Chana Masala is my desert island dish. I could happily survive on it for the rest of my days. To me, it is a perfect mix of texture, dizzying aromatics, heat and creativity, that is just so deeply satisfying to me. I do not make this dish the same way every time; it is a unique reflection of my mood and expectations at that moment. I love to experiment with a new spice, perhaps a little more heat on some days, pair it with a different grain than the elegant basmati, or simply devour it straight from the pan. Enjoy this process, as it heightens every sense with it's vibrant colors, invigorating spices, and perfectly married flavors.
2 cans chickpeas, lightly drained
2 cups chopped Cherry tomatoes (or Roma, or whichever you prefer)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp algae or grapeseed oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic (at least), minced
2 T bsp. garam masala
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. amchoor powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
s/p, to taste
*1 (or more) chili of choice, minced, and optional
Cilantro, for garnish
Lime, for garnish
Natalie, why no cumin? Look, I love cumin, but it doesn't need to be in absolutely everything. Besides, there is already cumin in most garam masala blends, so that is plenty. I like to let other spices take center stage for this dish, but if you are a cumin fan, by all means, add it in a teaspoon, it will be absolutely delicious. As you can see, I'm not a purist. I encourage putting a personal spin on everything I create, and so should you. This list is simply a platform to expound upon as you see fit. Amchoor powder is a spice I like to pull out from time to time, made from unripe green mangoes. It gives an extra kick that you would expect from unripe mangoes, slightly sweet and delightfully sour.
Mise en place, which translates to "everything in its place", is one of the only rules I live by when cooking. It is absolutely worth the extra time to prep and place, prior to embarking on your masterpiece, so that you may enjoy and control the entire culinary experience, as it comes together. This especially holds true when browning spices. The last thing I want to be doing is searching for an item or two that I've overlooked, when I should be taking in all of the sights and smells that are unfolding.
Heat oil over medium-low heat in a medium saute pan. Add the chopped onion, garlic and minced chili, sauteing until slightly translucent. Add the tomato paste to incorporate, knowing you will have a thick and pasty texture. This is what we want. Now, for my favorite part, adding your spices: garam masala, ginger, coriander, chili powder and amchoor. Mix and blend and brown for a couple of minutes, as the bouquet of spices open up. Don't be shy to throw your face right over that pan (hair out of the way, of course!). I do, every time. You'll notice how the spices deepen, blend and transform, in just a few moments. Careful not to get too carried away, as we don't want them to burn, so a couple of minutes is plenty. I don't worry about the flavor at this point, or whether I've added enough of each spice, as the dish is still in developing stages and there is still some work to be done.
Now is the time to add your chickpeas, mindful to turn the heat down to a low simmer. The photo above is what you will expect at this stage. This is where you will further utilize your seasoned judgement. I have enjoyed chana masala dishes that range from a very dense and concentrated consistency (similar to the spice paste that we just made), to thinner ones that could double as a stew. It is entirely up to you, do what suits you. For me, I like a final result as something in the middle of the two. Your preference will determine how much chopped tomato you wish to use, so start slow as you incorporate and add more until you reach the consistency you want. Allow for the tomatoes to break down and release their juices before adding any more, about 20 minutes, so that you don't end up with a soup. My chana masala starts out rather dry until the tomatoes reach this stage and then I'm always grateful that I exercised restraint.
After you let all of the ingredients merge and simmer for a bit, it is time to finish and adjust. Add a little himalayan salt, white pepper and fine tune your seasonings. I almost always add more garam masala, I just love it. As a final flourish, I also like to garnish with cilantro and a tiny squeeze of lime. This is the point where I can get stuck. If I am overly ravenous or overly pleased with the result, I may or may not have been known to devour the entire contents straight out of the pan, without it ever making its way to a serving platter. Since you are far more refined than I am, this dish is perfected over a bed of saffron basmati rice, naan, lentils, or on its own. Here, I've used a wild rice and basmati blend, simply because I thought it would photograph better-HA!