Time: 1 hour || Active time: 30 minutes
One of the very first dishes I ever tried to recreate at home was chana masala. This was before the invention of vegetables, so when I went out for Indian food in my neighborhood, it was usually chana masala, a samosa and basmati rice. I probably started out with a recipe from somewhere, but I would just adjust, adjust and adjust until it tasted like what I would get on Coney Island avenue. Spicy, tangy, and fragrant, almost perfumed, with sweet spices like cardamom and cinnamon. The jalapenos probably have no place in chana masala, but hey, tell that to me 20 years ago.
I use fresh tomatoes in Indian inspired meals when I can because the clunky canned ones can end up tasting like spaghetti sauce, and luckily my tomato plants have been incredibly generous this year! Let me have a proud tomato mama moment and show you:
And when chickpeas are the absolute star of the show I prefer to cook dried ones, rather than use canned. The taste is fresher and the texture is meatier. I also find that coconut oil gives chana masala a richness that other oils lack, but since not everyone has coconut oil lying around, vegetable oil will be just fine! Same for subbing lime juice in place of tamarind concentrate.
This is one of those recipes that will help fine tune your taste buds. Look for the spicy, the sour, the salty, adjust until you’re thoroughly pleased. Even 20 years later and I’m still adding a little of this or that.
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne (optional, and more or less to taste)
For everything else:
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large onion, sliced in medium pieces
2 jalapenos, deseeded and thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 lbs tomatoes, diced
Fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or two cans, rinsed and drained) note: 2 cups dried will give you the right amount
1 teaspoon agave
Juice of one lime, or 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
Preheat a large pan over medium heat. I prefer a pan to a pot, because it gets the tomatoes to cook down faster.
Meanwhile, mix together the spice blend in a small bowl.
When the pan is hot, saute the onion in the coconut oil for about 10 minutes, until nicely browned. While it’s sauteeing you can prep the rest of the veggies.
Add the jalapeno, garlic and ginger, and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cilantro and saute until wilted. Add the spice blend and toss to coat the onions, letting the spices toast a bit (about a minute or so).
Add the tomatoes and mix well, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Add salt and pepper, chickpeas and agave. Cover the pan and bring heat up a bit. The tomatoes should take about 10 minutes to breakdown and get saucy. Remove the lid, and cook for about 20 more minutes on low heat, so that the flavors meld and the sauce thickens. It shouldn’t be too thick (like a marinara), but it shouldn’t be watery, either.
Add lime juice or tamarind concentrate. Taste for seasoning, you might want to add a little of this or that. Let sit for 10 minutes or so off the heat before serving. Serve with basmati rice and garnished with extra cilantro, if you like!