Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry) with Spinach

I recently spent a couple of weeks in London, and I was incredibly impressed by the Indian food there. I ended up eating Indian at least once a day. When you think about it, the British are not really known for for their cuisine, and they had to colonize India just to get some flavor into their food. The Indian food there is far superior to that in the states--spicier, more richly flavored. The British have been enjoying Indian food long before it became popular in the US, so they have a more sophisticated palate when it comes to that cuisine, and they have a larger, more established Indian population. A few days into my London trip, I had a fantastic chana masala (chickpea curry) at an Indian restaurant, Masala Zone, that I was dying to replicate at home. In fact, for the rest of the trip, part of me could not wait to get home so I could make it. It's a traditional Indian curry that I've had before, but this dish was far better than any other I've tried. The nutty chickpeas were stewed in a thick, almost caramelized tomato sauce that was rich with warm spices.

The recipe I came up with hit all the same notes as the one from Masala Zone. I really like the simplicity of this dish. It is one of the healthiest, cheapest, and most flavorful recipes I've made. It probably costs less than $4 to make and feeds at least 8 people. It will accommodate almost any food restriction. Having a dinner party and one of your friends is allergic to gluten and the other is lactose intolerant or vegan? This is your go-to! To push the health factor further, I tried adding frozen chopped spinach to the leftover curry the next day, and it was amazing! The spinach seems to mellow out the acidity of the tomato and makes for a very well-balanced (in taste and health) dish.

Chana Masala with Spinach
1 lb dried chickpeas, soaked 8-12 hours overnight, or 3 15 oz cans chickpeas, drained
1-2 T butter (depending on how decadent you want to be)
2 medium onions, diced
1 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger
1 bay leaf
2 t cumin
2 t paprika (optional)
1 1/2 t ground coriander
1 t cayenne (I like really spicy things. A normal person would probably want 1/2 t)
1 t turmeric
3/4 t ground cardamom
3/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1 t salt, or to taste
black pepper to taste
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
10 oz - 1 lb frozen chopped spinach (optional)
pinch sugar, to taste

If using dried beans:
Drain bean soaking water, barely cover with fresh water in a large pot or dutch oven, and simmer. In a separate skillet, sauté butter and onions on medium heat until they are soft and caramelized. Add garlic, ginger, and spices, and cook, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes. Add tomatoes and saute for a couple more minutes, until it thickens a bit. This gives it that rich, caramelized flavor I loved at Masala Zone. Add this mixture to the beans in the dutch oven. Simmer approximately 1.5 hours, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, adding more water if it gets dry. Add spinach, if using, 15 minutes before end. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of sugar if needed.

If using canned chickpeas: 
Make the spice and tomato mixture right in the dutch oven, then add chickpeas and remaining ingredients except spinach, if using. Simmer 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Add water if mixture gets too dry. Add spinach, simmer 15 more minutes.

Makes approximately 8 servings.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Three Ingredient Creamed Spinach

This is my favorite creamed spinach. It's from my mom, who loves easy recipes. It is a staple side dish in my house, and I often bring this to Glutenless Goddess's Thanksgiving potluck.

I have also been known to eat this as a spinach dip. Just serve with pita chips, Triscuits, or crusty bread. You can add some artichoke hearts and sprinkle some cheese on top if you want to get fancier with your dip. My spinach and artichoke pasta is essentially just this creamed spinach plus artichokes and cheese on pasta.

Three Ingredient Creamed Spinach
about 2 lb frozen chopped spinach
1 8 oz block low fat cream cheese (neufchatel)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
season with whatever you like: salt, pepper, etc. I like to do 1/2 t garlic powder and 1 t Tony Chachere's

Defrost and heat spinach in the microwave, about 8 minutes, stirring partway through. Drain liquid, and stir in remaining ingredients. It takes a bit of effort to get the cream cheese to incorporate. Just stir it in a bit and microwave for 2 more minutes to soften. Stir again until everything is incorporated.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leftover Turkey Jambalaya

It's officially a tradition (2 years running)! Glutenless Goddess hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for our friends and brines a turkey using my recipe. At the end of the night, she lets me take the scraps (a couple of cups of dark meat and the carcass). Then, the next day, I invite everyone over to my place and make a giant pot of jambalaya with the leftover turkey and stock made from the bones.

I really like the idea of using every last bit of the turkey and creating something that really takes advantage of its flavor. I use my usual brown rice chicken and sausage jambalaya recipe, and just sub in turkey meat and turkey stock for the chicken and stock. It is really the best jambalaya I've made. Turkey is even better than chicken in this recipe because of its extra richness and slightly bolder, gamier flavor. Dark meat is best in the jambalaya because it stands up to lots of cooking without getting bland or dry. Plus, most people prefer white meat (not me!), so there's always lots of dark meat leftover.

I'm going to bestow one of my favorite tips upon you: make stock in a slow cooker. The best thing about this stock is it's virtually free, made with stuff most people throw away! It takes one minute to set up. All you need is bones and water. A turkey carcass should just about fill up a medium to large stockpot. I do this with chicken too. In that case, I hoard chicken carcasses that I've roasted in the freezer until I've accumulated 2 or 3. You might have to break the breastbone down or smash some of the big pieces into smaller pieces. This is only mildly disturbing to do. The object is to squish down the bones enough so the lid will close and you can cover them with water. Many stock recipes call for adding aromatics like onion, garlic, and herbs to your stock. I prefer to just cook bones and water and have a neutral-flavored stock. I can add whatever flavors I want when I add it to a dish. Set the slow cooker for as long a time as you can wait. After it stops cooking, leave the cover off for about an hour or so to let it reduce and cool. Then strain and skim off the fat. Freeze in baggies or containers in manageable increments of a cup or two.