Channa Masala

A bowl of spicy, fragrant, and satisfying channa masala, seconds before I devour it atop naan.

A bowl of spicy, fragrant, and satisfying channa masala, seconds before I devour it atop naan.

Growing up mainly in the Midwest – welcome to the less-than-sophisticated cuisines of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota – and northeast Florida, I wasn’t exposed to food cultures that varied from German-American, English-American, and plain ‘ole American of my roots. My families Sunday dinners didn’t tend to stray far from pot roasts, “Clark Gable” pork roasts, roast chicken, meatloaf, hamburgers, homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and shrimp boils. Not to say that the food my parents cooked wasn’t delicious, because it was – I could write a cookbook on my family’s cuisine, actually, a la Molly Wizenberg’s My Homemade Life. But I my range of food knowledge didn’t expand until I moved away for college and began to explore on my own.

I was helped by living in the foreign-cuisine-rich city of Montreal – one of the true loves of my life, by the way. You can get the best Lebanese shish taouk at Amir’s, perfect scallops provençal and crêpes Suzette at Les Mas des Oliviers, aromatic borscht and bigos and pierogi at Stash in the Vieux-Port…. I could go on and on. Needless to say, after four years I began to really develop a taste for new ingredients and cooking methods I’d never seen before. I discovered I like onions. And peppers. And leeks – love them, actually. And fennel, and coriander, and cardamom, and ginger, and mangoes … again, I could go on and on.

Fast forward three years, and I’m still learning about new cuisines – and I love it! That’s why the title of my blog includes the word adventure…. So when one of my coworkers suggested we stop at an Indian restaurant (Tawa in Edison, NJ – I highly recommend you visit!) for dinner on a long drive down to a work site, I immediately agreed. I’d experienced the joy of naan bread fresh out of the oven – correction: the joy of inhaling naan fresh out of the oven – at a great Indian buffet in Montreal, so I knew this was going to be a similarly enjoyable dinner. My coworker is Indian himself, and he’d vetted this place before. He recommended some dishes, and while he had channa masala and pani puri I ordered tandoori chicken. My chicken was rich and spicy, but his channa masala was out of this world. I wish I had ordered it! The chickpeas were the perfect texture, some smashed and some whole, and the entire dish had a kick that tickled my tongue but didn’t burn my throat. Atop the naan, it was almost perfection. And here I thought there was nothing better than French food….

So, the same night that we returned from our work trip a few days later, I searched the web for channa masala recipes – I had to recreate this dish! All of the variations were similar, and I ended up adapting a recipe from Recipezaar. The result was a tad spicier than I intended it to be – and spicier than its doppelgänger from the restaurant – but I remedied this by mixing up a cooling yogurt dip (strained plain, nonfat yogurt with a bit of lime juice and finely chopped mint leaves) to dollop lightly on top of the channa masala on top of the naan…. Heaven! A spicy heaven, but heaven nonetheless. Try this easy recipe: I promise you that you will love it, even if you’re not particularly fond of Indian food (don’t worry, I was a non-believer, too). And bake up some naan while you’re at it…

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil, or as needed
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion (my personal preference)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • <1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped well
  • 1/2 cup or so water
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, organic if possible with no added salt
  • 1 tsp paprika (I used spicy Hungarian paprika, but regular is probably better)
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, de-seeded and de-ribbed, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

Sweat the onion until it’s soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Stir in the coriander, cumin (light hand with the cumin!), cayenne, and turmeric, stirring until it all into a paste for at least 30 seconds, so that the mixture becomes delightfully fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook down for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring somewhat. Add the chickpeas and water; bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the paprika, garam masala, s&p, and lemon juice. Cook down for ten minutes, or until it thickens but not into a paste. Smash up to a third of the chickpeas with a fork to give the dish a more creamy texture. Add the jalapeño and ginger; cook for another minute or so to allow the flavors to meld. Adjust salt if needed. Eat as is or dollop onto naan or pita bread.

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