Monday, 14 April 2008

Indulging in India 1: Punjabi chhole (Spicy Punjabi chickpeas)

I suddenly had a taste for Indian last week, but since the weekly menu is decided on Saturdays, it had to wait till the weekend to act on the urge. In the meantime, I replied to an ad from someone offering to teach me Indian cooking, and also received some good pointers on Indian food from someone who has been kind enough to leave comments here a couple of times. P has real insider knowledge of the subject, from cooking Indian for her family all these year; she also tells me she went so far as to teach herself Tamil. Now that is dedication of a higher order. Way to go!

Anyway, I was raring to go with Indian come Saturday, but unfortunately slacked off a bit during the day and hadn't done the weekly grocery shopping. Step in The Indian Kitchen (the link is to the new edition) by Monisha Bharadwaj, an information-packed, fascinating and hunger-inducing tour of the Indian store cupboard, spice tray and harvest basket, with chapters on each individual ingredient that include showcase recipes. It's one of those books you want to read as much as to cook from. As for me, it will save me the ignominy of not knowing my channa dhal from my urad dhal, which is not a good look in a purported foodie, I can tell you (g).

As it happens I had everything I needed for this recipe without going shopping, so this recipe looked like a good place to start.

Now, I couldn't begin to advise on the pronunciation of "chhole", but I can tell you that this recipe is definitely a keeper. In simple terms, it is nothing more than chickpeas in rich and fragrant tomato gravy. But oh the taste! And even if you don't put the chillies in (as I did; I did want the YM to eat some, after all (g)), you will still end up with a delight, and you can always add some chilli powder at the table. Then again, if you want no heat at all (we know some of that type, don't we, Saffron-Mama (g)), you might want to watch the garam masala, which can sometimes have quite a bite.

The two ingredients that normal people without spice fetishes may not have on hand are amchur (dried mango powder) and anardana (dried pomegranate seeds). Actually I didn't have the latter, either, so substituted pom molasses . Both the amchur and anardana serve to sharpen the flavour, so at a pinch you could probably just add some lime or lemon juice to taste. I won't tell, if you don't (g).

(On the subject of pomegranates, I'm fascinated by the similarity of the name in different languages: Nar (Persian), anar (Turkish), and now anardana (mystery Indian language). What's the bet that the fruit is "anar" and "dana" means seeds?? Completely by coincidence, "anar" also appears backwards in our own English word, whose etymology is pome and granate ("many-seeded pome"). )

But enough of that, already! On with the cooking.

Punjabi chhole: Spicy Punjabi chickpeas

300 g white chickpeas [S: India also has black ones, hence the specification], soaked in plenty of water
6 tbsp sunflower oil [S: you can reduce this, as I did]
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp asafoetida [S: this is also known as hing; it's that smelly powder that adds a lovely savory note to cooking]
3 onions, chopped finely
1 tsp ginger paste [S: grated ginger is fine]
1 tsp garlic paste [S: crushed garlic is fine; around 1 to 1 1/2 cloves]
1 tsp green chillies, shredded finely
150 g tomatoes, chopped finely [S: Tinned is fine]
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp mango powder [S: amchoor; I reckoned it could do with more and added another tsp]
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp pomegranate seeds (anardana), crushed [S: I substituted 1 tsp pomegranate molasses]
4 tbsp coriander leaves
4 lemon wedges

1 Cook the chickpeas, in enough water to cover them, until they are soft. (The peas should retain their shape.)

2 In a separate pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds and asafoetida. When the seeds pop, add the onion, ginger and garlic pastes and green chillies. Fry until golden.

3 Add the tomatoes and fry. Mash as you stir, making a paste. Then add the chilli, turmeric, mango and garam masala powders and pomegranate seeds {S: or molasses]. Cook this paste until blended and brown.

4 Add the chickpeas with the cooking water and blend, mashing a few to thicken the gravy. Simmer and season with salt.

5 Serve garnished with coriander leaves and a lemon wedge for each portion.


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