When I first started cooking Indian food, it was usually pretty tasty, but it wasn’t very authentic. As I’ve eaten more of it and experimented more, my Indian dishes are slowly becoming more credible. A few ingredients have been eluding me, though: kala chana – the black chickpeas that make the some of the best chana dal, Kashmiri chili powder – a rich, mild chili powder, and curry leaves.
I mentioned my curry-leaf quandary on Facebook recently, and darling Susan offered to mail me some curry leaves from her corner Indian market. Score! I immediately made a recipe I had been craving, the Eggplant Rice Pilaf. Then a week or so later, I wondered into a new-to-me supermarket and found both kala chana and Kashmiri chili powder. Double score!
Kala chana does indeed make better curry than regular chickpeas. Most of the difference in in the texture, as they’re smaller and firmer.
As soon as I could, I did a taste test with the Kashmiri chili powder, comparing it to ancho chili powder, which is what I’ve been slipping into Indian cuisine. First I tried both of them plain. The heat level is about the same between the two. Eaten plain, the Kasmiri has a deeper flavor, while the ancho is a bit tangy. Then Jim and I tried both of them mixed into some hummus. At this point, we couldn’t tell the difference. So, while I’m glad I have the authentic Kashmiri chili powder now, I don’t feel ridiculous for substituting ancho for it all these years. I’ll probably do it again sometime.
For my first try at cooking Kala Chana, I turned to a recipe from Spice Up The Curry. I knew it would be good, because the recipe comes from her mother-in-law. Moms’ recipes are always the best, right? I did make a few changes in the recipe, so do check the original for comparison. You might find Kanan’s method easier than mine, or vice versa.
- 3/4 cup kala chana
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 2 green chilies (I used jalapenos)
- 1/2-inch piece of ginger
- 1-1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon chickpea flour (besan) (see note)
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
- 2 teaspoons mild chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon amchoor powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
At least eight hours or the night before you make the curry, wash the chana. Transfer it to a bowl and add enough water to cover the chana by an inch or two. Set aside.
Drain the chana and transfer to a saucepan. Add fresh water to cover by an inch. Bring to a low boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender but still firm (mine took 55 minutes.)
Core the tomatoes and cut into a few big pieces. Remove the stems and seeds from the chilies. Peel the ginger and cut into two or three pieces. Toss the tomatoes, chilies, and ginger into a food processor or blender and puree. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the canola oil to medium. Add the cumin and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the ground coriander and besan (see note) and cook for another two minutes until the raw smell of the besan goes away. Add the coriander seed, chili powder, and garam masala. Immediately add the tomato puree. Stir in the amchoor powder and salt. Cook for 5 minutes or so, then drain and add the chana. Continue cooking until the gravy thickens to your desired consistency. (I cooked mine on medium for about 15 minutes.) Taste and adjust spices. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.
Some besan is ground from chickpeas that have already been toasted. If you have this kind, just add it in with the coriander powder.