Archived entries for indian

Easy eating green: Chana Saag

I joke about it, but it’s absolutely true: I am a difficult little bird to schedule. I try not to complain about it too much because it is, without question, my own damn fault; however, it is at times incredibly inconvenient, particularly when it starts to interfere with my ability to get into some quality mischief. Example: earlier this year, I was contacted by some lovely folks at the Institute of Culinary Education, who asked if I would be interested in attending and writing about one of their classes at some point this summer. Rating low on the idiocy scale (usually), I jumped at the chance! After much hemming and hawing, I signed up for a class in dumplings and sat back to rub my hands with glee.

And then my schedule exploded, as it so often does in mid-June, and I was forced to cancel. Gutted.

chana-1

Now, if I were the ICE, I would have dropped my complicated self by the side of the road right there. But, mercifully, they are far more patient than I and gave me an opportunity to reschedule. Which is how I found myself stoically braving a Sunday monsoon to attend a class in Indian cookery.

I’d never actually attended a cooking class before, so walking through the door I was hit with a double whammy of performance anxiety–were my skills sufficient to avoid humiliating myself, and would I actually be able to cook something delicious without blowing up the kitchen? Mercifully, the answer to both was yes. The class catered to all different skill levels, and gave a good enough grounding in the basics that I went home feeling moderately confident about riffing on some of the dishes–which is how I ended up making chana saag last Tuesday night.

chanasaag2

The biggest surprise about the chana saag was how EASY it was–if you have a food processor, it will take somewhere in the vicinity of 30-40 minutes (most of that being onion caramelizing duty). I’d been laboring under the delusion that all Indian food requires at least a zillion years to do up in a tasty fashion; turns out, I was wrong, which is really the best thing I got out of the class: the realization that I can no longer blame my insane-o-bot schedule for eating badly. Which may or may not turn out to be a double edged sword; I’ll let you know once I’ve managed to find two seconds to think about it.

(You can read more about my adventures at the ICE over at their blog, DICED!)

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Spice up your life: Chana Masala

I must have missed a memo.

You know, the one where Mother Nature announced that, owing to budget cutbacks and a shaky economy, we simply couldn’t justify having an autumn this year; that we would be heading straight into winter. I must have missed it, because Holy Good Goddamn, was I not prepared for the sudden nosedive that the temperature took last week.  At all. Nor was I pleased.

chana masala

I’m not ready for this, you may have heard me shrieking all the way in Iowa. I don’t even know where my sweaters are! Where is my hat?! My anguish rattled the windows and made ceilings collapse. It made small children cower and small dogs cower even more. It made poor Bench’s life a misery, until I made one stunning realization: now that the weather’s cold, I have an even BETTER excuse to spend entire Sundays in front of my stove, brewing up the time-consuming braises, stocks, and other delights that I never, ever have time for during the week. On this last Sunday, it meant I had time to make a real, live pot of chana masala–something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.

Ok, I know: chana masala does not necessarily require an entire day of stewing and futzing; unlike many curries, it is possible to build an acceptable depth of flavor in less than an hour. I, however, wanted to see what happened when it received the full treatment. So, I cleared my schedule and started with the spices, frying them in oil over low heat for about 40 minutes to draw out every iota of flavor (seriously–they didn’t even have a smell when I removed them from the oil) and then moved on to the onions, caramelizing them slowly over about three hours before hurling in the tomato paste, chickpeas, and yogurt. Time consuming, but absolutely worth it–the difference between this dish and my usual, weeknight-special chana masala was so pronounced, I’m not sure I have the words to describe it. The spice-infused oil gave the dish a deep savoriness, and the onions added a buttery sweetness–a perfect background for the tangy yogurt and tomato sauce. The flavors actually melded together (as opposed to my usual chana masala, which just kind of remains a collection of flavors as opposed to a cohesive new one), and it was utterly irresistible. Plus, it made the house smell AMAZING.

spices

So, while I would never be so foolish as to invite Mother Nature to bring on more weather-related heartbreak, if this dish is an indication of things to come…maybe I’ll make it through another one of these winters with my sanity intact. Maybe.

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Improvising Indian: Chickpeas and Greens Simmered in Yogurt


I would love to invite a group of friends to my apartment for an Indian feast. I’d to try the tandoori chicken from a recent Cook’s Illustrated (recipe here on The Bitten Word), charred under the broiler with a coating of garam masala, ginger, and chili powder. Perhaps I’d even make an attempt at naan with onion or garlic and a mango salsa. For dessert, an assortment of tropical sorbets, or maybe a coconut tapioca?

But when I saw a recipe for spinach simmered in yogurt with turmeric and coriander in last month’s Food and Wine, I didn’t want to wait for a big party. Perhaps it’s end-of-winter braised-meat fatigue, or a vitamin deficiency as the cold weather drags on, but a bowl of greens is an appealing supper all on its own to me. Especially after trudging home through the slushy puddles overflowing every gutter in the city.

The very first mesclun leaves are appearing at the Union Square farmer’s market, but I needed piles, since greens cook down to nothing. Don’t underestimate—you probably need a bunch of greens per person if you’re serving this as a main course. And if even if not, since it’s delicious. I picked out spinach and nice-looking mustard greens at Whole Foods. To make it a bit more substantial, I added two cans of chickpeas for a tangy spin on chana saag. (I increased and varied the spices too after a taste—chickpeas take quite a bit of spice.)


I would not use frozen spinach for this, even if someone else gives you permission. Since the dish only simmers for a few minutes, fresh greens elevate it above takeout Indian. The mustard greens are pleasantly potent, and the spinach stays sweet and fresh. You could probably make this ahead, as well, cooking the spices and chickpeas and wilting the greens, then just combining it all with the yogurt to warm through when your guests arrive.



Chickpeas and Greens Simmered in Yogurt

Serves 2-3 as a main course
Inspired by Food and Wine, February 2009

2 bunches spinach, rinsed carefully
1 large bunch mustard greens
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, minced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
Salt

Carefully wash spinach and mustard greens and place in a large pot. The water clinging to the leaves will help steam the greens. Cook, covered, over moderate heat until barely wilted, stirring occasionally. Transfer to colander. Press excess water out of greens and set aside to cool. Coarsely chop.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a dutch oven, add the onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and chile flakes and cook until fragrant. Add coriander, turmeric, garam masala, curry powder, and ginger, and toast one minute, stirring. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste, tossing to coat. Add 1/2 cup water to deglaze, and cook until evaporated. Add another 1/2 cup water, and cook 20 minutes, stirring frequently. When garbanzos are tender, lower the heat and add chopped greens and yogurt to the pot, stirring, five minutes, until the yogurt begins to separate. Season generously with salt and serve with rice.



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