I love vegan food. We try to eat 2-3 vegan meals in our house every week and not because we have to, but because we want to. That said, my idea of vegan food isn't a plate full of random vegetables with a side of quinoa. I don't want to eat that - ever. People who are interested in practicing vegan or vegetarian diets often forget that there are actual dishes, ones you know and love, that are meat and dairy free. Perhaps you don't recognize their vegan-ness when you eat them (because they are so delicious) but they are there, vegan-ing in plain sight.
Chana masala is a popular and tasty Indian dish of chickpeas, cooked in a spicy and savoury tomato based sauce. This is a curry that can easily be accomplished on a weeknight and only needs some naan bread or basmati rice on the side to make it a complete meal and, even more excellent, a complete protein.
Though it is super simple to prepare, it does have some secret ingredients - toasted whole spices, black tea and the dried, powdered Indian gooseberry (amla) - that take the flavours in this dish from ordinary to extraordinary. You could use powdered spices if you really wanted to. But, the toasting and grinding of your own spices takes approx 5 minutes and really makes a difference, here. If you can't find amla powder, you can use a touch of lime juice but all of these ingredients should be available in any Indian grocery store near you.
500g cooked chickpeas - if canned, rinsed and drained. If dry, soaked overnight and then boiled until tender but not mushy.
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
4-5 black peppercorns
1 whole clove
2 cardamom pods
2 inch piece of cinnamon
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 dried bay leaf
2-3 dried red chillies or 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 onion - minced
2 cloves garlic - minced
1 tomato - chopped
3/4 cup tomato puree
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/8 tsp amla powder (if you cannot find this, sub 1 tsp lime juice)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup strong brewed black tea
1/2 cup water
1 whole green chilli - slit but not cut in half
thinly sliced ginger
1. in a hot, dry frying pan, toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, clove, cardamon pods, cinnamon, fennel seeds, bay leaf and dried chillies until browned and fragrant. grind into a powder in a spice grinder (I use an old coffee grinder) and set aside.
2. in a heavy bottomed pot, heat vegetable oil and add onions. sauté until golden brown.
3. add garlic and tomatoes and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes - 2-3 mins
4. add your ground toasted spices, turmeric powder, cumin powder, garam masala, amla powder (or lime juice) and salt. stir to combine.
5. add chickpeas, green chilli, tomato puree, black tea and water. simmer on low for 20-30 mins until sauce is thickened and chickpeas are softened and well cooked. adjust for seasoning to your taste.
6. garnish with chopped cilantro and thin slices of ginger.