Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Chana Masala & Cucumber Raita

"God bless the chickpea." That, my friends, is a quote from George Clooney, when he was playing a doctor (which I'm sure was a nod to E.R.) and Rachel's date on Friends. Ah, the 90s; I miss you.

Anyway, today's recipe is all about the glorious chickpea. I had my heart set on making Indian food for dinner so on my weekly shopping trip, I bought chicken and yogurt and heavy cream and tinned tomatoes (for chicken tikka, obviously) and I stopped by the spices aisle, just to see what was new. I stumbled upon some cumin seeds - for some reason, my store's been out of stock every time I've checked in the past - so I immediately popped them in my cart.

They smelled so amazing, I wanted to do more with them than just making chicken tikka so I rummaged through the fridge and pantry and realized that I had a bunch of leftover roasted chickpeas (from my kofte kebab dinner) so I chucked a bunch of stuff together to try and recreate the chana masala that I so love at my favorite Indian buffet. And, because I'm me and I love spice, I made the chana masala lovely and full of heat. To offset that heat, I decided a cool cucumber raita was the answer. I basically riffed off of my tzatziki recipe but instead of garlic, I added my two favorite Indian flavors: garam masala and cilantro. The result was a gloriously delicious dish. The best part? I savored the leftovers for several days afterwards and loved every bite.
Ingredients [serves 4]:
chana masala
1 tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup diced onion
4 Thai chilis, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
15 oz. can whole tomatoes
15 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

cucumber raita
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 baby cucumber
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Start by heating a pan over a low flame and toss in the butter. As the butter starts to melt, sprinkle in the cumin seeds, crushed pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper. Stir and heat the spices up just long enough until the room goes insanely fragrant with the scent of smoky cumin and then toss in the onions, garlic, ginger, and Thai chilis and stir. Cook until the onions start to caramelize and go golden on the edges. I'm really sorry, but I totally flaked and forgot to photograph the step of adding in the onions and letting them go brown. But, I think if you use your imagination, you can get through it.
To the caramelized onions, add in the tinned tomatoes and stir. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon.
Stir in the chickpeas and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the tomato has thickened up nicely and the chickpeas have soaked up all of the flavors of the sauce. If you find that the chana masala is too thick and not quite saucy enough for your taste, stir in a little vegetable stock to dilute it a bit.
Finish with a sprinkle of cilantro and that's the chana masala, done.
To make the raita, grate the cucumber on the medium side of a box grater (and hold onto the cucumber juices. Squeeze over a bit of lemon juice and sprinkle on the salt and garam masala and give it a good stir. Then, stir in the yogurt and cilantro. Chill the raita for two hours in the fridge to allow the flavors to develop. And that's it; it's super quick and easy. It's similar to tzatziki in that the longer it sits, the better it gets.
Serve up your chana masala with rice and naan and everything else that's delicious. I'll be sharing the chicken tikka (which is right at the center of the table) a little later this week. I have blog posts up already for the cashew & golden raisin basmati rice as well as the onion chutney.

The chana masala is so flavorful. It's spicy - both in terms of heat and flavor - and I love the texture of the chickpeas. They're soft and potato-y but still have a solid texture with a little bite. The tomato and onion lend a little sweetness, the cumin adds a smokiness and that undeniable Indian food-y flavor, and the cilantro ties it all together with a little freshness.
Here are the recipe pages:

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