Saturday, December 27, 2014

Channa Masala

And so Christmas is over. We rewind the clock and count down until Christmas next year. It also means, we have another little party (New Years Eve) that officially starts the clock anew, with a new year, longer days, and the general upswing towards summer. We can sit back, relax and we are on our way, to the bright, sunny, warm long days (besides in Florida, where people are probably counting down the pleasant weather days). It is also the time when smart shopping happens because the stores want to sell the remaining winter gear and room needs to be made for the spring clothes.

It feels like renewal, shedding a skin, on all fronts. The darkest days (of the year) have passed, families have joyfully convened and it is time to move on and get back to business. In a little while, at least. Let’s regroup, and sort things out, check the presents, and fold the wrapping paper.

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(Xmas 2013 with ice storm)

We had a record-breaking mild Christmas in Maine this year, with some of the mildest temperatures in the entire US. It will last until Sunday, and then, eventually the inevitable will happen, cold and snow and winterwonderland.

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(Xmas 2014 with temperatures in the mid 50s)

The other day I perused the international frozen food section at Trader Joes, and picked up a package of Channa Masala. I am not sure if the flavors are authentic Indian, but you would assume that Trader Joes puts some effort in it, however, it tastes marvelous. I was on a mission to replicate the dish, first inspecting the ingredients lists on the package and taking it from there.

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Often, Indian dishes are convoluted with spices and if you don’t know you are doing it is difficult to find out which should really be the flavor notes of a particular dish. I decided: Simpler is better. Like a piece of music, there is the main melody, and the background notes. In Chana Massala, the main flavors are supposed to be tangy, aromatic flavorful, and not too spicy. Therefore, I chose turmeric and dried mango powder as the main spices. As a base Indian melody, there are fresh curry leaves and black mustard seeds sauted in hot ghee, and a tad of garam masala. For the aromatic flavorful I added star anise, cardamon and cinnamon. To round it out I added  bay leaves and a bit of maple syrup, which are likely not authentic Indian. – Love this dish, whether it is authentic or inspired Indian.

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(Note: I make this dish with dried, un-soaked chickpeas. The cooking time is about 3-4h on very low in a cast iron pot. You can make it with cooked chickpeas or chickpeas from a can, of course).

Channa Masala (makes 2 large, or 4 side servings)

  • 1 teaspoon ghee
  • about 10-12 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 TB black mustard seeds
  • 3 green cardamom pods, whole
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 TB garam masala
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas (or 2 cans cooked chickpeas)
  • 2 teaspoons dried ground mango powder (amchur)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 10 fresh cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth (if you are using dried chickpeas) --- no broth if you used cooked chickpeas.
  • 1 TB maple syrup (or agave nectar)
  • 1 teaspoon dried vegetable bouillon powder (in lieu of salt)

In a heavy bottomed, cast iron pot, melt the ghee and add the curry leaves, black mustard seeds, cardamom, and star anise. Cover pot 3/4 with a lid (not fully, but don’t leave it open because the black mustard seeds like ‘pop’ like popcorn and pop all over your stove). Heating the spices like that in hot butter makes them fragrant, so it is an essential step before adding any other ingredients. Keep the heat at medium high, and listen until the mustard seeds seem to pop.

Reduce the heat slightly, add the onion and saute until translucent (1-2 min).

Now, add the chickpeas, remaining spices, broth (if you use dried chickpeas), and tomatoes. Stir, first bring to a simmer, and then significantly reduce the heat and cover with the lid. Let simmer with a tightly fitting lid, for about 3-4h, checking occasionally for sufficient liquid and softness of the chickpeas. The dish is done cooking once the chickpeas’ texture is soft enough for your liking (if using cooked chickpeas, simmer of medium low for 30min for the flavors to combine).

Now, add the maple syrup, the bouillon powder and remove the bay leaves, cardamom and star anise. –कृपया भोजन का आनंद लीजिये !

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