Being away from this space for four months has been tough. It’s not that I didn’t want to be here, that I just wandered off without a care. I thought about it a lot, I did! But this here little world of mine was crowded out by a new challenge, a study related one which according to the experts in my life makes me a glutton for punishment.
You see, if I post here, I want to be all here, giving it all I have. This space needs nurturing. It needs balance, the right amount of everything. It is a cocktail, to be balanced with the right dash of spirit, a touch of sweetness and a zip of acidity. It is a curry, spices tempered before the star of the show enters. Cold tomato puree meets sizzling oil and popping cumin seeds. The temperature plunges, then climbs again, liquid spluttering as the fire under the pot catches up. In goes the protein and enough moisture to engulf it, stewing it in heat and flavour. This is when you step back a little, letting the good things happen. Chick peas that are firm to begin with, left to simmer in a sea of flavour, to soften slowly until they are barely holding together. And when they meet a spoon or a tooth? All bets are off.
Those slowly softening chickpeas don’t ask for much. A bath that is voluptuous with flavour. For the sharpness of the chilli to tingle the tip of the tongue, then let others shine before it leaves an impression that accumulates with every bite. That the slightly sour acidity of the tomato sings its song to brighten the palate. That the sweetness of the onion and tomato develops with time, but never becomes more than an undertone. And the salt? It’s the last to join the cacophony, in careful increments, giving all the other elements the power to do what they do best.
The chick peas soften, greedily absorbing spicy, sour, sweet and fragrant. And we wait. We cover, we simmer, we stir. We stir first lovingly, then impatiently. Most importantly, we taste and we tweak and we wait.
Like so many things, the flavour gets better with time. A nice long simmer, yes but if you manage to make a big enough batch to save some for the next day, a type of magic happens overnight in that pot. The kind of magic that makes yesterday’s curry strike an even deeper chord than it did when you first made it. You see, a night together allows all the ingredients to get to know each other, to understand each other’s strengths and limitations, to work out how to interact harmoniously. To wind up so flavourful that you can’t help but “Oh!” when you come back to it a day later.
There are probably a hundred or more minute variations to this classic dish. This is how I like it. Plump, yielding chick peas. A full-bodied sauce. Sliced onions, a little firm and prominent enough to partner the chick peas. And time.
Love, patience and time.
Channa Masala (Chick Pea Curry)
1 1/2 cups dried chick peas, soaked overnight or 2 tins of chickpeas
2 tbsp vegetable, canola or sunflower oil
1 onion, halved then sliced in half-rings
1/2 onion finely diced (you will use the other half in the sauce)
2 tsp Channa Masala
2-3 Bay Leaves
3 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp amchur powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Plain yoghurt (optional)
For the Sauce:
1 medium sized garlic clove, peeled
4cm fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 onion roughly chopped
1 tin tomato, or 4-5 ripe fresh tomatoes, quartered
2 hot green chillies
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
If using soaked dry chick peas, they will need to be soaked overnight. Once soaked, cook them in a pressure cooker or over a stove until they are cooked but still quite firm. If done over the stove, they will take at least 30 minutes. Drain once cooked and set aside. If using tinned chick peas, drain and rinse in cold water.
Lightly toast 1/2 tsp coriander seeds with 1/2 tsp cumin seeds in a pan, until fragrant. Grind these together to a rough powder with a mortar and pestle or electric grinder.
Add to all the other sauce ingredients and 1 cup water in the bowl of your food processer. Pulse a few times until a reasonably smooth consistency is reached.
For the tempering, gently heat the oil in a large saucepan. Do not allow the oil to reach smoking stage, use a moderate heat. Add the 3 tsp of cumin seeds and when they have sizzled for a few seconds, add the cloves and bay leaves. Add the diced onion half. Fry for a few minutes on low-medium heat, taking care not to burn the cumin seeds, until the onion is a little softened. Add the channa masala and chilli powder (for a spicier curry). Fry on low heat for another minute or so.
Add the sauce to the pan. Add about 1/2-1 cup water to the food processor, blitz a few times, then add this water, with the remains of the sauce, to the pan. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes.
Taste and add a little more salt or chilli powder if required. Drain and rinse the chick peas. Add these to the pan, stir and cover. Bring to the boil again and simmer on low-medium heat for about 30 min, stirring intermittently. Cook until the chick peas are softened and just holding together (they should not be allowed to disintegrate). Add the sliced onions, separating the layers with your fingers, a few minutes before the chick peas are at that stage. If the sauce becomes too reduced, add a little water along the way to maintain a gravy consistency.
Taste and ensure the flavour is balanced how you like it. Add a little more salt, chilli powder or amchur if needed. if adding more chilli powder, cook for a few more minutes, stirring intermittently. If you find the curry is too spicy, stir through 1-2 tbsp of plain yoghurt just before turning off the stove. For a vegan option, leave out the yoghurt or use a little coconut cream.
Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with your favourite Indian bread, with raita or plain yoghurt on the side. Like all other curries, this one tastes better the next day.
Dried chick peas, Channa masala and amchur (dried green mango) powder, along with the other spices are available in Indian grocery stores. Channa masala is a spice mix made specifically for this dish.
To speed things up use 1/2 tsp each of cumin powder and coriander powder instead of grinding these from whole seeds. However I steer clear of bottled minced ginger and garlic.