Monday, February 14, 2011
Chana Masala: A Superbowl of chickpeas
Back when I was in elementary school and was pouting about having to watch yet another football game instead of “Clarissa Explains it All,” my mom told me that when she was my age she hated football too. She said the words not just to comfort me, but also to reassure me that I might grow up to love football just like her. While I was skeptical that I would ever reach her level of fanaticism (she regularly wears Vikings’ jerseys and braids when she watches games), in the years that followed, I made a few attempts to find similar enjoyment in the sport.
I tried going to Northwestern football games in college – even braiding my hair and decorating purple t-shirts with my friends as a freshman. Crammed into the student section with our fellow purple-clad contemporaries, we would shake our keys whenever the ball was punted, scream “Go Cats!” until we were hoarse, and, when appropriate, growl and make clawing gestures at the competition.
Even with the company and growling fun, by the time the first quarter was over, I was always miserable and ready to go home. Usually I made some excuse about being hungry or needing to go write a paper, and would then walk the nearly two miles back to campus, cursing myself for even bothering to go at all. I stopped attending games altogether after my freshman year, and in the years since, haven’t endeavored to watch the sport on television either – unless absolutely forced.
This avoidance includes the Superbowl.
So last weekend, while seemingly everyone else in America was huddled around their television sets watching Christina Aguilera butcher the National Anthem, and the Steelers and Packers butcher each other, I went about my Sunday as though it were just any other day. I went to the Farmer’s Market and church, I ate poached eggs and roasted vegetables for lunch, I went to see the King’s Speech, and then I came home to make Orangette’s Chana Masala.
As I simmered the richly spiced tomato sauce and chickpeas together on the stovetop, it was hard not to think about the foods that one typically eats on Superbowl Sunday – foods that likely contribute to my distaste for watching games. I couldn’t have been happier to be eating the fragrant Indian dish instead of Buffalo wings, sticky ribs, tortilla chips, and the worst offender of all, seven layer dip.
Paired with quinoa, roasted cauliflower and then topped off with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a generous sprinkling of cilantro, the soulful meal was a touchdown for the taste buds. For a moment I even felt the urge to jingle my keys, growl like a cat, and make a satisfied clawing gesture at my empty bowl. Instead, I elected to finish my anti-Superbowl Sunday by watching "Glee" on TV - a small gift for the girl who never got to watch what she wanted when she was growing up.
Lightly adapted from Orangette
Adaptations and notes: I used more garlic and cilantro, substituted Greek yogurt for plain whole-milk yogurt, and used ground cumin instead of cumin seeds. The dish keeps beautifully and actually gets better as it “ages,” so don’t be afraid to make the full amount!
Good-quality olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garam masala
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, roughly torn, plus more for garnish
A pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6-8 Tbs nonfat Greek yogurt
A few lemon wedges
Film the bottom of a large saucepan or Dutch oven—preferably not nonstick—with olive oil, and place the pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until it is deeply caramelized and even charred in some spots. Be patient. The more color, the more full-flavored the final dish will be.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic, stirring, and add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry. Add the cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, garam masala, and cardamom pods, and fry them, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasty, about 30 seconds. Add ¼ cup water, and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water has evaporated away completely. Pour in the juice from can of tomatoes, followed by the tomatoes themselves, using your hands to break them apart as you add them; alternatively, add them whole and crush them in the pot with a potato masher. Add the salt.
Raise the heat to medium, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the cilantro and cayenne, and simmer the sauce gently, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and begins to thicken. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Add the chickpeas, stirring well, and cook over low heat for about five minutes. Add 2 Tbs water, and cook for another five minutes. Add another 2 Tbs water, and cook until the water is absorbed, a few minutes more. This process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce’s flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Stir in the yogurt, if you like, or garnish with lemon wedges and cilantro. Serve.