September 2, 2009

Kala Channa (Black Chickpeas)

I just love black chickpeas. I hate to admit this, but I have some family in India that has a cook, and she makes the best damn food ever. This is a lot like my late grandmother's kala channa recipe, as to why the cook made it. It was probably one of my favorite dishes that I tried while visiting. This attempt is to recreate what I tried there. I hope you will love. In addition, I have used stock Indian spice powder mixtures such as garam masala and channa masala. I choose salt-free varieties, and these can be an easy segway into cooking more Indian foods. Store them in an airtight container, either in the fridge or a dark cabinet. Spices can last 6 months - 1 year.

Soak the black chickpeas for at least 6 hours. When ready to use, drain and rinse at least 2 times. You can order online or buy from a South Asian store. They will be called kala channa/chana. You can also ask for black chickpeas. Another alternative is to purchase them online.

Cooking this is relatively simple. Plan ahead by soaking the chickpeas. Either first thing in the morning, or overnight if you plan to cook in the morning. Give it 6-8 hours to soak. Cooking time is about 1 hour. I listed all recipe ingredients in order that you will use them. Get a large 3-4 quart-sized pan, and heat a small amount of oil in it. Peanut, canola or vegetable oil is what you want to use. Olive oil has a low smoke point and is not appropriate for vaghar. When the oil is hot do a vaghar (described below). Once you add the onions and peppers, you can add the chickpeas, then spices, then water, tomatoes, adjust seasoning and bring to a boil. Once you bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover slightly and simmer. Add a potato to create a gravy-ish broth. Once done, garnish with cilantro.

Vaghar means to heat a small amount of oil or ghee in a wok-like pan or stirfry. Once the oil is hot, you add seeds and aromatics and once fragrant, jalapenos, garlic and onions. This cooks and releases the aromas from the spices and infuses the oil with a particular scent.

Recipe for Kala Channa
Serves 4-6

For Vaghar:
1 T canola or peanut oil
2 T whole basil leaves (I used red opal, omit if you don't have, or use curry leaves)
1/8 tsp asafoetida or hing
1/4 tsp urad dhal
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper chopped
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp channa masala powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1 cup black chickpeas, drained and rinsed (*see note below)
1 quart or liter water
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tsp hot sauce
1 lemon (juice of one lemon)
1 medium baking potato, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
optional 1/4 cup or more heavy cream, for a creamier gravy

Serve over rice, or with hot paratha and some yogurt.

1. Heat oil in a 4-quart sized pan, add basil through mustard seeds.
2. Once mustard seeds pop, add in the jalapeno through bell pepper.
3. Continue cooking, about 3-4 minutes.
4. Add in rinsed chickpeas.
5. Add in cumin through salt.
6. Add water and adjust seasonings if needed
7. Add in tomato, hot sauce, lemon juice. Bring to a boil.
8. Reduce heat, simmer, lightly cover, add in potato and cook 45 minutes-1 hour. Checking often.
The potato will begin to fall apart and thicken the gravy. You can speed this process up by mashing some of the garbanzo beans and potato when the dish is about done. If using heavy cream add in when adding cilantro garnish. Stir and serve piping hot.

*You could easily use regular chickpeas with very delicious results!

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