Saturday, June 16, 2012

0 Recipe #307: Chana Masala

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Chana masala, also sometimes referred to as chole masala, is a savory, tangy chickpea and tomato dish commonly found on most (Northern) Indian and Pakistani restaurant menus. It's particularly popular in the Northwest Indian states of Punjab, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. And, it's one of my favorite Indian dishes.

Chana masala has a somewhat sour, lemony flavor, due to the addition of dried mango powder, or amchur (sometimes spelled amchoor) in Hindi. Consistency of this dish can vary from thin and "soupy" to thick and creamy, depending upon the chef. I personally prefer the latter version, which is why I've added lite coconut milk as a thickening agent, versus the more traditional addition of cream. In general, traditional Indian cooking often calls for cream, and often lots of it, and the standard, much denser rendition of the sauce in this dish is no different. However, as you can see from the tagline at the top of this page, this site's theme is "healthy gourmet," so you probably already knew that I wasn't about to do that. :) The great thing about the addition of the coconut milk is that it essentially achieves the same effect as the cream in terms of flavor, texture, and overall consistency; it brings the same richness and depth of flavor, but without any of the accompanying health issues that go along with the consumption of animal-based saturated fats. :) (I won't go into coconut's myriad benefits here, but you're welcome to check out some related blurbs in some of my other recipe posts that briefly address this topic by visiting here, here, and here.) Not only is the coconut milk a lot healthier, but it also complements the chana perfectly; its flavor blends seamlessly with the other ingredients (so much so that you can't even taste it) and it just makes this dish taste divine!

Chana Masala

1 Tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil
2 c. vidalia (or yellow) onion, peeled and diced (about 1 medium onion)
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger (root), peeled and julienned into 1"-long matchsticks*
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 15.5 oz. can chickpeas (i.e., garbanzo beans)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 c. lite coconut milk
2 Tbsp. garam masala (see below for recipe)
1/2 Tbsp. amchur (dried mango powder), or to taste (if unavailable, substitute 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste)**
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 1/2 c. whole fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, diced (about 2 1/2 small tomatoes)
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 c. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Garam Masala Ingredients:***
1/2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp. ground coriander
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground clove
3/8 tsp. finely crushed bay leaves
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (or to taste)

Directions: Add all garam masala ingredients to a small bowl and mix until well combined. Set aside. Heat extra virgin coconut oil in a large (12-13") sauté pan on medium heat until glistening. Reduce heat to low and add diced onions and ginger matchsticks and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic next and cook an additional 2 minutes. Next, add chick peas, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and coconut milk, and stir until well combined. Stir in garam masala, amchur, tumeric, and reduce liquid in pan by 1/4 of its original volume. Be sure to still continually, so that sauce doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. Next, add vine-ripened tomatoes, season with salt, and continue to cook just until tomatoes soften a bit. Be careful not to overcook tomatoes; they should still maintain their form and color, and still have a slight crunch to them when you've finished cooking. (If the mixture cooks down too quickly, add water as necessary, a 1/4 c. at a time.) When finished, remove from heat, mix in fresh chopped cilantro, and divide into equal portions. Top with raita if so desired, and serve with Aromatic Basmati Rice (Pilau) &/or fresh, warm naan.

Yield: About 6 c., or 6-8 servings.

Chef's Notes: If you are going to serve the chana masala with rice, then I'd recommend making the rice while the chana is cooking, to save time.

*The easiest way to peel ginger is by scraping off the skin with the edge of a spoon. Works even better than a peeler, because it won’t take as much ginger with it when you go to peel the skin.

**If you can't find amchur locally (in an Indian grocery store), then you can always order it online. If, for whatever reason, you'll be substituting lemon juice for the amchur, then be sure to add it towards the end. Lemon juice's chemical composition becomes altered with heat, and will thus affect the other ingredients it comes into contact with in the pan.

***There are 5 zillion different garam masala recipes. This one is particular to North Indian cuisine, and was specifically created to complement this dish. To save time, I'd recommend making the garam masala in advance and storing it in an air-tight container in a dark, dry place. If you use garam masala on a regular basis, I'd recommend quadrupling the recipe, which'll make a 1/2 cup, and storing it in your cupboard for future use.

Chana masala is also sometimes made with crushed/powdered pomegranate seeds (called anardana in Hindi, which is originally a word of Persian extraction that literally means "pomegranate seed"). Sometimes coriander seeds and red chilies are also used to make this dish. I left out the chilies because, for most people, this dish is probably hot enough as is, which, in other words, means "not actually very hot at all." ;) I'd barely give it a 1/2 chili rating on "the penguin's piquancy" scale. :-D

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