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.