Speedy Chana Masala

 Our foray into pseudo-convenience food continues, with today’s focus centred on speed, tastiness and, importantly, volume. 

Because, if you’re anything like me, if ready-made meals aren’t on hand when time gets scarce, you’ll resort to calling popcorn with a side of grapefruit dinner. At 11 PM. Not awesome. As for lunch? A refrigerator-foraged container of raw cabbage, radishes and black olives doesn’t quite cut it. (I have, though, helpfully discovered that purple cabbage will tint your lips a work-inappropriate shade calling to mind the effect of too much wine.)  

Upload from March 26, 2012So today, I’m sharing something that actually counts not just as food, but a real meal. Chana masala: a traditional South Asian curry made from chickpeas (that’s the chana bit), and aromatic things like onions, garlic, ginger, and loads of spices. 

(The term masala, for the curious, means “mixture”, and can refer to both dry spice mixtures like garam masala “warm mixture” — and also to the wet mixtures of onions, garlic and other aromatics that often make for the saucy base of South Asian curries.) 

Upload from March 26, 2012

In this version, chickpeas – little nutritional superheroes – take a quick spin in a tomato-based gravy flavoured with both wet and dry masalas. Topped off with good dose of bright lemon juice to balance the richness of the sauce, the results are hearty, complex and abundant – perfect for dishing up to guests as part of a curry extravaganza (it’s been done many a-time!) or for providing you with a few days-worth of popcorn-and-grapefruit-free meals. Perfect. 

Upload from March 26, 2012

A regular in my repertoire, I’ve found that it goes over best when you double the spices (I’ve written the recipe to include the doubled proportions of everything but paprika and cayenne), but if you’re spice-shy, scale the doubled spices back by 50%. I’ve also found that, in order to ensure that the army of onions brown properly, thus imparting their caramelized sweetness upon the dish, you’re best to use the widest-bottomed pot that you’ve got. The more opportunity the onions have to come into direct contact with the pan, rather than their oniony neighbours, the easier they’ll turn toasty, and the faster the dish will come together.

While the spice list is long, its contents are common to South Asian curries and so should be pretty easy to find. Given that dry spices are typically best if used within six months of opening, try to buy in small quantities or, better yet, start a spice-sharing system with a few friends. If each person passes on a bit of this-or-that whenever they end up with more of a spice than they could possibly need, everyone involved is able to expand their spice collection without having to invest in those big bags that would otherwise likely go to waste, while the chance of you discovering some cool new spice — like dried mango powder — increases dramatically. Give it a try!

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Speedy Chana Masala
Adapted from smittenkitchen
Makes loads, lots, tons! (At least four servings, with rice)

Ingredients
1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 hot green chile, membranes discarded (don’t use your fingers) and green bits minced
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika (I like hot smoked paprika, but regular paprika will do just fine)
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (again, less if you’re spice-averse)
1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with juices, chopped into bite-sized bits*
2/3 cup water
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed** 
1/2 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lemon***
Fresh cilantro, washed and roughly chopped (optional)

Directions
1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
2. Add onions, garlic, ginger and chile and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 minutes.
3. Add spices to the pot and stir until onions are evenly coated and spices are fragrant, a minute or two.
4. Stir in tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any spicy goodness.
5. Stir in water and chickpeas and simmer, uncovered, over medium heat until sauce has reduced a bit, about 10 minutes.
6. Stir in salt and lemon juice and let sit for at least a few minutes before serving (it’ll be most flavourful if you give it a full day to rest in the fridge, but it’ll still be super-tasty day-of). Top off with a good handful of fresh cilantro, if you so please!

Upload from March 26, 2012*You can also use 2 cups of chopped, fresh tomatoes when they’re in season and super-juicy. Alternatively, for super-speediness, you can use pre-diced canned tomatoes — they’re not quite as tasty as whole tomatoes, but they’ll do the trick!
**You can also use chickpeas that you’ve rehydrated and cooked. You’ll need 4 cooked cups.
***If you have dried amchoor powder — a sour spice made from unripe mangers — add a tablespoon of the stuff at the same time you add the rest of the spices, and reduce the lemon juice to half a lemon. 

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