Workers curry

chana masala

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Right now, millions of Indians are probably tucking into a chana masala; it’s the dish that sustains the nation, the coals of India’s engine room. I turned many a street corner in Bombay to find a large queue, eyes all trained on a giant steaming-hot wok of chana masala that was being stirred with a ladle the same size as the man wielding it. I can empathize with the queuers, as this dish is completely arresting: soft creamy chickpeas snuggled in a rich and spicy tomato sauce.

You could use tinned chickpeas to make this curry, but the dried ones when cooked become so soft that I urge you to try them. Make life easy for yourself by soaking them first thing in the morning so you can have them for dinner.

SERVES 4

  • 200g dried chickpeas or 2 x 400g tins of chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 3cm ginger, peeled and roughly chopped 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 fresh green chilli, roughly chopped salt
  • 3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 x 400g tin of good-quality plum tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground turmeric

Put the dried chickpeas into a pan, cover them with cold water, add the bicarbonate of soda and soak them for at least 6 hours. Rinse, drain, then cover with more cold water and boil for 30 to 45 minutes, until soft, discarding any scum. If you are using tinned chickpeas, rinse and drain them.

Pound the ginger, garlic and green chilli together in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of salt until they turn into a paste.

Put the oil into a large frying pan on a medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onions and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Don’t skimp on the time, and stir frequently. When the onions have coloured, add the ginger, garlic and chilli paste and stir through. Tip in the tomatoes, crushing them with your other hand before they hit the pan. Add the tomato purée, stir well and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it has become a rich, thick sauce.

Add the garam masala, 11⁄2 teaspoons of salt, cumin, chilli powder and turmeric, and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the chickpeas. Check the consistency. I like to add around 5 or more tablespoons of water at this point, to thin the sauce a little. Stir well and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust any seasoning as you require.

Serve with chapattis or hot fluffy naan bread