Thursday, 18 July 2013

A Special Channa Dish

I think if I had only one item to eat, and one only, it would be channa masala, aka a spicy chickpea stew.  It has everything in it to stay healthy, and best of all, it satisfies with a nutty, almost meaty flavour.  The little yellow peas soak up the spices and vegetable flavours and taste so good.

This particular channa dish is special because it contains a secret ingredient—kokum.  

This bag held such a mystery for me.

This small dried fruit is related to the mangosteen.  It’s tangy, so it replaces dried pomegranate seed, dried green mango or limes usually used in this dish.  

I suspect it’s not readily available in North America, as I’d never heard of it till Beautiful Granddaughter’s other grandma gave me a bag full.  She’d picked and dried the fruits herself, so my dish has a special, double grandma taste that you might not be able to capture, but go ahead and try it anyway.

Really, any channa masala is wonderful, as long as it’s spicy enough, so make this even if you have no hope of finding kokum any time soon, and ditto for becoming a grandma.

1 heaping teaspoon cumin seed
An even bigger mystery when I opened it!
½ teaspoon black cumin seed
1 tablespoon coriander seed
2 black cardamoms, bashed and shelled
3 green cardamoms, bashed
6 cloves
15 black peppercorns
2 flakes mace
1 scant teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 scant teaspoon fennel seed
3 dried Kashmiri chillies
1 stick cinnamon
1 large Indian bayleaf or 2 regular bay leaves
1 scant teaspoon turmeric powder  

2 tablespoons mustard oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon black mustard seed
1 red onion, diced
Pieces of kokum

2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves
1 inch ginger root, roughly chopped
2 Thai chillies (or to taste)
5 kokum pieces (if you don’t have, use a tiny green lime, chopped)
1 teaspoon jaggery

3 cans chickpeas (19 oz.) (or yours made with a pressure cooker)
10 leaves kale, torn from stalk and pulled into small pieces
2 cups water
2 tablespoons dairy or coconut cream
cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)

Toss all of the whole spices into the large dry pot that you’ll use to cook this dish.  (Put the turmeric powder directly into the spice grinder.)  Turn the heat under the pot to medium high, and watch over it while the spices heat up and begin to gently smoke.  Swirl them around a bit to distribute the heat evenly, then brush into the spice grinder, except for the cinnamon and bay leaf.  Keep the cinnamon and bayleaf in the pot.  Blend to a fine powder and set aside.

Kale looks so pretty and tastes so good!
On medium high, heat the oil along with the cinnamon and bayleaf, and when it’s sizzling, add the next amount of cumin seed.  Watch while they turn colour slightly, then add the mustard seed and watch again.  When it shifts to white, quickly add the onion, and brown.  Turn the heat to medium.  

Meanwhile, put the tomato, garlic, ginger, chillies, kokum and jaggery into a blender, and buzz till smooth.  

Once the onion is golden and a bit crispy here and there, stand over the pot with the lid handy.  Pour the tomato mix quickly into the pot, and slam that lid down.  The tomato will want to boil up and into your face, so move efficiently.  

You’ll have some left over tomato mix in the blender, but keep it there for now.

After about ten minutes you can peek in the pot, and if the tomato is mostly reduced and no longer roiling dangerously, you can leave the lid off to stir and reduce it further.  Once the water is pretty much gone, and the oil is beginning to separate from the tomato, throw in the ground spices.  Stir and cook for a few minutes.

Add the kale now, as it’s a tough leaf that takes time to cook.  Then it's time for the drained chickpeas. Put water into the blender, buzz again to get the last of the tomato mix, and add to the chickpeas.  

My hero-- the humble channa bean

Stir, keeping on medium heat, till the kale is soft and the water has largely reduced.  At the last minute, stir in the cream, and serve.  This channa masala goes beautifully with basmati rice or chappatties. 

Whether you’re an old grandma, or a sweet pea learning to cook, whether you have a bag full of kokum or a tiny little lime, try this dish, and let me know what you think.

I should really compose an ode to the chickpea... Please help me out with that!


  1. Yumm! I adore Kokum! You are very lucky to have to hand picked and dried fruit. The ones in the stores here are not good quality! Chana looks super.

  2. kokum....ummm.....nice it..