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This is a guest blog post from my friend Lulu (@lulup). I have posted it in honour of:

a) those who love interesting curries, and

b) people who are baffled by the packets of interesting things in Asian food stores – but feel that they must be able make something delicious if only one knew what they are for.

Lulu's chana masala

Lulu's chana masala (chickpea curry)

And over to Lulu…

Chana masala curry mix

Picture of chana masala curry mix

Channa masala is also known as chhole batura, pronounced chho-le. It’s one of the easiest vegetarian dish you could make – with the help of a certain special indian chhole masala. We cook it when we want some wholesome home food and we don’t have much in the fridge. You usually have dried chickpeas stored in your cupboard somewhere near the red lentils (which is also one of our favourite meals on a cold and rainy day). I use a chhloe masala spice mix from a specialist Indian store.  My favorite brand is MDH (photo below). The spice mix is not hard to make, but often the ingredients are hard to come by and you don’t need too much for one pot. So I use this mix as its closest to making it fresh.

I add fresh garlic and ginger to the recipe which is possibly not traditional, but is how I saw my mother making this curry as a little girl.

2 tblsp Chhole masala
1 large Onion
4-5 garlic cloves
1inch piece of fresh ginger
1 tblsp of oil (vegetable or olive)
2 large tomatoes, or one tin of canned tomatoes
250 gms of dried chickpeas –  you can use the canned ones here too but will need two tins
1 whole green chilli
A bunch of fresh coriander
A pinch of baking soda if using dried chickpeas – apparently makes it softer faster. You can probably do without it or use it while you’re soaking it.

Soak your chickpeas overnight (or if you have a pressure cooker, you only need to soak about an hr and then cook it in the pressure cooker with the rest of the process). Don’t throw out the water. You will use it in your cooking.

Chop up your onions, garlic and ginger (leave some of the ginger to add at the end as well). I usually cut the ginger into thin flat slices. Slice your green chilli down the middle (if you don’t want it hot, remove the seeds) –  one little chili shouldn’t heat up your pot of chickpeas!

[note from Caroline – Lulu has a fearsome tolerance for heat but one chilli should indeed be fine. I have had this curry and it is delicious and not particularly hot.]

Heat oil in a thick based pot. Add onions, garlic, ginger and the chilli. Meanwhile chop up tomatoes and coriander. Once your onion, garlic & ginger are nice and soft and almost brown – add the tomatoes – stir well.

Add 2 tablespoons of the chhole masala – stir well. Then add in your soaked chickpeas, stir it up – then add the rest of the water it was soaked in.

Then cover and cook for at least an hour in the pot. If you’re using a pressure cooker, 30 mins will do. If using canned chickpeas reduce the time by 1/3.

Once its cooked through, add the coriander – leave some for garnishing. Serve with hot rice or have it with naan bread or just by itself.

Wholesome and tasty and healthy! Done!

p.s. if you want to make your own chickpea spice, there are heaps of recipes of the same on the internet. I feel its not worth making it unless you make this curry often. Also this recipe and process can also be found on the back of the masala box.

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Tonight I am cooking one of my favourite staple dishes. Great for family or informal dinners with friends. Freezes beautifully into portions. And actually good enough to serve at a grown-up dinner party too.

The recipe is from Stephanie Alexander‘s mammoth tome The Cooks Companion. This is the kind of recipe book that totally daunts people who consider themselves non-cooks thanks to its sheer size. It shouldn’t. This is the recipe book everyone should have in their kitchen. I gave The CC to friends Tash and Ian for their wedding on the basis that they could spend the next 50 years cooking their way through it. Tash thanked me through faintly gritted teeth but I feel quietly confident that now they have two mini-Tash’s this is a very useful book to have.

The Cooks Companion

Kilos of book: The Cooks Companion

It is the cookbook that does the following:

  • is structured alphabetically by standard ingredients e.g. for rhubarb focussed recipes visit R for Rhubarb. This is a lot handier than it sounds. Think about the moment when you have a load of rhubarb that you are looking at blankly with a feeling that you should do something about it. The CC gives you an overview of the basics of rhubarb (poaching etc); load of rhubarby recipes; and a  bunch of other ideas including cross references to other recipes in the book that include rhubarb.
  • is beautifully indexed and cross referenced. So if you are cooking chicken with chickpeas you can find it under C for Chicken or C for Chickpeas/
  • has all the basic recipes up front such as: pastries (short / sweet / flaky /puff / choux); scones; stock; batters etc
  • is great for the moments when you buy a walloping lamb leg to feed 1o. And then have no idea how long to roast it for to attain pink deliciousness. Just go to Lamb and at the beginning it has Roasts and Legs (boned or unboned).  Even the most competent cooks have baffled moments contemplating large pieces of meat. As a competent cook I probably angst more about getting it right as there is  no excuse for a beautiful cut of organic meat to be ruined.

Anyway, back to the recipe for tonight. Moroccan inspired chicken on page 295.

Ingredients

8 chicken thighs
salt & freshly ground pepper
2T olive oil
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 X 2cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
pinch of saffron threads [don’t scimp on the saffron – ever]
1/2 t of chilli flakes
1 cinnamon stick
2 T cumin seeds
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice [I use whole baby carrots]
2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1cm dice [I use whole or half teeny baby turnips – they are surprisingly good in this and soak up the flavour]
1 litre chicken stock [anyone who uses cubes will be blocked from this site][
500g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
2 cups cooked chickpeas [I chuck in 2 400g cans usually]
rind of 1/4 preserved lemon [substitute with zest of a whole lemon]
stalks and leaves from a 1/2 bunch of coriander, chopped [I ADORE coriander so tend to chuck in a whole bunch]
Cous cous to serve [I am not telling you how to cook cous cous, read the packet]

Heat oil in large heavy based stock pot or saucepan. [If you have a big Le Creuset casserole dish use this.] Saute onion, garlic, ginger, saffron, chilli flakes, cinammon stick and cumin seeds until onion has softened. Add chicken which has been lightly salt and peppered and brown on all sides. Add carrot, turnip and stock, bring to a simmer and cook on low for 30 minutes. [I use a simmer pad on my gas stove]. Add pumpkin, chickpeas and lemon and simmer for another 20-30 minutes until pumpkin is tender. Stir in coriander and taste for seasoning. [i.e. add more salt now if you want to]. Serve with cous cous.

If you cannot get pumpkin or other base vegetable ingredients (e.g. had a big struggle finding pumpkin in the UK) substitute with other root vegetables e.g. parsnip, sweet potato etc.

Love this dish. Et voila (below).

Stephanie Alexander Moroccan Inspired Chicken

Moroccan inspired chicken in Le Creuset pan!

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