Friday, September 25, 2009

Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking: Khatte Chole (Sour Chickpeas)

So I got side-tracked from dessert when I ran out of meals...some might say that dessert is a meal. Sometimes I may agree. But every now and then you really need some properly balanced carbs and protein...Although, that could be argued as sugar and eggs. Or flour and milk. Or Hazelnuts and...I digress.

En tout cas, anyway, sour chickpeas were made. I had the absolutely most amazing tomatoes I'd ever tasted in my life begging to be used. The farmer at the organic farmer's market forced me to eat it in front of him. They could be eaten like apples. I don't even really like tomatoes, hence the use of force. They must always be added to something to mask the acidity, but not these. These I was actually sad using in a cooked dish because I was scared it wouldn't let them live up to their potential. Then I slapped myself in the face for the motherly instincts I don't have and remembered that they were already picked and therefore already on the downswing and I'd be doing them a favour, not letting them become old and cynical. Work that one out, Freud.

The chickpeas were so nutty that I was actually excited about chickpeas. Normally one doesn't get excited about chickpeas but I'd made a butternut squash and chickpea soup from the same chickpeas that tasted like hummus (no, I didn't add any tahini) and was so blown away by the flavour. Who knows what the difference between these and any other dried chickpea is, but there you have it. All the perfect ingredients, including a homemade garam masala (Indian spice blend-there are so many different variations for different kinds of foods you're making but most Indian families would make their own from the 5 or 6 unground spices in their spice tiffin like cinnamon cloves, coriander seed, cumin seed, cardamom, maybe mustard seed. Handy little coffee grinder will save you a ton of energy with a rolling pin and plastic bag or a mortar and pestle).

First soak the chickpeas. The recipe in Madhur Jaffrey's "Indian Cooking" says to soak the chickpeas for 20 hours. I usually soak overnight but I figured I wasn't going to mess this up by NOT procrastinating. So 20 hours later I skimmed the soaking liquid and stuck the pot with the chickpeas and a lot of water (around 8 cups) to boil. Apparently, for digestion, the trick is to skim off the scum once it comes to a boil. Then simmer for an hour and a half. Meanwhile, I put some of the onions with the ginger, chili pepper, lemon juice and some of the salt in a little container to marinate (I think this makes the onion less harsh as it doesn't get cooked). Then saute the rest of the onions in more oil than I ever wanted to use at one time (I still used less than the called-for 6 tablespoons) until they get brown bits on them. Not from burning so much as quasi-deep-frying. Fried onions are a delicacy and often used as garnish (like in biryani). Take that, poutine. On a list of the things that sound like horrible food ideas but work out gluttonously well, fried onions comes in first, though cheese curds on fries with gravy comes in close behind. Only real difference is the onions by themselves wouldn't be what you'd crave after a night of drinking. How many places can you find biryani 24 hours anyway? Wait! I actually do know both a 24 hour poutine place and a 24 hour Indian place that I hope serves Biryani. Maybe not, because it's so time consuming to make it well, but who said anything about the necessity to "make it well" in the world of 24 hour food. D.A.D.'s Bagels in NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grace, west of downtown Montreal) serves 24-hour Indian, and of course, La Banquise serves 24-hour poutine (Plateau-a closer walk from Montreal's St-Laurent club district).

Sorry, the onions. These ones are part of the dish, but still suck in that delicious oily taste. Then you add the tomatoes and smush them against the side of the pan. I nearly cried. Smushing those gorgeous tomatoes. If I had read the recipe more closely before starting to make it, I may have foregone the whole thing in favour or not smushing the tomatoes.

Then add the coriander, cumin and turmeric and 30 seconds later add the drained chickpeas, some of their water and the remaining spices. Okay, lets take a minute here, or perhaps 30 seconds, to think about why spices are added in 5 second, 30 second, or 1 minute intervals in this cookbook. I feel pressured to actually count to 30 every time I read one of those instructions. Should I set the kitchen timer? Do I start counting when I pour or when I stir? Should I subtract the number of seconds it takes to start the kitchen timer, or has Madhur Jaffrey taken that into account in her expert calculations? I'm far too much of a wuss to disobey her instructions. I would not potentially ruin an entire meal out of skepticism. It's published. It must be true. Again, I digress.

This whole thing then cooks for 20 minutes and during this time you DO NOTt:

1. Go watch television and forget to turn on the timer

2. Figure you know approximately how long 20 minutes is so it'll be okay

3. Figure it's just chickpeas and their already cooked anyway so a little extra cooking won't hurt...

...because even with a lid on enough liquid can escape that the chickpeas, and more importantly, the precious tomatoes could start sticking to the bottom of the pan and you've tossed the rest of the soaking liquid so your only option is to dilute the mixture with bland water. I'm so sorry, Madhur. You tried so hard to teach fools like me to make your wonderful cuisine, but think of it this way: If I had done it perfectly, I might start thinking I was capable, even proficient and I might even start taking your instructions loosely, and then where would I be? About 30 seconds late, that's where.

The key to SOUR chickpeas is to add the onions marinating in lemon juice with the chili pepper after all this cooking is done. So, finally, DO NOT:

4. Do like some foolish people and forget to add

5. Heat the lemon juice after you have added it. I didn't get the opportunity to make this mistake as I messed up at my fourth DO NOT. For now I will assume that, when completed properly, this recipe is delicious, as Madhur Jaffrey is brilliant and I but a lowly servant.
Oh yeah, serve on rice and supposedly with a bunch of other, much harder recipes from the same beautiful book.