Everyday Indian Food
You know how Cookie Monster is when he says “COOO – KIES”? A little bit possessed by the very idea of them: eyeballs zigzagging in opposite directions, voice gruffer than normal, and even his wild blue Muppet fur is stilled. It’s as though the very thought of Cookies has him intoxicated from the very depths of his soul. He is in a tummy trance.
That’s exactly what a colleague of mine was like just before she (regularly) uttered the words Channa Massala to me. In fact, I think Cookie Monster himself may have been involved in her ‘possession’. She looked at me in the same state: there was a strange silence in the air and stillness in her frame before the words were spoken. I knew they were coming. In a near equally gruff voice she turned to me, eyes wide, hungry and greedy. Then out they came in a Cookie Monster voice: “Channa Massala”. She was a zombie in that moment. But then, maybe she wasn’t so much hypnotised, as trying to hypnotise me?
It worked. I had to invite her around and it had to be the full shebang. She had worked in India and had tasted the real stuff. No quick cheats there or here.
Channa Massala brings back memories for me of special occasions with important guests coming over. It is rich in spice (depth not necessarily heat), and the masala (onion paste and mixed spice blend) has been cooked slowly to release sweet flavours that sing higher spiritual notes, arousing tingles in your soul. If it’s served up it says: “you’re special”.
I can remember my mum would cook this in bulk. The onion and spice masala would take FOREVER to cook out because of the quantity involved. The amount in the recipe below is for a small quantity – if you increase it, just remember it will take time for the onion ginger paste to cook properly.
While Channa Massala reminds me of slow moving Sundays with a pot on the boil in the background, grand Indian weddings, or important dinner guests, in India Channa Massala is also a cornerstone of Indian street food.
On the street the beautiful wonders of Channa Massala are all further jazzed up with a covering of tamarind sauce or lemon to add a little bitterness. Chopped onions, chillies, coriander, and a sprinkle of freshly ground roasted Garam Masala. Served with a bhatura (puffed flat bread) in a plate made from a leaf. Yes, a leaf. (Indians are a resourceful people and wonder what all the fuss about recycling is about – we’ve been doing it for generations!)
I miss India and I’m feeling suddenly very inspired. It’s autumn here in the UK with the gorgious leaves turning into wondrous colours befitting of a glorious dish. This is THE BEST time to be in Delhi and to enjoy the culinary delights of all its dazzling street food. The weather is a perfect 26 degrees or there abouts. So in honour of Delhi’s street food here’s my very own Tummy Trance:
“CHAN – NA MAS- SALLA” served in my very own home made autumn leaf bowl – Indian Street Food stylie.
For every single Indian family there’s a different recipe for this dish. The basic, most fundamental idea is to infuse the chickpeas with the layers of spice. There are many tricks to do this – boiling the whole spices in a bag with the chickpeas as they cook, cooking the whole spices in the hot oil with the onion paste, or ground roasting the spices and adding during and after the cook. But basically, the longer it’s just left, the better the taste. Make it today – this morning, eat it tonight, or even better – savour it tomorrow.
I’m using freshly ground garam massala mix which you can find on my last post, which really makes a difference.
For a small serving for 2-3 people: (Total cook time approx. 45- 60 minutes)
1 cup of dried chickpeas (channa)
4-5 tbs cooking oil (anything you have – vegetable, olive or ghee)
1 medium onion
½ inch piece fresh ginger
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 ¼ tsp salt (to taste)
1 fresh green chilli chopped (to taste)
¾ tsp garam massala (to taste)
¾ amchoor powder (dried mango powder)
¼ tsp haldi (turmeric powder)
1 tsp paprika powder
1 tsp dunia powder (coriander powder)
1 tsp tomato puree
1 fresh tomato finely blended (if you don’t have a tomato, increase the puree to 1 tbs).
You do this:
1. Sift and wash chickpeas: make sure there are no chickpeas with holes, or that there any stones in the mix. Wash chickpeas thoroughly.
2. Soak your chickpeas in 5- 6 cups of cold water, overnight if you can. They will swell to double in size. You need to soak them for at least 4-5 hours. If you add them to boiled water you can get soaking time down to 3-4 hours. Soak them in the pan you will be cooking in.
3. Keep the water the chickpeas have been soaked in. The water always needs to be 1 inch above the swollen chickpeas throughout the cooking process. If you need to top up, do so now with hot water, and keep it topped up throughout the cooking process. Cook for around 45 minutes until the chickpeas are tender and soft.
Do this on a medium heat, in a pan with a lid.
4. While the chickpeas are cooking you can get on with the massala. Blend onion and fresh ginger to a paste in an electric mixer. If you do not have one you can chop very finely, or go all traditional and blend in a pestle and mortar.
5. Heat oil in a pan or wok, and add the cumin seeds. Let the pop and crack and enjoy the aroma.
6. Add the onion ginger paste as soon as the cumin seeds have browned. For this small amount of paste, cook for around 10 minutes on a slow – medium heat, with the lid on the pan.
The steam generated will ‘slow cook’ the onions.
The onions need to turn a golden colour brown.
You know when the paste is cooked when the oil is released or ‘separated’ from the onion mix. (There will be a tiny edge of oil around the paste).
7. Add all of the spices and salt apart from the amchoor, and ½ the quantity of the garam masala, and half the quantity of chopped green chilli. Allow to cook on a medium heat without the lid on the pan for 3-4 minutes. Add a little water if it sticks to the pan.
8. Add the tomato paste and chopped tomato and cook for 3-4 minutes.
9. Once chickpeas have cooked, drain them, keeping the cooking water to one side. Add the tender chickpeas to the massala. Adding a little of the cooking water at a time – depending on how runny or soupy you want the final mix. Allow the channa to cook for 5 minutes.
10. After 5 minutes, add the amchoor powder and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
11. Garnish with the remainder of the garam masala and chopped chilli.
12. Any remainder left over water, you can allow to cool and store in the fridge, using it to thin out the channa massala in the following days (if you’ve cooked a large amount).
NB: Some Channa Massala dishes have a “black tone” while others look redder. This is because traditionally the chickpeas are cooked in an iron skillet which darkens them. If you prefer the blackened colour, one trick is to add a tea bag (make sure it’s a bag!) to the chickpeas when they are boiling.
Enjoy the tummy trance!
Here’s the leaf bowl from the inside – I lined it with grease proof paper before adding the Channa Massala!
Was really easy to make – honest! I think I had around 8 leaves laid out on a table to form a kind-of-circle.
I pinned these together with extra leaf stems to secure.
Then I gathered it up and pinned it some more. I lined it with cooking paper before adding the Channa Massala.