and it was fine.  Parsley isn’t technically the right herb for this dish, but some people )
1 28-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes and one 14-ounce can, or 3 pounds fresh
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas (drained and rinsed) or 3 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (from dried)
about 1 teaspoon of agave syrup, brown rice syrup, or plain old sugar
about 1 teaspoon tamarind paste

Start by heating the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat and chopping the onion.  Once the coconut oil is melted, add the onions and let them cook for ten minutes while you chop the other vegetables and prepare everything else in your mise en place, and by that, I mean figuring out which drawer the can opener is in this time.  Once the onion is cooked, this dish comes together to its simmering point pretty quickly, so you want to have stuff ready to go.

Add the garlic and ginger once your ten minutes is up, as well as the sliced jalapeno/chili if using, or the red chili flakes if not.  Saute for about 30 seconds if using the jalapeno/chili; if not, you have more time, about a minute or two.  Add the chopped herbs and wilt, or just add the spice blend and some dried parsley/cilantro and toss to coat your aromatics, cooking for about a minute.

Pour in the tomatoes and deglaze, stirring well.  Add salt, pepper, sweetener, and the chickpeas.  Stir to mix well, and bring the heat to a medium-high simmer, then cover the pot, letting the tomatoes break down for about ten minutes.  (Word to the wise: now is a great time to start prepping white rice on a back burner.)Uncover, bring the heat down to a simmer, and let cook for another twenty minutes or so.  Turn off the heat and add the tamarind paste a little at a time; now is a good time to taste and start the “a bit of this and that” routine.  You can let the flavors meld for ten minutes (if you didn’t start the rice, you can probably let it get away with resting for fifteen minutes), or serve right away if you’re ready.

Hang on to those leftovers and enjoy!

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