Sunday, 21 June 2015

Kala Channa Masala

Kala Channa Masala

My life might be easier if I owned a pressure cooker.  But when I read horrifying descriptions of the disasters involved with them, I just plan well ahead.  If you own a pressure cooker, you can make this dish much more quickly than I can manage.

Kala channa isn’t the usual chick pea we see in cans.  It’s a different variety, and I’m told it’s higher in nutrients, especially iron.  Its flavour is a little different than the usual channa, and it’s a bit more heavily textured.  So far, I’ve seen the pea available only in the dried form, but I’m happy to put in the time required for this dish.  Plan to make this two days ahead of eating, if you use a slow cooker.  You don’t need to be chopping and stirring for the entire time; you just need to get started early.  This recipe makes a big pot of channa masala.

4 cups dried kala channa beans
Water to cover and leave lots of room

1 tablespoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon black ajwain
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
3 black cardamom pods
Cool roasted spices before buzzing.
5 cloves
1 dried Kashmiri chili
1 tablespoon coriander seed
2 large sticks cassia or cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon amchur powder 

2 tablespoons mustard oil
½ teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon mustard seed
1 large red onion, diced 

3 large fresh tomatoes
8 cloves garlic
2 inches ginger
2 Serrano peppers

1 bunch fresh cilantro
Water for blender
1 teaspoon salt, possibly more
2 tablespoons jaggery powder, or to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream, or to taste

Two days ahead of serving, soak the kala channa overnight in water.  Be sure to not just cover the channa, but leave another two inches of water for headroom.  These beans will swell up somewhat.  The next morning, drain and rinse.

In a slow cooker, add the channa and lots of water, again, leave at least two inches of headroom, possibly more.  The beans won’t swell much more, but the beans need to be left for 24 hours worth of cooking on ‘high’ heat (a slow cooker isn’t very hot).  You will need a lot of water for this duration of time.  After they’ve cooked for about 24 hours, turn off the heat and let rest till you’re about to cook these up.  I’ve frozen surplus cooked beans before, so I have them ready when I need them.

About three hours before you need to serve these, dry roast your dry whole spices.  In a heavy and large saucepan, place all the spices except the turmeric and amchur.  Put on medium high heat, and jiggle the pan while you’re watching the progress.  A little smoke and nice fragrance is all you need, then brush them into a spice grinder, along with the turmeric and amchur.  No need to buzz just yet.  Set aside to cool. 
Slice this way, then cross ways for fast dicing.

Meanwhile, add the mustard oil to that saucepan.  Turn heat onto medium high, and when oil is hot add extra cumin seed, then mustard seed.  These will splutter and pop a bit, so within moments, add the onion and stir.  Reduce heat to medium.  Cook till onion is transparent and partially caramelized. 

While the onion is cooking, toss the tomato, garlic, ginger and peppers into a blender.  Buzz to a smooth liquid.  Set aside.  Buzz the spices to a fine powder, and add to the cooking onion.  You may need to add additional oil so the spices can cook more easily.  Stir and cook for a few minutes.  

Have the saucepan lid handy.  Quickly add the buzzed tomato mixture and cover.  Set the blender aside to fill with more water and cilantro for later.  (No use letting those good garlic and chilli flavours get washed away.) 

Cook the tomato and onion mixture till it’s no longer boiling and spitting furiously.  Once it's safe, open the pot and add the cooked channa.  Add more blender water at this point, if needed.  Cook for another hour and a half or so.  Put the fresh cilantro, stems and all, into the blender and add enough water to buzz it into a green liquid.  Add that to the channa.  Add more water if the mix is too thick.

Continue to cook on medium high heat.  In the last half hour of cooking, add salt to taste.  Add jaggery if needed.  (I found my masala tasted quite sharp, so I needed the jaggery.)  Add cream a few minutes before serving.  Adjust for salt, jaggery and cream flavours, then serve with rice or chapattis.  (I served with both!)  

This recipe makes a fabulous main course, when paired with either rice or whole wheat chapattis, and also makes a great side dish to go with butter chicken, kerela and sag paneer

I’m happy to plan ahead, but I wonder, should I bite the bullet and buy myself a pressure cooker? What do you think?  Please drop me a line. 

With butter chicken, kerela, sag paneer and basmati rice.  Chapatties were all eaten by clicking time.

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