With a huge percentage of India’s population subsisting on a vegetarian diet, I had little to worry about in giving up my carnivorous instincts for the duration of my two-week trip. Being unaccustomed to a strictly vegetarian diet and as a person who has to wrack their brains for ideas when they have a non-consumer-of-the-flesh over for dinner; I ultimately found the trip as an inspiration for my veggie repertoire. Rarely, on going out to eat at an Indian restaurant have I given a second glance to the ‘vegetable preparations’ that are notoriously placed at the end of the menu. So, it came as a surprise to me at how many choices of vegetarian curries that there were on the restaurant menus in Rajasthan. And not just how many choices that there were of curries but how many different breads, dosas, chutneys, samosas and pakoras that there were to accompany it.Taking cooking lessons completely altered my attitude towards cooking Indian food at home, which had previously concluded that Indian food was unapproachable due to its laborious nature and its endless lists of ingredients.The premise of cooking in Rajasthani cooking is however, very simple with each curry containing the four main spices, chilli powder, turmeric, ground coriander and salt- and sometimes garam masala*. The flavours are not all directed towards blowing your head off either but as well as spicy also include, sweet, sour, creamy and cool. I noted that much of the cooking in Indian homes is done using a pressure cooker, though it is possible with a little more time on your hands to cook on the stove. One of my sister and my favourite dishes was Chana Masala or chickpea curry. Here is a barely altered recipe that we learnt to cook- the only changes being a slight reduction in oil (for health reasons), the use of tinned chickpeas (for convenience), and the use of ground garam masala rather than the individual components. This can be served with rice, breads or even as a side to a meat dish for those who aren’t willing to give up the meat. Certainly, in India you wouldn’t eat a bowl of chana masala without several other accompanying dishes. I think that the trick with this dish is to let it sit for 10-15 minutes (or longer) before you tuck in- eating it piping hot won’t bring out the complexity of the flavours.
Chana Masala or Chickpea Curry
Spicy, hearty and warming. Serve this as a side dish or a main dish it works either way.
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 red or green chilli, chopped
6 cloves of garlic
5 shallot or red onion, chopped
1 ½ inches ginger, peeled and chopped
6 tbsp flavourless oil, like groundnut, canola
500ml/ 2 cups water
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp salt
½ tsp garam masala
2 x 400g tins of Chickpeas*, drained and rinsed
Small bunch coriander, chopped
½ lemon, juice
1/ In a mini food processor blend together 2 of the tomatoes, the chilli, garlic, 3 of the shallots, and the ginger until smooth.
2/ Heat the oil in a medium-large wide saucepan and add the remaining chopped shallot to the pan until it is beginning to brown. Add the puree mixture, the remaining 2 tomatoes, the water and the spices and cook rapidly until the puree turns to a brown colour and the oil separates from the mixture, stirring occasionally- this should take about ten minutes.
3/ Add the chickpeas and most of the chopped coriander leaves and simmer for a further 2 minutes. Cover and let sit for ten minutes off the heat. Squeeze over the lemon juice and remaining coriander to serve.