The Mighty Chickpea

Saturday, October 22, 2011

   If someone were to press me to name my favorite legume, I would have a hard time of it. They are all so delicious, how to choose! In fact, I've recently begun making 15 bean soups, mostly because I get so many different kinds of those delightful goodies in each and every bite.
   However, the simple truth is that I have a longstanding loyalty to the humble chickpea.
   Perhaps it's because of the chickpea's versatility, its nutty, earthy flavor, or that it can lend crunch or velvety smoothness depending on how it is cooked. Or, maybe it's just because this is the first legume I ever ate and really enjoyed.
   I sometimes think my mother could only ever reliably get me to eat two things when I was little- butternut squash and chickpeas. Not such terrible addictions to have, but limiting nonetheless. My first memory of chickpeas is my mom letting me mix them into her delicious chicken soup. I insisted we include chickpeas when in her brothy, vegetable laden soup because, obviously, they were chickpeas, they belonged with the chicken soup! It made incredible sense to my four year old mind and my lovely mother tirelessly obliged.
   In most recent years I enjoy my chickpeas in Chana Masala. It has become one of my absolute favorite ol' reliable recipes and Steve and I break it out at least every few weeks. It fills the house with fragrant hints of India and makes for rock star leftovers.
   I made it for the first time early on in our relationship; it's still one of my favorites of our dates. We roasted salty baby potatoes and green beans as sides and enjoyed a crisp bottle of Martin Codax Albarino (if you haven't tried this bottle, I insist you do!). Heaven.

   After moving south I discovered, with much heartbreak, that most grocery stores down here don't sell whole cumin seeds. When I finally found some I was so excited to be able to make my beloved spicy chickpeas I bought three jars! The other key spice is a blend you can find in most well stocked grocery stores called Garam Masala. It has a number of spices mixed in, including, surprisingly, cinnamon. It is an absolute revelation the first time you cook with it.
   I hope you enjoy.

Chana Masala
   Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life"
  •   One medium to large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground corriander
  • 1/4 cup water
  • One 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • two 15 ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
   In a heavy bottomed pot, such as a dutch oven, heat the olive oil and onion over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very browned, even charred in places. You want them quite caramelized. It will take around ten minutes.
   Add all the spices and the garlic, stir until toasty and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup water and stir until evaporated. It will bubble and steam vigorously, so avert your face! Add the tomatoes, stir to incorporate, and allow to gently simmer, covered, for ten minutes. Add the chickpeas and gently simmer, still covered, for another ten minutes.
   We like to serve this with a side of whatever vegetable is in season and wild or brown rice.
   Makes 6 servings.

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