Chickpeas are among the most ancient and versatile legumes. Originating from the Middle East long before Christ, chickpeas eventually spread throughout Asia and Europe and have been a part of our diets for milennia. Popular chickpea dishes include hummus and falafel from the Middle East, roasted ceci from Italy, and besan ladoo and chana masala from India. Chickpeas can be cooked whole from dried beans, eaten fresh from the pod, dried and ground into flour, or puréed. One of my favorite Indian sweets is besan ladoo, which uses chickpea flour to create the buttery and sugary balls enjoyed as a Diwali festival dessert.
One of the easiest and most loved Indian chickpea dishes is stew. Indian chana masala is a flavorful vegetarian curry of chickpeas with a wonderful blend of Eastern spices. Indians hold chickpeas in high regard and the bean is considered to be the most widely used legume in the subcontinent. Vegetarians especially appreciate chickpeas for their nutritional value as they are high in protein and fiber. But even if you aren't a vegetarian, you too can enjoy this chickpea curry. Whether you eat it as a main dish or a side to pair with meat, this dish is completely versatile. It's easy to love and most certainly worthy of having seconds.
With all legumes, I prefer to cook them from dried. I rarely used canned beans. All it takes is a little forethought to soak the beans before you plan to cook them. Soak them overnight for 12 hours to reduce cooking time by at least 30 minutes. Once the chickpeas are cooked, they are ready to add to the stew. If you like the curry thicker, reduce the amount of water by about half. Smashing some of the chickpeas also helps thicken the liquid for a more stew-like dish. If you can't find dried chickpeas or prefer canned, use two to three 15-ounce cans. Make sure to drain and rinse the beans. Whether you use dried or canned, it doesn't matter to the final dish. It will still be a lovely spicy chickpea curry.
Note: If using dried chickpeas (1 pound or 2 1/3 cups), soak overnight in water covered by 4 inches. The next day, drain and cover by 2 inches of fresh water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Drain, once ready to use.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger (about 1/2-inch piece)
1 tablespoon garam masala, recipe follows
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
4 cups cooked chickpeas
3 cups water or vegetable broth
6 curry leaves, fresh or dried
1 serrano chile pepper (optional)
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
cilantro sprigs, for garnish
brown or white rice, for serving
Warm a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spices and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and their juices. Scrape up any residue in the pot. Add cooked chickpeas and water; bring to a boil. Add curry leaves. Cut a slit into the chile and add. Cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook until liquid is slightly reduced, about 20 minutes. To thicken the curry, mash some of the chickpeas with the back of a spoon, if desired. Season with salt and pepper. Remove curry leaves and chile before serving. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice. Yield: 6 servings.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon (about 3-inch piece)
1/2 whole nutmeg
Warm a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add all the ingredeints and toast (do not burn) until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Allow to cool. Transfer to a spice grinder and process until a fine powder forms. Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid until ready to use. Yield: 2 tablespoons.