Lazybones Chana Masala: Spicy Chickpea Stew
Making Dinner Plans With Mike and Tina
Tina: “Ooh, I know! Let’s go THERE for dinner!”
Mike: “No. Absolutely not. That place looks dreadful. It’s skeevy and infested.”
Tina: “Infested with GOODNESS, I bet! Yes, I choose *that place* and I don’t want to go anywhere else, we MUST go there and I’ve always wanted to try it out, you know….”
Mike: “NO. You’re only saying that because we’ve never been here before and we happen to be standing in front of the building.” (lowering voice), “Tina, for god’s sake, there’s a man passed out in the doorway with a broken bottle of beer in his hand.”
Tina: “That’s great! It means they’re LICENSED!!”
Tina (whining): “But Miiiiiiike, we’ve never beeeeeeen here before. Can’t we just tryyyyyyyyy it? Don’t be such a branch in the ground, old man.”
Mike: “Stick in the mud! The expression is ‘stick in the mud’! And no, I absolutely refuse, there is no way in hell that I’m setting foot inside that godforsaken place andforthelasttime you can’t just BULLY me into saying yes because you FEEL LIKE IT.”
****an hour later, from inside the den of iniquity****
Tina: “Huh. So I think that having dinner here was a mistake.”
Mike: “Oh, you THINK SO, do you? Really? Now why would you possibly have –“
Tina: “You know, next time you should just let me choose.”
Yup. That sounds about right. I crave variety, always wanting to see something new or experience something different. The thing is, different doesn’t always mean good. Sometimes, true, but not always. There is something delightful about the tried and true, the comforting and companionable, or the fan favorite. Just because I’ve seen The Princess Bride about a bajiliazillion times (real number), it doesn’t mean that I’m fool enough to swap it out of my DVD player for The Princess Diaries, if you know what I mean. Sometimes what I want is what I know, and what I adore, even if it’s what I’ve eaten about a thousand times before.
Enter my friend Chana Masala, which is a spicy-sweet-sour Indian spiced chickpea stew. Every time that we order Indian food we end up with enough leftovers to feed half of my home town, because I always want to try something different, but I’m unwilling to part with my good old friends Chana Masala, Saag Paneer (cheese blocks in a spinach sauce, which I plan to make with tofu in the near future for the express purpose of tricking Mike into eating tofu), and Beef Vindaloo (beef curry in a spicy vinegar and chili sauce). Oh yes, and an order of Butter Chicken for the cakers who nervously scratch their chins and say, “Sah-yag what?”
Traditional Chana Masala is made with dried chickpeas which are soaked overnight before getting simmered for another couple of hours in a flavorful tomato based broth with ginger, garlic and spices. That’s great and all, but sometimes I’m lazy. And by sometimes I mean most of the time. I would prefer to take those hours of simmering and prep time and apply them to a greater good, such as napping, drinking vodka, or considering whether or not I should bother checking my personal email account or if that will just be too depressing. Most of the time vodka wins.
If that’s not incentive enough for you to make a fairly fast, delightfully easy, and alarmingly affordable vegetarian meal for dinner tonight, remember that there is also another bright side to Chana Masala: I’m giving you yet another opportunity to use up those dusty canned beans in your pantry. As if you need an excuse.
Lazybones Chana Masala: Spicy Chickpea Stew
Serves 4 -6 over basmati rice with naan bread and cucumber raita on the side
- 2 small yellow onions
- 1.5 tbsp garlic puree *
- 1.5 tbsp ginger puree**
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 – 3 green chili***
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 3/4 tsp red chili powder
- 3/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 cans (19 oz each) chickpeas
- 1 small can (15.5 oz) diced or whole tomato
- 1/3 cup tamarind syrup ****
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro + more to garnish
- salt and pepper
* Garlic puree is just canned finely minced garlic. It certainly saves a heap of time, but it is somewhat less pungent than fresh garlic. If you wanted to use fresh garlic instead, finely mince about 5 medium or 4 large cloves which will yield about one fat tablespoon.
** Ditto with the pureed ginger. If you have fresh ginger, grate down about 1.5″ of a nice plump root, which will yield about one heaping tablespoon.
*** Baby likes it hot, so I used 3 chilis with their seeds in. For a milder masala you can remove the ribs and seeds of the chili, or reduce the number. One green chili without seeds or ribs will make a mild masala.
**** Another shortcut ingredient, tamarind syrup is rehydrated tamarind where somebody else has done all the work of softening, mushing, and straining for you. Tamarind syrup is also sometimes flavored with pureed mild green chili, aromatics and spices. But hey, nothing wrong with that! It just means more flavor. If you don’t have tamarind syrup you could rehydrate dried tamarind pods. If you don’t have dried tamarind pods either, try to mimic the sweet and sour flavor by mixing 1.5 tablespoons of tomato paste with 1.5 tablespoons of honey and 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar. Add an extra squeeze of lemon at the end.
Heat the oil in a large pan with high sides set over medium to low heat. Dice the onion fairly finely and let it start to sweat it out for 3-4 minutes until it is translucent and fragrant, stirring regularly so that the onion does not brown or burn.
Finely mince the chili (as much or as little as you are comfortable with) and add this along with the garlic and ginger purees. Cook the mixture together for 2 minutes, or until the garlic and ginger are beautifully fragrant.
Stir in the spices and let these coat the onions, cooking them for another 2 minutes.
Rinse the chickpeas under cold running water and drain off any excess moisture. Add the chickpeas to the spiced onion mixture and let it cook for 3-4 minutes or until the chickpeas start to look a little bit dry.
Stir in the diced tomatoes and their juices. If you are using whole tomatoes, which are my preference, smoosh and squeeze them between your fingers to rustically break them up before adding the tomato bits and all of their juices to the pan. Pour in the tamarind syrup.
Turn the heat up slightly to medium-high.
Let the chickpea stew cook down for about 10 minutes so that the liquid can reduce. The chickpeas should have absorbed some of the color and the sauce will be thicker; less like a soup than a stew.
Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, stir in the finely chopped cilantro, and season quite liberally with salt and pepper. Because hey, you know what beans and legumes like? They like salt. And long solitary walks in a heavily wooded area, but that’s another story. Taste the masala and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.
Serve over basmati rice and garnish with some more cilantro if you feel the yen.
Looking at those glossy little gems of fiber and protein remind me of how good it feels to have meatless meals in our weekly rotation. Packed full of flavor, this masala has a slightly sweet and sour tone which is gussied up from the heat of chili and rich, exotic spices. It’s pretty clear why this is one of my favorite cravable dishes.
Whether it’s eating out at an authentic Indian restaurant or making a quick lazybones dinner at home, you can’t go wrong with chana masala. Well, unless you don’t like chickpeas of course (in which case you’re dead to me), or you have an aversion to flavor (I repeat: DEAD TO ME). For the rest of us reasonable people, however, you ask the always present question of “What in the name of Beelzebub can I make for dinner tonight?” I offer that you go no further than your pantry and treat yourself to a delicious but dirt cheap meal that won’t keep you in the kitchen during prime time.